By Kirsty James
My 16-year-old son is passionate about woodturning, and is a member of the local Guild. Two years ago, he barely knew that woodturning existed, but thanks to various kind and helpful people in our local community, he has learnt a new skill and found what may become a lifelong interest.
At the start of 2016, a friend and I were keen for our children to learn carpentry skills, but lacked the knowledge and equipment to teach a group. One day I dropped into the local Men’s Shed to ask for advice and find a willing teacher, and luckily the Shed Chairman was there and agreed to ask the committee whether we could base our lessons there. Some members were reluctant to have under 18s in the Shed, but were happier when we explained that the parents were happy to stay and supervise. They also needed us to provide our own insurance cover, which was easy to arrange through HEN.
At the start of term, I discussed projects with the kids and showed them examples of basic projects using simple tools. We turned up at the Shed with 10 kids from four families and a plan for them to learn various skills in a sequential manner – it was not to be. The lovely enthusiastic volunteers had other ideas, they encouraged the kids to make whatever they wanted, provided timber from their scrap pile, and helped out when things got tricky. Once the kids saw what else was on offer at the Shed, the term stopped being just about carpentry and expanded to include picture framing, lead-lighting and woodturning.
“The Johns”, of whom there were many, and the other men at the Shed were fantastic and their enthusiasm was infectious. The Shed we visited focusses on community projects, I’m not sure if that’s why the men were so keen to engage with the kids, but whatever the reason, we certainly reaped the benefits. Our visit was during the day, so the volunteers were all retirees, and it was lovely to see the grandfatherly way in which they interacted with our kids. Each volunteer had his quirks, and so did the kids, so they quickly developed favourites and were sometimes disappointed if “their” helper was unable to make it.
We were sad to say goodbye at the end of the term, but the community projects were piling up and the men needed to focus on completing them. For a couple of months, one of the Johns mentored my son, and helped us source a great second-hand lathe. However, working in the garage was lonely and cold, so we decided to look for a local group.
The Peninsula Woodturning Guild (PWG) has been a boon. Fin was able to join a weekly group with a great teacher available to help when needed. He’s been attending for a year, and one night I asked the volunteers whether they would be able to run a session for our co-op (THAT), so that other kids could have a go. Their enthusiasm was fantastic, and they suggested running multiple sessions to give the kids chance to make real progress (and a variety of projects).
We ran the sessions over a term, and the kids had a blast. Again, the volunteers developed great relationships with the kids, who tried to make sure that over the course of the term they got to work with each tutor. The first project was an egg-cup, followed by a spinning top. Over the term the kids chose various projects such as pens, pencil pots, vases, bowls and Christmas ornaments.
My daughter has joined the Spinning and Weaving Guild, and there we have had a very similar experience. The ladies of the Guild lent her a wheel to begin with, and later helped us to source a suitable wheel to buy. They mentor and encourage her whenever we visit, and clearly enjoy having the chance to share their love of the craft with a young person.
For the volunteers, the chance to encourage and support young people, and to pass on their skills is clearly something they relish. The woodturners were delighted to hear that some of the co-op kids had joined groups near their homes, and are keen for us to stay in contact and run additional sessions next year.
Engaging with our local crafting community has enriched our lives, and provided additional strong role models for our children. In an industrialised world there is no ‘need’ for most of the skills my children have learnt from the various volunteers, but the joy they have experienced as they completed a project, or joked with a mentor, is priceless.