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How a Berkshire chair is countering low back pain

PUBLISHED: 16:05 13 November 2017 | UPDATED: 16:05 13 November 2017

Bespoke and stylish upholstery designs are available

Bespoke and stylish upholstery designs are available

John Redmond

The story of an extraordinary chair which relies on the ingenuity and skills of people across our counties, Sue Bromley discovers

Sitting, it’s said, is the new smoking. Too many of us now do jobs which see us plonked in front of a computer all day, with just the odd break to walk away from the screen, mostly considered a rest for our eyes.

Commuters hunch over devices on trains, drivers sit in queues, park and then take a short walk to work where they join colleagues similarly plonked on their rear ends for perhaps eight hours plus. Then we go home and unless a sporting activity, social event or a quick spot of gardening draws us out, there’s another chair to sink into. With dark evenings the temptation to be a couch potato is strong… particularly if the back’s ‘playing up’ (probably from all that sitting). As for the increasing number of homeworkers – including those producing this magazine – the temptation to sit in front of a screen for hours on end is always there.

This year Public Health England reported that physical inactivity has become one of top causes of illness and disability, and responsible for as many deaths as that increasingly old-fashioned killer-of-choice, cigarettes.

There’s been a move towards sitting on the likes of exercise balls and most recently using work stations where you stand up to operate the computer, even work stations incorporating treadmills. For some of us that will sound too much like hard work. In any case, for many the main bugbear is simply that bad back and they want to sit comfortably on a proper chair while having to work. What is becoming recognised as ‘active sitting’ could well be the solution, which is where our local chair, the Rockback, comes in.

We start in Old Windsor where Simon and Emma Sydenham formed the business a year ago. This is definitely a labour of love, as Simon explains: “I’ve had two back operations, and Emma’s father has also had surgery. Walking and exercise has definitely helped, but I started looking around for a chair which could also make a difference, while being comfortable.”

After a long search and trying various designs, he found one… but what turned out to be the perfect chair hadn’t been in production for 25 years. The good news is that its original designer turned out by chance to also be in Berkshire: Dr Jack Nickson, a now retired GP from the Chieveley part of Newbury, with a long interest in countering low back pain. The Sydenhams and Dr Nickson did a deal – they would bring back what was to become the Rockback, a modern version of his original work.

So the task of getting it to market began, and this is where a host of other local experts come in, including traditional High Wycombe-based furniture experts, as well as artisan and small businesses across the region.

The prototypes for Rockback were produced by Phil Pask at Albion Chairs of Sands in High Wycombe, who have been making office chairs and ergonomic seating since 1987. These days they also offer those sit-stand desks we mentioned, see albionchairs.com. Handling the frame finishing is Phil’s business neighbour, Geoff Williams of JRW Woodfinishing.

Naturally, the frames had to be made of our native beech, and we hop – or rock – back over the county border for this one as they are made by Brian Nash based in Grazeley Green, Reading, at his family business, Nagro Frames, founded back in 1970. Their contracts have included The John Lewis Partnership, Heals and Conran, see www.nagroframes.co.uk.

We actually go south for the curved ply used in the seat and back: it was designed by Chris Wride at 3D Ply in Blandford Forum, Dorset, www.3dply.co.uk. But we’re definitely back in Berkshire for that all-important upholstery as it’s carried out by Gerry and Val Richmond at Richmond Upholstery, working from Sheeplands Farm Cottages, Twyford Road in Wargrave. They use fabric from Villa Nova, Camira and Modelli.

Then we come to the marketing and promotion, with photos by John Redmond, who lives in the same Old Windsor estate as the Sydenhams redmondphoto.wordpress.com); and logos and website assistance by Luther Davies at Oxford (www.tinkertailordesign.com). Among those promoting the chair are Jo Everill Taylor at Better Body Pilates (www.betterbodytraining.com) and Sophie Dhenin at Scorpio Clinics in Virginia Water (www.scorpioclinics.co.uk).

Perhaps the nicest local connection is that Dr Nickson’s daughter, Annika, has been busy promoting the chair on social media. 


The chair

The Rockback costs from £450 but there’s currently a launch offer which reduces that by £100. Bespoke upholstery costs a little more. For the standard chairs there is a 30 day home trial option where the chair can be returned if customers are not completely happy, so you can discover if it makes a difference for your back twinges. See www.rockback.co.uk.


How it works

The tilted forward position encourages good posture as the leg and back angle is opened out. The rocking effect is all about ‘active sitting’ countering the biggest enemy of bad backs – being stationary. We’re all tempted to sit still when suffering back pain, but it’s movement you need. On top of that, the curved back of the chair makes it far harder to slump.

The chair won’t be a miracle for everyone as the cause of back conditions is exceptionally variable, but if you spend a lot of time sitting at work, or in front of a computer screen, it could make the difference. At the very least you get a stylish chair, crafted by some ingenious local people!

As Simon says: “The chair can be used in a tilted forward position (which is similar to the position of a kneeling chair) or in the rocked back positon. RockBack is ideally suited for a home office or round the kitchen or dining room table, and it can be specified to fit in with your home decoration.”

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