Pandemic pain turned into business bliss by Kirkby's king of bushcraft

When Kirkby man Kai Mitton lost his job as a chef at the height of the pandemic last summer, he turned to his niche hobby of bushcraft for unlikely salvation.

Thursday, 2nd September 2021, 7:25 am
Kirkby man Kai Mitton, who has turned his bushcraft skills into a successful business after losing his former job as a chef during the pandemic.

Now his gamble is paying rich dividends because his Rika Bushcraft business, offering adventures and activities for all in the heart of Sherwood Forest, is booming.

In fact, it has proved so successful that he is to open a new base by reviving a well-known former Scout camp site in Ravenshead.

Kai, 39, explained: "I had been a professional chef for 25 years. But I lost my job at the University of Nottingham when the people I usually fed started working from home.

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Youngsters busy in front of an open fire at one of the Rika Bushcraft sessions.

"I was also a hobbying bushcrafter, and therefore, it was a case of now or never for having a crack at that as a full-time job.

"I started by advertising a small introduction-to-bushcraft course. From there, I launched a club that met once a month and then came sessions for children who are home-educated.”

The business flourished to such a degree that he put down the Rika roots at the Blakeley Lane camping site in Warsop to run sessions and courses.

But now Kai and Rika have outgrown even there, and will move to Abel Wood on Longdale Lane in Ravenshead with an open day on Saturday, September 11.

Clare Smith, who has joined Kai at the helm of Rika Bushcraft.

Rika will give the site an exciting, new lease of life, and Kai plans to plant 420 trees this winter to extend the woodland.

"Abel Wood is a much bigger place than Blakeley Lane and will be our prime location from now on,” said Kai.

"It reflects how well the business is going. I am delighted.”

Kai was joined at the helm of Rika by Clare Smith, 43, after she took her son to one of his bushcraft sessions. So impressed was she that she approached Kai about linking up as a business partner. Given that her background is in project management, Clare, who lives in Edingley, quickly became an ideal asset.

Youngsters hide inside a den they have built using their newly-learned bushcraft skills.

However, Kai’s remarkably varied and versatile talents remain the lifeblood of the business.

Bushcraft is officially defined as the use of skills and knowledge to thrive in the natural environment or wilderness. Skills that provide for the basic necessities of human life, such as food, water, shelter, tools and firecraft.

Kai delivers all that and more. Activities at Rika’s sessions range from cooking on an open fire, treasure hunting and building dens to natural navigation, using the stars or the sun or even puddles, and water sourcing and purification.

Woodcraft courses include learning how to identify trees and make the best use of them, and how to use wood to make cups, spoons, bowls and knives.

Kai teaching more children new bushcraft skills on one of the Rika courses.

Diversifying, Rika has also introduced archery courses, as well as African drumming sessions. And the business has joined forces with the Nottingham Forager, alias 34-year-old Lucy Buckle, who takes out groups to forage for wild food, such as mushrooms, nettles, fruit and sticky weed, in parks and green spaces. Like Kai, Lucy lost her job (as a pharmacy manager) during the pandemic.

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Kai’s reputation is enhanced by membership of two professional bodies, the Institute for Outdoor Learning and the Bushcraft Professional Practice Group, which insist on a rigorous code of conduct.

Rika’s courses and sessions are open to all, tailored for adults, families, children or toddlers. But Kai and Clare have also formed lucrative partnerships with various organisations, bringing in a regular flow of business and supporting people from young to old.

"The home-education community has really taken us under its wing,” said Kai. “These are often free-spirited kids. We take them away and get them engaged.

"We do work with Trent College, a private school in Long Eaton, the Scouts, the Army Welfare Service, which supports servicemen and women with personal problems, and an organisation in the north-east, similar to R.E.A.L. in Mansfield, which helps kids who don’t fit in to the education system.

Den-building fun for children at one of the Rika Bushcraft sessions.

"We also work with veterans’ clubs in Kirkby, giving them a fun break and a chance to rediscover that old camaraderie they once had.

"We feed them their ration packs, and they talk about their old war stories.”

It is clear that Rika’s raison d’etre is as much about therapy as fun. About the value of green, open, natural environments and the way they invigorate minds and lives.

For instance, parents are often thankful that their children have not only learned fresh skills but also gained new confidence and won new friends after a few hours immersed in bushcraft.

Kai said: “My go-to quote is always that the human eye depicts more than 40 million shades of colour, but more than 40 per cent of them are green.

"Working and living around green spaces can benefit your mental health. It is proven, for example, that certain trees can be very good for you spiritually and for your wellbeing.”

As Rika Bushcraft continues to grow, Kai and Clare employ part-time staff as and when they need them. But with corporate groups, private parties and one-to-one sessions also on the radar, who knows how far the business will go at Abel Wood?

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and Rika’s Facebook page is littered with praise from customers who have already benefited from the company’s empowering expertise.

Mallory Rose posted: “The kids loved it, being outdoors and learning new skills. The staff were amazing.”

Clare Hartshorn said: “My ten-year-old came home mucky and tired, but excited, full of things to tell his dad.”

Jo Maguire hailed “a perfect mix of learning, hands-on fun and socialising.” And Emily Aram declared: “Definitely worth the money.”

Mum Amelia Murray summed up the general feeling by posting: “Our children had the best day ever. They were fed, watered and kept happy and busy. A full day in the fresh air, learning through experience. What more could you ask for?”

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Clare Smith and Kai Mitton, who are to mark the success of Rika Bushcraft by moving to a new base at Abel Wood in Ravenshead.