NOT suited to a nine to five office job, Ruth Thompson has made a career in being surrounded by nature as a willow weaver, where she brings the nation’s favourite literary characters to life out of wood.

Ruth’s passion for working with wood first began to weave itself into her life during her early-twenties, after she took a course in basket-weaving.

In 1995, she set up her company Slyvan Skills from her home near Mickley where she opened a workshop, in the hope that she could take weaving to the next level and work on bigger, more creative projects.

“Running my own business has been a constant learning curve,” Ruth said. “Every design is unique, and therefore takes plenty of experimenting to perfect.

“How a design looks and works in a sketch is often very different to how the end result is, so you need to have a open and creative mind with this job.”

Since she began Slyvan Skills, Ruth has created a gigantic dragon, a six foot grinning Gruffalo, two coal miners, and various animals of all kinds.

She has also been involved in several educational projects in schools across the North-East, where she has created various children’s willow play structures – such as domes, tunnels and dens in playgrounds.

“Projects where I get to work alongside children are always great,” Ruth said. “They really thrive from being involved in the building process, where they can get creative and learn new, usual things.

“For many children, just the opportunity to get outside, let loose, and stomp around in the mud is enough to make their eyes light up, so it is important that they get the chance to explore the outdoors.”

Recently, Ruth has been building play structures at a first school in Seaton Sluice, helped by a group of children aged four and five who have learning disabilities, and are part of a group called Stepping Stones, for whom the outdoors is a classroom.

“Every morning the children rushed over to help with the construction,” Ruth said. “They all got really involved in both the building and the weaving – and even helped to dig the deep holes needed for the structures.

“The great thing is that every time the children look at the domes and tunnels, they will remember that they helped to create them, and feel a great sense of achievement.”

Ruth’s latest project is partnership with the Garden City Greenway’s country trail in Hertfordshire, where together with Kiln Pit Hill blacksmith John Rutherford, the pair with construct several of the beloved characters from Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows novel.

John will be creating the metal frames, which Ruth will then weave her magic around.

“It’s the biggest project that I’ve ever been involved with,” said Ruth. “It will certainly take the longest amount of man-hours to complete. Every character needs to contain the details featured in the original illustrations, therefore I’ll be working on weaving all the animal’s clothes – including their all their individual accessories such as glasses and hats, because it is the small details which really bring the sculpture to life.”

By April, Badger, Mole, Ratty and Toad (complete with his famous motorcar) can be found along Greenway’s various trail routes for passersby to admire.

“It might be a bit of a wild ride getting Toad’s car down south in the back of a van,” Ruth said. “But it will be worth it.”