The Accidental Woodworker

At Handcrafted we do our very best to offer a really warm welcome for all who come along, no matter how people came to find us.  Over the years we’ve been continually blessed by the wide variety of routes by which people have made their way to our workshop – word of mouth, referrals from local hostels, GP’s, Community Policing and the Probation Service, churches, food banks, rehab, community centres and even curious passers-by – it’s all been such a privilege.


Lauren’s story is a little different – she wasn’t even looking for us!  She explains “I’ve been coming here for about two months now. Originally I came along to support my partner – he suffers from depression and anxiety and is trying to get past an agoraphobia problem. He wouldn’t leave the house very often and he definitely wouldn’t leave without me. We were told about Handcrafted by his Mum and we turned up, more as a courtesy to her.  To be honest neither of us were expecting it to be particularly great.  We assumed that there’d be loads of paperwork and that they’d say – ‘you can’t make anything right away, there’s lots of theory about tools to go through before you can get started.’  Thankfully this turned out not be the case at all.  We were shown around the workshop and the machines, introduced to people and then asked what we wanted to make, which was a surprise to me because I wasn’t expecting to get involved myself as the Handcrafted team didn’t even know that I was coming along.

I’d imagined that I was just going to have to sit and do something else, or come back later to pick him up. So I was actually pleasantly surprised when I was encouraged to join in. I’d been going through a pretty bad time with my job and this had a negative impact on my mental health, got me really stressed and had damaged my self-worth. And, suddenly, I was in a really nice environment, that was relaxed and where I was actually getting something done. My Grandad used to be a joiner and so it brought back happy memories– I found myself in a workshop surrounded by sawdust and it really calmed me down.”

After attending a couple of sessions both Lauren and her partner decided that they’d like to make coming along to the workshop part of their regular routine.

“Now I come in when I’ve got days off and my partner comes in pretty much every day. It’s good because it’s a relaxing environment, it’s safe and the staff are always nice. The other people who come to the group are pretty friendly; everyone’s willing to help if you’re struggling with something. I’ve just finished doing a load of pyrography pictures that have taken a lot of time to do and a lot of concentration, and today I’m now painting these big planters which is nice because, after spending ages having to focus on these detailed pictures, I can now slap the paint on the planters and it’s absolutely fine.  It’s a positive place and I really feel my self-confidence and my mood has improved.

Best of all it gives me something to do that I haven’t done for a while – a chance to be artistic again.”

What a difference a day makes

We’re continually inspired by the progress made and the creativity unlocked as trainees get involved with Handcrafted.  We asked Dean if we could share his story on our blog, and this is it, in his own words.

“I had a longstanding alcohol problem that had been going on for a number of years.  It cost me everything – my relationship with partners, contact with my children, job, driving licence, car, and my own business. Eventually this led to homelessness.

At that stage, I was quite content to watch the world go by and just drink myself to death. I was living in a hostel, I came across Handcrafted from a poster on the wall there. Initially, I just thought I’m going to do it for something to do as it’s so boring up there, with the isolation, so I came down for that.

I was hooked immediately – just the camaraderie in the workshop and the atmosphere and the lovely spirit of the people here. And the fact that you learn so much and everyone’s so friendly and helpful. Just the sense of accomplishment that you can actually start to achieve something again and it gave me a different outlook and something constructive to spend my time on. And the more time I would spend here the less I’d feel even inclined to drink. I’ve only had one or two minor blips since coming here – nothing compared to what I used to be like. It’s now a non-issue.

It’s surprising the transition over the span of one day. Sometimes I get up on a morning and feel depressed. If you were to give into that depression and stay at home, that would tend to lead to a downward spiral, but coming in here – always, within an hour or two, your spirit’s immediately lifted and you just feel so much better.

It transforms your day from the start and, on a broader perspective, it has the same effect on your lifestyle, just your general outlook and feeling of positivity. So I definitely feel like it’s a transformative and very helpful thing in my life. I dread to think what I’d be doing right now if I’d not discovered this place. So I’m going to call it a lifesaver – it was like a hand  reaching down from heaven and pulling me out of quicksand.”

We interrupted Dean here to point out just how poetic this image was.  He went on to explain that he’d previously been an avid song writer but “I’d pretty much given up on music but I’ve been inspired to pick up my guitar again for the first time in about 9 months.”

Dean has recently successfully moved on from the homeless hostel and into a Handcrafted house which he’s currently enjoying decorating and, with the help of our support worker Stu, adding some practical DIY to the woodwork skills he’s already gained.  He’s also filling it with song!

Breaking Cycles in Gateshead

It’s 10am. Greg is giving a trainee hints about starting his own bike repair business: how to avoid handling stolen bikes and the tools and equipment that he will need.

There’s a relaxed atmosphere that seems a million miles from any classroom I’ve ever sat in – but teaching and learning is happening here. The work of the day is getting under way. Over the next few hours one of the trainees (Si) will strip down an old bike, replace worn parts and rebuild it to be safe and roadworthy.

Greg tells me they always start with the brakes. That strikes me as a good principle for getting a life back on track, “start with the brakes”, and it’s happening here. The project offers the opportunity for people to call a halt to the destructive cycles in their lives, and rebuild from the basics.

“This is my third project here, and I’m going to sell this one.” says Si. He’s then quick to emphasise that the money made will go back into the project.

Si’s eyes light up when he’s talking about bikes “I love stripping down wheels to all the ball bearings inside. It’s good for me; I find it soothing. When you have a wheel that you have fixed and it just runs smoothly, that’s the best feeling in the world.” He proudly shows me his ‘second’ completed project, a BMX that he’s salvaged for a friend. He obligingly poses on the BMX for a photograph.

Most of the guys who come along here are avid cyclists. Or if they are not, they quickly get drawn into it as a past time and a practical means of transport.

“I didn’t know anything about bicycles before I came here. Everything I know came from Greg.” Says Jonny, the first trainee to have completed the course at Gateshead. “I used to walk everywhere, now I cycle, and I actually get out more.”

It’s Jonny who would like to get his own business going and, by his own account, he’s gone from sitting at home doing nothing every day to having plans to make a profit from doing something he’s become passionate about.

Greg is confident that there’s a market for the kinds of skills that trainees are picking up here. “We are still in the middle of the cycling revolution. Everyone’s getting bikes. There will be more and more to do.”

The workshop at Gateshead started with some cheap bikes that have been steadily upgraded and used for training. Donations of bicycles are also gratefully received. Greg is buzzing with ideas about how everything can be used without wastage. If it doesn’t go on a working machine, they will try to find a way to recycle it, and this has brought into being some unique décor items: stools, lamps, wall decorations.

The message is clear: There’s potential in everything and everybody. As they dismantle bikes, clean, repair, replace parts and rebuild, trainees find a safe space in their lives where they can accrue small victories, build their confidence and form a positive vision of their future.

Medical Research

We are encouraged that the news of Handcrafted is spreading. This week, Wannie and her fellow students visited the workshop. She goes on to explain…

“As first year medical students we were asked to write an assignment on health inequalities and the relationship between social class and health. After hearing about the work of Handcrafted is doing helping people to get back into employment and inhousing the homeless we thought they would be the perfect charity to gain insight into.

After visiting the workshop and talking to the people using the services we were blown away by how the workers go above and beyond for the vulnerable people that enter their doors. Not only does the charity practically help people learn new skills but also empowers and gives them the confidence to face their challenge. Engaging in the workshop also acts as a source of therapy for some of the men who may have struggled with mental health issues.

Handcrafted is a perfect example of how charities can help some of the most disadvantaged in society have a fresh start!”

Meet Luke!

Luke came to us in the summer of 2016 from a homeless hostel. He struggled with this environment, feeling cut off from the outside world and facing financial challenges which often meant he struggled to buy food for the day.
He was encouraged to come to Handcrafted by another on of our trainee’s, Luke said at first he only came along for the free lunch which is provided everyday but then, as time went on, he found it to be a great way to get out of the hostel more and he really enjoyed the community aspect of our workshop. Luke has just recently moved into one of our houses and now has more independence, managing his money better and is reconnecting with his old friends.
Luke said…
Moving into a house has made me realise how helpful Handcrafted is, not just on the housing front, but social as well. It has made me appreciate Handcrafted so much more

Cooking up a Storm!

We love hearing stories of how people are getting involved to raise money for Handcrafted. Jacob and Susie decided to bake cookies and sell them in their house. They raised £20!!! Whether it’s something big like a sponsored marathon or small like a cookie sale, you really can make a huge difference!

If you would like to get involved in fundraising for Handcrafted, we would love to hear from you – click here to email us

Confidence built, mood lifted.

Trevor is one of our trainees who has been coming along to Handcrafted since March 2016.  We asked him what difference Handcrafted has made in his life…

“A friend tried to get me to go to Handcrafted for 18 months. People told me I was no good so I didn’t come. Then I thought I would have a go of it and see what it’s like. When I did my first project I found out I could do a lot of things. I also suffer from mental health, although it is up and down, most of the time I’m okay now. I have built my confidence and it has lifted my mood.”

Canadian Connection

Dylan moved to the UK all the way from Canada and started volunteering with us through an internship placement with his Church.

Back home, Dylan really enjoyed woodwork and told us how excited he was about putting his skills into practice…

“I love how Handcrafted provides a place for people to come from any background and experience and learn a new skill they can carry into life. I also love that it doesn’t matter what they have been through, they are always welcome. Handcrafted provides a jump start for them to get ahead and out of whatever situation they are in”

And now, a word from one of our supporters …

Our regular supporters have the opportunity to spend half a day with us in the workshop, to get the “Handcrafted Experience”, make something, and meet our trainees. This week, Renee and Adam joined us and brought Dad along too. We took the opportunity to ask Renee what motivated her to make a regular financial commitment to our work. Now we are glowing!


Here’s what she said:

We came along to the celebration evening in the Summer, but we already loved the vision of the project: the combination of mentoring, teaching skills and investing in people. In particular, I love the training that equips people to produce something of worth.

Since the project is also faith based, I like the fact that, when people open up, there’s an opportunity for them to be prayed for, or to come to church.

As a result, some of these guys now have growing, healing relationships with family and friends they had once been estranged from. The project feels like its influence goes beyond just introducing a new skill set; it goes on to impact the entire lives of the trainees.

My dad is a wood worker, and I love what is produced here. I believe we were designed as humans to make things, and that creativity brings peace and healing.

There are so many aspects of handcrafted that fit together together: I love everything about the heart behind it, the strategy behind it and how attention is given to where people are coming from and what works best for them. I love the discernment and sensitivity shown in partnering with trainees to meet them where they are and supporting them to be better equipped and empowered … even providing opportunities to do things with their kids, to create a stronger bond.

I like the way the day is structured and the workshop feels like a safe place to be known, to get hands-on experience, producing something to be proud of. It feels comfortable and inspiring.


Find out how you could support our projects on a regular basis.

Dyed in the wool NUFC supporter caught red and white handed

We’re breaking down barriers at handcrafted!

Anyone who has been in the Northeast for more than a week or two knows there is no love lost between rival fans of the two biggest local teams. The rivalry gives rise to plenty of banter in the workshop.

Mark has been a Newcastle United supporter all his life, for better or (more recently) for worse. We’ve had to keep a constant supply of black and white paint on order, so that he can complete his projects with their characteristic monochrome livery. So it wasn’t for lack of paint that we found Mark choosing the colours of “the other team” for his latest creation.

Red and White

Our trainees enjoy the opportunity to make for themselves the things they need, but they also get the means to make gifts for others. When he decided to make a chess board for a friend from Sunderland, Mark found himself reaching for the red paint in an unprecedented gesture of generosity.

Sixty four red and white squares later, Mark had to take a tactical break. The last time I spoke to him, he was painting a badger…