22 Apr 2020

Utilising household items to quash boredom - alumnus Tom Karen shares his tips

Inventor and designer Tom Karen, well-known for designing the Raleigh Chopper bicycle, says you can use everyday objects to help combat boredom during this period of social distancing and lockdown.

The alumnus arrived in the UK in 1942 having fled German occupied Czechoslovakia in 1939. He began to study Aeronautical Engineering at Loughborough shortly after, before moving to London to pursue further study in Industrial Design.

Tom was the Chief Designer and Managing Director of Ogle Design from 1962 to 1999. Works designed through his long-spanning career, include:

  • The Bush TR130, the UK best-selling radio in the 1960s.
  • The Reliant Scimitar GTE launched in 1968 as the world’s first Gran Turismo Estate.
  • The 3 wheeled Bond Bug launched in 1970.
  • The Raleigh Chopper also launched in 1970, it is now a bicycle icon and was recently featured on the TV series ‘I love the 70s’.
  • A marble run toy which was sold to Kiddicraft – and is still in production.
  • An award-winning range of truck cabs for Leyland.

We asked Tom what kind of household products can be turned into toys and projects. He said:

“After retiring I did a lot of workshops with children and I like using 'throw away' materials. Boxes can be transformed into houses, cars, animals or masks, and to decorate them, cut out bits of newspaper. I use PVA for glue, sometimes thinned with water.”

“You can also make rockets from tin cans and propel them skywards with a wooden kitchen spoon; hot air balloons can be hair dryer propelled. I am currently making things that can spin up, like a straightened coat hanger wire, again with a hair dryer or fan.”

The alumnus, who was also recently awarded an OBE, told us about what inspires him to keep designing and inventing at the age of ninety-four:

“When I worked in the aircraft industry there were a lot of jobs that I could never do. But thinking up new ideas has never been a problem for me – doing serious work is difficult for me! The Victoria and Albert Museum has hidden in their archives more than 4000 pages of sketches I gave to them.”

Tom graduated from Loughborough University in 1945. The University also recognised him for his design work with an Honorary Doctorate in 2001.

If you take on any of Tom’s ideas, we would love to see your creations!

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