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Paul ‘Woody’ Woodfield, an Earl Shilton resident, has successfully managed to turn his lifelong hobby into a career, with the help of the Work.Live.Leicestershire (WiLL) Project.

The WiLL Project supports those who live in rural Leicestershire with job search, business creation, training and volunteering. The project aims to improve accessibility and creates opportunities for participants by working and collaborating with other locally operating partner organisations - making it unique in its delivery.

Paul who is in 40’s, trained as an Ichthyologist (the study of different types of fish) and until 2012 owned his own business as a fish vet, fish farming, designing, building and maintaining koi and garden ponds.

However, due to the seasonal nature of the work, Paul was unable to sustain an income stream during the autumn and winter months and reluctantly closed the business. He went on to have a series of jobs in warehousing and logistics until he was forced to take time out from working due to a number of physical and mental health issues. Paul states that he was not in a good place and experienced feelings of anxiety and depression.

Paul utilised the time away from work to concentrate on his other passions of music and art. He had been involved with music since he was a teenager. Commonly known as ‘Woody’, he was a member of several bands often travelling worldwide to perform at gigs, festivals and tours globally. His other great passion was art. He had been drawing, sketching and painting since an early age, mostly undertaking commissions for friends and family.

When he left the band in 2015, Paul toyed with the idea of becoming self-employed and looked at utilising his experience as a musician and roadie who had travelled the globe - to become a tour, stage and sound manager. Travelling in this capacity would also allow Paul to use his artistic skills to design logos and album covers. He says: “Although I had the concept of a business in mind, I wasn’t sure how to turn it into a reality or even what steps to take in order to get things started”.

After searching online, Paul came to know about the WiLL Project and referred himself as a participant. He signed up for a series of workshops with one of WiLL Project’s delivery partners, CASE (Co-operative and Social Enterprise) Development.

CASE offers workshops where people wanting to work for themselves can learn how to set up in business, and also provides 1-2-1 mentoring and support to provide specific and tailored guidance.

“The CASE sessions were fantastic. They were informative and were all delivered very professionally. I learned so much and it was exactly what I needed to streamline my ideas. They set me up to get cracking and see my end goal”, says Paul.

In addition to the workshops, Paul worked on a 1-2-1 basis with CASE Project Advisor and Keyworker, Dorothy Francis.

Paul says, “I was keen to have a multi-dimensional element to the business so that if things were slow in one area, I could concentrate on another aspect so that I would always have work available.” He proposed this idea to Dorothy and together they worked to refine Paul’s business concept, merging all three elements of tour management, stage and sound management and illustration into one cohesive business plan; whilst exploring the financial viability of the idea and deciding how to begin.

Dorothy explains, “When Paul initially came to WiLL his confidence had taken a real bashing. He was open about the challenges he had faced dealing with his physical and mental health and the toll it had taken on him.

“As I began working with Paul it became apparent how determined he was to turn his vision into a reality. This was reflected in his involvement and eagerness to absorb everything that he possibly could. Everything was of interest to him.

“He was always the first delegate to arrive at every workshop session. No matter how early I got there, I would find Paul waiting in the foyer.”

Paul’s enterprise was taking shape successfully until the Covid Lockdown in early 2020 which changed everything and meant that he had to re-evaluate his entire business vision. He was no longer able to trade as a tour, stage and sound manager due to the restrictions that were placed on the music industry and had to watch as his diary emptied as events were cancelled. Despite this Paul was not deterred. He continued to work with Dorothy to look viable alternative options and to design a business that could operate successfully despite Covid restrictions. After much discussion Paul decided to focus on providing art and design which can be sold online, either directly to customers or via virtual art galleries.

Through funding that is available through the WiLL Project, Dorothy and Paul submitted an application that allowed him to purchase a suitable laptop and associated equipment; as well as compatible software which would enable him to pursue art and illustration on a full-time basis. This was a game changer for Paul. The new equipment and associated digital technology allowed him to create and design at a different level, opening up new opportunities.

Several months on, Paul has exceeded his own expectations with what he has been able to achieve, despite, and perhaps due to Covid and Lockdown.

Six pieces of Paul’s artwork were shown at Leicester Museum & Art Gallery (New Walk Museum) in the ‘Inspired in Lockdown’ exhibition this Autumn.

In addition three of Paul’s pieces were exhibited by the L.O.V.E. Art - Leicester Open Variant Exhibition recently. Paul also had the opportunity of exhibiting his artwork at StudionAme in Leicester for the Socially Distanced Art Show in September.

Paul’s work ‘Mentally Empty’ which he created for Mental Health Month in October, featuring powerful imagery and based on anxiety and depression - something very close to Paul’s heart - has created quite a buzz in the art world.

Paul has had his unique, artistic talent recognised locally, nationally and thanks to his online presence, even globally.

Months on from having to seek a new business direction, Paul now plans to continue to focus on his art and illustrations as he goes forward in a hopefully post Covid world and is hoping to be able to exhibit his art physically, not just online.

Paul is quick to acknowledge the contribution of the WiLL Project: “I am so very grateful to WiLL for the support and assistance that they were able to offer at a time when I wasn’t able to access other provision or found myself ineligible to apply for any other aid. I am particularly grateful for the 1-2-1 support that I received from my Keyworker, Dorothy Francis, whom I can only describe as an angel.”

“Despite Lockdown restrictions she continued to be available to advise and provide guidance and direction whenever I have needed it. She has supported me since day one when I first met her in October 2019 and continues to do so. I don’t want to imagine where I would be without her assistance and the WiLL Project”, states Paul.

As for Dorothy she says: “Working with Paul has been a delight and a privilege. His enthusiasm, determination and willingness to listen and learn, and to keep on trying despite setbacks has been inspiring. I am so proud of all that he has achieved, and I have no doubt that he will continue to strive to accomplish even more and I look forward to celebrating his achievements”.

“I feel really privileged to be part of the WiLL Project within which we aim to make a real difference to peoples live. It is wonderful to see the positive impact made on Paul’s life and his journey to success”.

Paul ‘Woody’ Woodfield has been a member of bands: Konfusion, Extreme Noise Terror and Mage and has worked with bands and artists such as Napalm Death, Electric Wizard and Sheryl Crow to name a few.

You can see Paul’s artwork on: