Wood That Works: carving out a community space

Wood That Works: carving out a community space

Wood That Works: carving out a community space 2560 1707 Karishma Puri

Wood That Works offers a nurturing background for people to learn a range of traditional carpentry skills. Tucked under the Whittington Estate, this community enterprise overlooks Highgate Cemetery and provides a peaceful learning environment for people of all backgrounds and ages.

Started 15 years ago by Ricky Jefferson, when a personal project making children’s toys turned into lessons for children, it snowballed to 156 children a week being taught. Ricky sees something special in teaching, “You’re changing people’s lives – you can see the joy in other people’s lives. It’s giving something back to the community,” he says.

Wood That Works offer paid courses as well as subsidising the cost for students who are unable to pay. Their courses encourage everyone to join, with focus on marginalised groups. Ricky says: “Women, victims of crime, ex-servicemen, disability groups, Camden and Islington’s Youth Offenders. We teach right through the spectrum from children with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), Asperger’s, autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia, we don’t segregate anyone. They’re all in the same classes.” says Ricky.

Former child psychotherapist Honey Halit had been sending children from the school where she works to Ricky’s classes. Seeing first-hand the transformative effect that the workshops were having inspired her to join forces with him. She describes Ricky as “part of the tapestry of the community.” For Camilla Maxwell-Comfort, a graphic designer who also joined Wood That Works, getting involved was also about their shared experiences. “I don’t think it’s a mistake that we’ve all been drawn together because of our dyslexia,” she says.

They moved into their current studio, a former car park of the Whittington Estate, in September 2021, breathing life into a space which had been disused for 30 years. Their approach was to be mindful and inclusive of this new space. Honey explains, “People were at our doorstep, and we are at theirs.” Ricky says, “We’re here, not as just as an organisation that’s on your estate. We’re here to be part of your community.”

As a way to give back to their immediate neighbours, Wood That Works launched the Doorstep project, which provides a free woodwork session for children and adults on the estate. Camilla explains, “We had the idea of making a planter because everyone’s got a balcony here. Every person has the opportunity not only to build something, but to grow something as well.”

Wood That Works has an environmentally-friendly ethos. Honey says, “99% of the material that we use is upcycled. We either pick it off the street, skip dive for it or it is donated as old furniture.” They emphasise the importance of upcycling to the children and make sure to explain where the wood comes from. Camilla says, “Outside a house in a skip, we found these amazing floorboards. They were the perfect size, so we chopped all those down, we gave each child the five sections that they needed.”

A lasting impact

Wood That Works is known as a welcoming, safe space for the whole community.Honey shares the experience of teaching a young autistic student, who because of successive lockdowns, had shut down and would cry when he had to go anywhere. “He stood in the corner of the workshop, his gaze was to the floor, he was non-communicative,’ she says. They wondered how they would get him to make a birdbox, but by the end of the week Honey says, he was “hammering by himself, he would look up and express joy and delight. We understood his sense of humour, we understood that he wanted to be here and he was gaining a lot from that experience. It was very moving.”

For Ricky, it’s the lasting impact on the community that is crucial to him: “We’re here to help. It wasn’t set up to make money. What’s important is the community, without community you’ve got nothing.”

Get in touch

If you are interested in the classes, you have some furniture that is broken that you want to mend or donate, or just want to chat more about the woodworking studio, get in touch with the team at Wood That Works at woodthatworkslondon@gmail.com.

If you are a company that wants to get involved and support this fantastic initiative, you can fund a session, among other things. Get in touch to find out more.

Photo credits: Karishma Puri

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