Wisdom from the Workshop

by Justin Lau

‘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.

Over the last month, I went around asking some of the lads what was the best piece of advice they could give and was blown away by their sincerity and thoughtfulness.

‘Don’t just whack things together. Have precision, take your time,’ said Ian, as he carefully calculated measurements for his next project. Too many trainees rush, he explained. ‘You need to do everything with all your heart and passion.’

Naturally, Handcrafted has been an environment for people to learn and grow, but lessons learnt are most definitely not confined to here. The same advice can be applied to the rest of life. ‘If you’re a bin man, be the best bin man in England,’ he finished off. Here was someone who stuck to his principles both inside and outside the workshop.

‘Never give up on your goals. Persevere until you get there,’ muttered Keith. He started chanting it over and over: ‘Never give up on your goals. Persevere until you get there.’

He turned to me and asked with a toothy grin, ‘Do you know why I say that?’ He paused for effect. ‘I was a marathon runner.’ As he showed me photos on Facebook of his younger self, I was struck by how he actively lived out his own advice. After all, you don’t win a race, let alone finish it, by giving up or not persevering.

‘Help others who are less fortunate than you,’ said Paul. ‘You never know when you might be in the same position.’ There’s a real compassion and watching out for one another that creates a tight-knit community.

Chris says something similar about doing things to help others, even if they might be addicts or homeless. ‘When you do things, know why you do it and who you do it for,’ he says with conviction. ‘Ultimately, it’s about showing God.’ It’s so apparent to me that God’s love and care is manifested in their lives—and I find it utterly inspiring.

Everyone’s got their own story; everyone’s got wisdom to share. We’d all be better people if we took the time to listen, to learn from one another. Have I learnt a shed-load from these lads!

I’ll leave you with one more piece of advice from Aid, which feels really deep, but to be honest, I can’t quite figure out why: ‘If you’re gonna be sick, don’t throw up in the fridge. Things last longer in the fridge.’


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