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Carving out a niche – Helmsley’s famous Stick Man celebrates 18 years in business

He made the famous magical stick held by Emma Thompson’s Nanny McPhee, he’s provided walking sticks for stars, sportspeople and royalty, and even created a Staff for the Archbishop of Canterbury. Now Keith Pickering is celebrating 18 years as the famous Helmsley Stick Man, having become one of the country’s biggest suppliers of stickmaking materials and tools. 

Before he became The Stick Man, Keith was working full time as a Trout Farm Manager, although he had been hand carving sticks as a hobby for a few years and even selling a few at country shows to “test the water”. However, when he was diagnosed with epilepsy out of the blue in 1998 following a blackout which miraculously saw him walk away unhurt from a badly damaged car he’d been driving, it gave him the courage to follow his dreams and officially launch as The Stick Man at the beginning of September 1999.

Based in the craft workshops at Helmsley Walled Garden, when Keith first started out he worked almost entirely to order and each stick would take a week or more to make. Now, a large part of the business is selling components – stick shafts, antlers, horns and carving blanks – to the growing number of people who make sticks as a hobby.

A family affair, Keith’s wife Jacky joined him in the business after a couple of years. He also now works with several trusted stickmakers who work from their own premises to supply sticks for the shop, as well as a handful of commercial producers, to make sure the shop is never empty if visitors pop in.

Keith said: “If I’m being honest, I didn’t think we’d still be here 18 years on! I thought interest from the public might dwindle after a few years – but, actually, the exact opposite happened! Stickmaking as a hobby is more popular than ever and not just in the UK. We sell parts and materials to many countries around the world. Just last week I took an order for over £1,000 worth of carved sticks and horn handles to go to a customer in Spain!

“I’d like to say a huge THANK YOU to everyone who has supported us, including of course my wonderfully supportive wife Jacky and my many loyal customers. Many buy from us again and again so hopefully we must be doing something right! Helmsley is a great place for us to be based as it’s such a supportive community. The efforts of our Helmsley in Business group (chaired by my wife Jacky this year) have made an enormous difference to visitor numbers and since we won the “Britain’s Best Market Town” award a couple of years ago it’s become an even more popular place to stay or visit. It definitely helps extra people find their way to our workshop.

“I’ll be 60 at the end of next year and I ‘hope’ to be able to slow down a bit, maybe make fewer sticks myself and concentrate more on selling a bigger range of components and tools. Arthritis in my hands is making carving more difficult for me so, much as I love it, it will have to take up less of my time going forward. But working with almost 40 different suppliers and with business continuing to go from strength to strength, I won’t be sitting still, that’s for sure!”

For more information, and special birthday offers, visit the website www.thestickman.co.uk . For more information about events and news in Helmsley go to www.visithelmsley.co.uk or follow the town on Twitter @VisitHelmsley