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Ipswich father overcomes mental health issues to open Skydan furniture store in Sailmakers Shopping Centre

PUBLISHED: 12:47 02 June 2018 | UPDATED: 12:58 02 June 2018

Tony Welham has opened his new shop in Sailmakers.  From left: Dana Godbold, Kelly and Tony Welham, Olive Sewell, Samantha Farrow and Rachael Halls    Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Tony Welham has opened his new shop in Sailmakers. From left: Dana Godbold, Kelly and Tony Welham, Olive Sewell, Samantha Farrow and Rachael Halls Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

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A bespoke furniture maker who has overcome mental health issues to launch his own business achieved a huge milestone last week when he opened a shop in Ipswich.

Tony Welham at his new shop in Sailmakers  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNTony Welham at his new shop in Sailmakers Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Tony Welham, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder two years ago, opened his Skydan furniture shop in Sailmakers Shopping Centre on Friday - named after his 21-year-old daughter, Skye, and son, Dan, 19.

“None of the items I make are ever the same – they’re always unique in some way,” said Mr Welham, who designs all of the products himself. “They are one-off pieces of furniture.

“Kids are going crazy for my outdoor mud kitchens, which encourage children to get out in the fresh air and keep them off their mobiles.

Tony Welham at his new shop in Sailmakers  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNTony Welham at his new shop in Sailmakers Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

“Among the most unusual commissions I have had so far was for a climbing and log scratching frame for a customer to put in her garden for her cats. I had to build it in my own garden and then dismantle it and build it again in the lady’s garden.”

Mr Welham said his secret was always using the best reclaimed rustic timber to create “the most beautiful solid wooden furniture”.

Until now Skydan had been based at the family home he shares with his wife, Kelly, in Ipswich, and Mr Welham said he owed a ‘debt of gratitude’ to his family for their support.

“My family, Kelly, Skye and Daniel, have backed me to the hilt,” he said. “My mother-in-law Judy Baldwin pulled me back from a very dark place a couple of years ago.

“I have contemplated suicide. You have to put a mask on when you suffer bipolar. It’s all very draining.”

Mr Welham said he had been inspired to overcome his mental health issues by the Duchess of Cambridge.

“When someone of the Duchess’ stature brings awareness to mental health problems it really puts them in the spotlight,” he said. “We owe her a massive debt.”

Mr Welham will be supported at the shopping centre - formerly known as Tower Ramparts - by four local wedding businesses which also back mental wellbeing charity MIND.

“I will be displaying their goods and advertising their services,” he said, adding that he had also been in touch with the local Jobcentre to encourage the employment of people with mental health issues.

“When you have a mental health problem it’s very important that you have someone available to build your self-confidence,” he said. “I’ll be that someone.”

Sailmakers Shopping Centre manager, Mike Sorhaindo, said: “We are delighted to have Tony here with his unique range of hand-made furniture, these really are one-offs and if you own one no-one else will have anything like it.

“At Sailmakers we pride ourselves on the range of retailers we have, from top high street names to local businesses and one-off craftsmen like Tony.

“Tony’s is an incredible story and Sailmakers is proud to support this initiative.

“We would encourage people to come and view Tony’s one off and handmade pieces on the Upper Mall at Sailmakers– you might even take one away with you.”

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