Silversmith Brenton West loves working on The Repair Shop, describing it as one big happy family. West, one of the stars of the hit BBC One TV show, says it is not money, but the emotional reward from fixing people’s beloved objects which motivates him.
He tells Donna Ferguson that when he started working as a silversmith, he was so broke that after six months he gave it up to work on a sheep farm.
Married with two children, Brenton is filming the next series of the show and is on Instagram under the handle @brenton_west.
Passion: Brenton West joined the BBC One show The Repair Shop in 2017
What did your parents teach you about money?
My parents split up when I was five and I stayed with my mum who was the secretary of a local choir. She taught me that money had to be earned, it was never given. She had a frugal ‘make do and mend’ ethos, and that rubbed off on me. We weren’t poor, but she never spent money unnecessarily.
Have you ever struggled to make ends meet?
Yes. When I was in my 20s, a friend and I set up a silversmithing business in Oxfordshire. I thought it was going to be good. My friend’s father lent us a caravan to live in and we rented a workshop. But we struggled to make any money. This was in the early 1980s during the recession when nobody had any money to buy luxury silver goods. It was absolutely freezing in that caravan during the winter and we were so broke we couldn’t heat it. After about six months, my business partner went back home to his parents and I got a job on a sheep farm.
Have you ever been paid silly money?
I got a large fee for doing Celebrity Mastermind earlier this year [and winning it], but that mostly went to charity.
Is your work on The Repair Shop well paid?
It’s relatively well paid. It’s not prime-time money, but more than you could get working in your workshop as a craftsman. I absolutely love doing it. Everybody on the team feels part of a family and we all get on really well with each other and help each other out. If we can’t fix whatever it is as a team, it can’t be fixed.
I wasn’t in series one. I remember watching the show and thinking: that’s a great show, I could do that. Then out of the blue, the phone rang. It was the show’s producers.
They had seen my website and wondered if I could fix something for them. That’s how I came to be invited on to the show in August 2017.
The most expensive item you bought for fun?
A mid-engined Renault 5 Turbo Two for £5,400 in 1983. It was totally impractical. Two seats, no boot, but a cool French design. I’d seen one in the James Bond film Never Say Never Again and decided I had to have one. But I couldn’t afford to keep it, so I sold it a year later for £7,000. That seemed like a great profit at the time, but they are now worth up to £100,000.
The best money decision you have made?
Buying a property to do up in 1987. I am quite handy at most things, so I offered close friends the opportunity to invest £5,000 to £10,000 each, and I raised £40,000 from the bank. That gave me enough money to buy two houses in Swindon, Wiltshire, at auction.
When I sold them, I made a lot of money. I paid my friends back their investment plus 10 per cent and was left with enough capital to purchase another house on my own.
In total, I went on to buy and renovate eight houses over the next 20 years. I used to like going to auctions and buying broken, cheap houses that had big cracks in them – subsidence and damp, properties other people were too scared to buy.
I knew I could fix them. I lived in them – in the dust and the dirt – and eventually so did my family. I remember my children helping me do the wiring and the plumbing.
As a result, I managed to put my two kids through private school. I did that from having no money at all to begin with, just my friends’ money and my skills.
Do you save into a pension and invest in shares?
Yes. I started when I was in my late 20s. I carried on saving into a pension every month. About ten years ago, I looked at it and noticed it wasn’t on track. It wasn’t going to give me what I was promised. So I saw a financial adviser who advised me to change what I was investing in. I did that because I really don’t want to be cold and hungry when I am old. Pensions are a good way to save for retirement because of the tax breaks.
My financial adviser also invests on my behalf in the stock market outside my pension. I haven’t got a clue what is in my portfolio – I know it’s medium to low risk, but my adviser does it all for me. I think if I did it myself, it might be dangerous. I don’t know enough about it.
Do you own any property?
Yes, my home, a three-bedroom cottage in Oxfordshire, which I bought with my wife in 2013. I’d rather not say how much it’s worth, but it’s probably gone up 30 per cent in value.
What little luxury do you treat yourself to?
I like to augment my 1970s rock vinyl collection. I’ll spend £20 on a new vinyl record about once or twice a month.
If you were Chancellor, what would you do?
I would target the large corporations that seem to benefit from tax loopholes, while the hardworking people of this country are paying their 20 or 40 per cent in income tax. I would get rid of these loopholes and spend the money raised on schools and education and make sure children could afford to eat.
Do you donate money to charity?
Yes. If I do any shows for charity, like Mastermind, I always donate to Place2Be, a charity that goes into schools and helps children with their mental health. They are an amazing charity – the Duchess of Cambridge is the patron.
What is your number one financial priority?
To be able to grow old and not have to worry about money. I don’t hanker after the latest gadgets. I just want to be warm, have food and enjoy the odd bottle of red wine in my twilight years.
But I do enjoy working at The Repair Shop so much, I can’t see myself ever retiring. What I find most rewarding is seeing people’s faces when we fix what they have brought in.
A lot of what we repair isn’t financially viable – if you took it into a shop, it would cost too much to fix – and it has no financial value. But it’s the emotional value that matters.