Narrator’s Voice: We’ve been running a workshop in Gateshead since January 2017, practically working out our conviction that the Handcrafted way of doing things can have a powerful effect in other localities. Initially open for just 8 hours a week, and running bicycle repair courses alongside woodworking in a small workshop, we were helped by a lot of interest from other organisations and began to settle into a niche that offered something new and made a big difference to our first brave group of pioneering trainees. You can read about the early days here.
Having moved to a new space in April this year, the project has picked up momentum and the time has come for it to have its own Project Development Officer, someone with the unique mix of passion, creativity, compassion and practical smarts to take things to the next level.
Even though our trainees keep telling us that they are pleasantly surprised how friendly and inclusive our workshop is when they first come along, those first impressions are so important. It’s like day one in a new job or school: you don’t know what to expect and if you are going to fit in okay.
Adam landed on day one with a skateboard under his arm. This wasn’t his main method of transport for getting to the workshop but a lifelong passion he’s had since the age of six. Together with his previous experience as a joinery apprentice, he was rearing to take things to the next level.
When I first heard the words ‘Kentucy Stick Chair’ it was hard to dismiss the image of a piece of furniture somehow constructed from pieces of deep-fried chicken. It turned out that what we were really talking about was no less extraordinary.
The original Kentucky Stick Chairs would have been made from humble sticks and slung together with rope. All that would have been needed was a saw and a way to make holes in wood – a perfect example of ‘off grid’ innovation. Our chairs are made with cut timber and threaded bar, but they stay true to the spirit of their ancestors by using whatever is to hand and keeping the original simplicity of the design. Continue reading “Backwoods Ingenuity: The Kentucky Stick Chair”
‘Why doesn’t the Queen—’ [raises left hand] ‘—wave with this hand?
Because it’s mine!’
Laughter erupts around the table over steaming shepherd’s pie as jokes and banter flit across the room one after another like an impeccably coordinated symphony.
Except there’s no one conductor; everyone’s directing, everyone’s performing, everyone’s judging if the joke or remark is worthy of hoots or boos or awkward silences. Take what you have, bring it to the table, share it with everyone: a rich feast.
There’s one area where there’s no judgement involved, and that’s the lives of the lads’: past, present, future. What an array of experiences: the good, the bad, the ugly. How beautiful to see people come just as they are: take it, bring it, share it!
And every now and then, amid the good-natured banter, they let slip profound truths and wisdom, lessons they’ve learnt over the course of their lives. Though they might initially seem like just pithy comments, one senses that they’ve come from a deep, deep place of experience and reflection. Continue reading “Wisdom from the Workshop”
Every day, we hear stories, big and small, that give us confidence that Handcrafted Projects is making a real difference to real people. We want to meet the people we can help and give them the best possible opportunity to join us.
Recently, we looked again at how many people actually came along to our Durham workshop in the last few years. The figures are encouraging. In four years we went from seeing 68 individual trainees using the workshop in a year to 119 – that’s 175% growth in the number of people we reached.
Then we asked a tougher question: “How many people stick around”.
Reclaiming discarded scraps of wood and turning them into something attractive and useful portrays only too well what we are all about at Handcrafted. Even a bit of timber is worthy of another chance. The Handcrafted Pen has been a “bestseller” since we produced the first batch over a year ago. We can’t make them quickly enough.
“There’s only so long you can sit and spend your time looking at four walls” says Jimmy, reflecting on his life just eight weeks ago. “I would wake up any time and sit in my room doing nothing all day, and so I thought I’d get my referral put in and start coming here.”
Jimmy heard about Handcrafted from another resident at the hostel where he lives, and it sparked his interest as he already has a Level 1 NVQ based in woodworking.
In his first fortnight with us, Jimmy created a series of decorated placards for himself and friends. Then he came up with an idea for a set of coasters and a holder that proved so popular he got got his first order from it. Now he is in the workshop every day and has gone on to make his own design of bookcase and a CD rack and candle holder in the shape of his initials. These are the things that have given him the most pleasure:
“The biggest enjoyment I’ve had so far has been out of some of the things I’ve made that I have sitting in my room, like my bookcase and my placards.”
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.
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.