Seven Brave The Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge

The concept of Handcrafted was first inspired by a man who said, “After 12 years or taking heroin, stealing cars and getting benefits; I want to be someone who actually gives something.” He went on to do the Three Peaks challenge and raise £500 for WaterAid to provide clean water to drought-stricken areas.

That same longing has clearly caught on because, this year, seven of our trainees did the Yorkshire Three Peaks.

This challenge is alleged to be even tougher than the National Three Peaks. Our trainees walked 25 miles and climbed 5,200 feet of ascent through bleak conditions in a single day. With no hiking experience or fancy outdoor gear, this was an outrageous challenge for them to attempt, and remarkable achievement.

As you can see in this video, in spite of the daunting climb through fog and crag, everyone kept smiling, even finding energy to admire the ‘view’ and even to tumble playfully downhill.

This time they were fundraising for another local charity, Junction42, to help fund a retreat for people who could never otherwise afford to go. They managed to raise over £800.

Trying new things, “having a go” and finding ways to contribute to the wider community come naturally as part of the way we do things at Handcrafted. . And Congratulations  to the intrepid trekkers, and many thanks to Tony, who drove them, and to all who sponsored them.

Next year, perhaps we’ll be looking for an even bigger challenge … The Matterhorn?

Coming back for more…

We’ve been reflecting recently about how people started to come along to Handcrafted in the first place.  Tom told us how he began to get involved.

“I’d been unemployed for a few years and one day when I was at the Job Centre they told me that I’d needed to go on a course and sent me to Groundworks. I went along and the people there suggested a placement at Handcrafted. I‘d not heard of Handcrafted before, so asked around and heard they were a local charity doing woodwork and gardening that had been started by some people who went to one of the local churches. This made me wonder if it would be all Bible thumping and singing ‘Kum ba yah’. I couldn’t have been more wrong! All of the team and the lads that went along were perfectly normal and just wanted to help people get on and do practical stuff. I really enjoy woodwork, but when I first started to go there wasn’t much space in the workshop so I spent most of my time down at the gardening project.
When my six month’s compulsory placement was up, I’d enjoyed it so much I asked if I could come back. I was pleased when they said ‘yes’ because they are such warm people, friendly people; they make you welcome. You slot in alright with everyone, they’re a great bunch and if they can, they’ll help you out. So that’s how I came to Handcrafted and I’ve been coming for two years now.”

We asked him ‘what has been the high point for you so far?’
“I’d say, when you’re making something for a client and you do a good job and they say thank you. The other high points are that I’m amongst a good bunch of lads, we all get on well.”

Because he’s been around for a while, Tom often takes the newer lads under your wing. How does he find that?
“I find it okay. I don’t mind doing it. I show them how to use the tools, and help them start off making  something, often a chopping board; and more recently showing them how to make pens on the lathe, just how to do this and that.”

If someone was asking about Handcrafted, maybe they’ve been looking at Facebook or the website and wanted to know if they should come along, what would you say? If they thought they were too shy or didn’t  know how good they would be, what would your advice be?
I would definitely come because it doesn’t matter if you’re shy or not. There’s a guy who’s been coming along for about three months and he was really shy. He never spoke. I went over to him and chatted with him. Eventually, as time has gone on, he’s opened right up. He’s starting doing all sorts in the workshop and is now really open and friendly.”

Walking Miracle

Life can sometimes seem to have a way of pulling the rug out from under our feet just when we least expect it.  Brian had been making his way to work when he has hit by a van – he ended up in a coma and spent best part of 2 months in hospital.  When he was discharged and made it home it was a difficult coming to terms with life after the accident, because of his injuries a return to work wasn’t possible.  Brian didn’t know what the future held and what he’d be capable of.  Then a friend told him about Handcrafted…. Brian takes up the story

“Richard said to me ‘Why don’t you come along to Handcrafted, and you’ll be able to help people?’ So I started coming along and things just seemed to fall into place. I’m still recovering and a lot of people are helping me. I’m not fully where I want to be yet but Handcrafted is a big help.  It gets me out and I’ve started to do things that I’ve not done since school and I feel better for it, as all I would have been doing was sitting in the house doing nothing, dwelling on things that have happened.

When the accident occurred I was cycling to work. I’d left the house at 2 am as I started work at 4 am. I was riding with lights on and wearing fluorescent clothing and backpack. A van came up behind me and hit me – I went 20 foot in the air and landed at the road side. When I was found the back of my head was split head wide open. I wasn’t breathing so they needed to do a tracheotomy. The force of the impact had been so severe it moved my heart inside my chest, it was too far over to the left, so I had to be opened up and they used a special tool to pull my heart back into line. I was moved from Durham to the Freeman Hospital and then the RVI. I was in a coma for two weeks and in hospital for 7 weeks altogether – two of these were in Intensive Care.

When I eventually regained consciousness, lots of the staff would come past my bed and ask me how I was – I didn’t know who they were but I was told that they were the people who had brought me back to life as it were – about 20 of them.  When I heard this I started crying – it was quite overwhelming really.

I was transferred back to Durham via ambulance and a nurse went with me. When I got onto the ward there they were talking to me and said ‘Do you realise you fractured virtually every bone in your body?’  I’ve got metal plates holding me together!

My accident was on 6th October.  On 12th Nov the physio team came and got me out of bed to walk again. My friends were there – they’d just been to the cathedral and popped into see me –  they wanted to walk with me but it was the nurses that insisted they would be the first ones to go with me on my ‘maiden voyage’.   I was strapped into the zimmer frame and walked with them down to the main doors. I asked the nurses to take my picture so I could send it to my daughters as I  wanted my girls to see me walking again.

I was in a wheelchair at first and I then got to walking with sticks. I had a neck brace on – I looked like something out of Star Wars with all the gear I had on. The two hospital chaplains would come and see me on the ward each day. They’d encourage me and I told them that I believed that God had never left me and it was this belief that got me through and back on my feet.

I’m just pleased I’m here and I thank God every morning I wake up. Because of the accident I’ve lost the full use of my left arm so I can’t work. At Handcrafted I can take as much time as I need and work at my own pace, whereas when I was working I didn’t have time for anything. Coming to the workshop is really good and enjoying it that much it’s unbelievable. The atmosphere is great, fantastic and people have helped me so much.”

It’s been such an encouragement for all the guys to see how, in under 12 months,  Brian is not only walking about  – but  he has a real heart to use his time to help others.  When we get together each morning to discuss the day ahead and share our plans Brian is always one of the first to offer to work alongside anyone who needs extra help.  He’s up for trying pretty much anything from working on the lathe to repainting our canteen table.  It’s an absolute privilege for us to be alongside Brian as he’s recovering, he literally is a walking miracle and his continued progress is an inspiration to all of us.  To think that less than a year ago he wasn’t able to breathe unaided, to see him now, getting stuck in, it’s simply incredible.

Rediscovering forgotten skills

One of the things that we find most inspiring is when our trainees tell us how getting involved in any of our projects really helps them to grow in confidence and see themselves in a more positive way.  John has been coming along to or cycle maintenance project, and it’s clear that it’s not just the bike he’s working on that’s being rebuilt.  He told us…

“I heard about Handcrafted through someone at the Salvation Army, it sounded like it would be something a bit different to do,  so I came along.

I’d been through a spell of being homeless; sometimes I’d stay in hostels and I’ve even ended up sleeping rough at times.  My health has been challenging too and I’ve been through a time of going in and out of hospital.  I’d say my faith in Jesus really got me through this tough spell and helped get my life sorted out again, so now I’m living independently. On the journey to where I am now, Handcrafted’s bike project has also been really helpful.

I’ve rediscovered, through working on bicycles there, that I have skills that I’d forgotten about and this has boosted my confidence.  The workshop is really friendly and we enjoy a good laugh as we work on the bikes;

it feels really good to help others out on their projects as well.  All the guys at Handcrafted are brilliant. I’m making new friends and now we often meet up on a Monday night after the workshop has finished.  I’ve now completed a six week course, built my own bike from scratch and I’m really looking forward to getting out and about on it!”

We’re thrilled with continued development of our cycle project, four trainees have now successfully completed our introductory 6 week course and have built a bike from scratch and been able to ride home on it!  It looks like it will be no time at all before we need to get our woodwork trainees involved to build us a bike shelter.

It’s not all about woodwork

We start each day in our workshop by gathering everyone together for what has come to be known as ‘the huddle’.  It’s the time when we chat through the day ahead, discuss plans, ask for or offer to help and of course share any news.  We’ve recently shared a couple of stories on our blog and via Facebook about some of our trainees and we were telling the huddle just how popular these had been, and asked if anyone else would like to tell their story.  Without hesitation Paul said he’d be up for it and so here it is

“My story with Handcrafted started when I was living in a hostel known locally as The Fells. In there, I met a couple of the lads who were regulars at Handcrafted. I wasn’t going out or doing much of anything as, at the time, I was suffering severe depression and anxiety, something I still battle with today.  This was made worse by the fact that I was awaiting trial; I did not expect to get sent down but I did receive a prison sentence.  When I got out of jail I moved in with my sister.  I got in touch with one of the friends I’d made at the hostel and he encouraged me to get along to Handcrafted, I decided to give it a try and I found it fantastic. It was getting me out of the house and giving me something to do because normally, as soon as my sister went to work, I would just close the curtains and listen to the radio all day. Sometimes my anxiety was so bad it would be a couple of weeks before I’d go out of the house at all. That’s how bad it was once over.

But coming to Handcrafted, it’s great, it’s given me a new lease of life and I’ve made lots of new friends.  It’s not all about woodwork, we have some great laughs and we all sit and have lunch together.  They hold summer and Christmas fayres where you can sell things that you’ve made to raise funds or you can make things to take home for yourself. It’s like a little community with everyone together. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the past or how you are at the present, everyone’s treated the same, that’s the great thing about it. Last year I went through the mill and everyone’s just been there for me when I’ve been really down, which has been quite a lot, but when I come here it gives me a boost. Now I’m coming nearly every day whereas once over I’d only come maybe once a fortnight because my depression was that bad. But the lads would say, ‘Come on, everyone’s missing you’.

 So now I’ve started coming most days, I make something, or try to make something, because I’m not the greatest at woodwork, but there’s good help and advice there.  I was shown how to use the lathe and made a pen for my sister and she was over the moon with it, she uses it all of the time and always tells people that I made it for her.  It feels good to be part of things and I like to help out when I can.

For me the best thing is that it gets me out of the house – I’m not sitting in the house thinking about things, having bad thoughts. Without this place, I don’t know where I’d be now. I don’t think I’d be here and that’s my story so far.

I hope to be able to move into one of the Handcrafted houses because I know I need to make a change in life at the moment and to move forward a bit more.”

We’re so proud of the progress Paul has made, watching him grow in confidence as well as skill has been fantastic.


Love You to the Moon and Back

A trip to the handcrafted workshop may not be on the list of ‘things to do’ for many prospective bride and grooms but it certainly was for Jimi and Megan.

They asked for our help to create a special something for their reception.  Whilst most couples getting married hope their wedding day will be ‘out of this world’ this pair ensured it, guaranteeing themselves and their guests a star studded occasion when they held their ceremony in a planetarium.

Afterwards guests had the opportunity to capture a special memory on the vintage style moon photo booth carefully crafted by our trainees.   We had such a lot of fun with this project – calculating and cutting out the various curves, creating a concealed bench seat and support framework behind it and ensuring it could be folded up and transported in a small hatchback – all added to our satisfaction with the finished article.

Both bride and groom were over the moon with our work.  Jimi told us “Not only was the quality of the work fantastic, it was really good to support Handcrafted and the amazing work that they do to bring about brighter futures”.

On behalf of all of the team at the workshop, we want to wish Jimi and Megan all the very best for the future.

If you’re planning a special celebration and want something a little out of the ordinary making – we’d love to get involved.   You can read more about our bespoke wedding products in our blog post Lights … Camera … and More Lights click here to read it.

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us   email or call us on 0191 378 1562

Brought Back to Life

Graham is a regular at Handcrafted; if you were to ever visit our workshop he’d definitely be one of the first guys to come and introduce himself and see if he could help you in anyway.  You’d be forgiven for feeling he was one of life’s naturally outgoing and confident people, but the journey he’s been on to arrive at this point hasn’t been without some pretty dramatic twists and turns.  He explains:

“I was born and bred in the North East but moved to London and was settled and working there.  Things turned sour and I ended up serving two years in Brixton Prison for GBH. When I was released my marriage was over and I ended up coming back to the North East to be closer to family.  I was driving taxis for work but in October 2013 I had a major heart attack and ended up with a stent in the back of my heart. I couldn’t drive anymore and so was constantly in the house. I was becoming severely depressed and between 2013 and 2015 I tried to commit suicide three times – the last time, I took 340 assorted tablets and I was found in a drug induced coma. I was rushed to hospital where I was in intensive care for a week. I was told my blood oxygen level was down to 48% and I believe that, although I tried to do this to myself, God or somebody was there to bring me back.

After I’d attempted suicide that last time, I ended up living in a homeless hostel, and, while I was there, I was asked if I’d be interested in going to a Monday night Connect church group. I went along and heard from Dan (Handcrafted founder) about Handcrafted, especially about the woodworking workshop, and so I came down, had a look around, saw what it was like and I started making things – I found it really interesting.

Coming to the workshop did give me a boost as before that I would have just been stuck in the hostel in one room, thinking ‘Where do I go from here?’. I probably would have ended up doing something stupid.  It helped me grow in confidence and focus to the point where I was able to get my own place.  Things went really well at first after I’d moved out of the hostel; I tried doing other things and made some new friends, but then things started to go downhill.  I’m a big-hearted person and I let people take advantage of me and, in the end, it got so bad, with people treating my home like a drop-in, that I ended up lashing out at someone. I was arrested and cautioned for this and was left in a position where I felt I had no choice but to give up my house because I just couldn’t stay there.

I was so stressed by the prospect of becoming homeless again but I was encouraged by guys at Handcrafted who gave me the chance to move into one of their properties in Ushaw Moor. Since I’ve moved in I’ve got a housemate I get on with; I come along to Handcrafted every single day, Monday to Friday; I enjoy doing the cooking; I enjoy the companionship of all the other guys and staff. To me, if it wasn’t for Handcrafted intervening when I was at my lowest ebb, I wouldn’t be here now today.

While I’ve been in my new house, I’ve had some problems with my benefits. Handcrafted have really helped me out – organised who I needed to see, took me to appointments and they’ve also given me the chance to set up an email account so I can search for jobs.”

We are loving having Graham as part of our community, he embodies our heart to participate and contribute so well, and he makes a fantastic lunch!

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 at our Popup Workshop 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, 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 have been along to sessions 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 a course that we offer. “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 can pick up through the sessions. “We are still in the middle of the cycling revolution. Everyone’s getting bikes. There will be more and more to do.”

Our popup workshop in Gateshead makes use of some cheap bikes that have been steadily upgraded and used for training. Donations of bicycles are also gratefully received and can be used here or at other workshop sessions planned for the region. 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.