WHEN woodworker Barry Charnley was made redundant in May 1995, following a takeover of builder's merchant APs in Kendal, he was considerably down in the dumps.

But after spending 35 years working with wood, he was determined not to let his skills go to waste and decided to set up his own business. Making wooden fruit had been a hobby for some time, and Barry started turning out fruit full-time in a workshop next to his home in Natland.  Since then, he has not looked back and now reckons his previous employer did him a favour.

"The fruit was a side-line.  If I wanted a present for somebody's wedding, I would give them a bowl of fruit, and it just spread by word of mouth.  I had a workshop and machinery I had collected over the years, and was able to work from home," said Barry.

Hobby bears happy fruit for Barry : His remarkably lifelike wooden fruit had already earned him royal recognition: in 1994, as part of the Women's Institute Markets, he was asked to design and carve a bunch of grapes for inclusion in a basket of gifts for the Queen. Barry uses sycamore for his wide range of fruit, from Gala apples, pears and bananas, to lemons, grapes and nectarines.  Grapes are among the hardest to make, because of the thin stems.

Made in Cumbria, which promotes the work of craft and giftware manufacturers across the county, has proved a big help over the past 18 months.

Barry has been able to sell his wares direct to the public, using MIC's popular crafts barrow in the K Village in Kendal, while the scheme's subsidised product cards have proved a useful way of promoting the business.  Barry's fruit is also on sale at a number of local shop. Gala apples are his most popular fruit - he says it is because no one has seen any others like them - and he has made a wooden pineapple, commissioned as a 50th birthday present.