The Winds of Change are Blowing
After being housed within the Timbecon buildings in Perth for over 8 years, our Heritage Woodcraft Centre is about to become homeless.
We will be forever grateful to Ross Gobby, founder of Timbecon, for originally making the Heritage Woodcraft Centre possible. I had been mobile running workshops for many years, hiring short term locations to run workshops and activities. These locations included Earthwise in Subiaco, Perth City Farm in East Perth, the Vic Park Arts Centre, and many more. It involved lugging lots of tools, benches and material into these locations to set up, then packing it up again afterwards into the ute and trailer. Ross was fascinated with what I was doing, and offered an unused section of their warehouse to try out as a settled space. Thus in mid 2015 I was able to set up a space with the tools on the wall and benches in place. A home. An experiment. The Heritage Woodcraft Centre was born.
In early 2017, Timbecon moved to their current location, and we were invited to move into their new building, to utilise space available in there. Over the years, we would rent more and more space from Timbecon, until we took up about 150m2 of space – the sum total of the teaching workshop area, the machining/stock preparation room, and the timber storage areas. In this space, our Heritage Woodcraft Centre, we have introduced thousands of people of all ages to the Joys of hand tool woodworking, sharing traditional woodworking skills and techniques.
Our Heritage Woodcraft Centre, no longer an experiment, had taken on a life of its own. We had become the only place in Western Australia and we believe the only place in Australia, to be devoted solely to teaching traditional woodworking hand skills and techniques – heritage woodworking skills – to people of all ages.
We are also unique nationally as being the only place in Australia offering Therapeutic Woodworking based around these heritage skills to people with a wide range of disabilities. It is all about utilising the magic of the hands and developing the important connection between the hands and the brain.
We need a new home.
After renting space from Timbecon for all these years, we are now required to leave the building. Timbcon are going to do a big renovation, and need more showroom space anyway. The Joy of Wood’s Heritage Woodcraft Centre is taking up space Timbecon badly needs. We have to move out. We ceased trading there just before Christmas December 2023, and have to have all our stuff moved out by the end of January 2024.
Despite nearly 3 months of seeking new premises, we have thus far been unsuccessful in finding a new home. We have found a place where we can pay to store our stuff on pallets. This process of packing up our stuff onto pallets is still taking place as I write this, but we estimate it will be about 20 pallets – not including the gear which we will have moved into the care of our staff and the gear which will be relocated to the Stirling Women’s Shed in Scarborough.
As the person who started this little enterprise, The Joy of Wood, 15 years ago, I confess this whole process of staring down the barrel of homelessness has been rather gut wrenching. We believe in what we do, and the value of it. I say “we”, as I am not alone. I have a team of wonderful staff and volunteers who provide these services with me, and who share the joy of hand tool woodworking with me. I don’t want to lose my staff. We don’t want to lose the relationships we have developed with so many people as we have taken them on their woodworking adventures over many years.
What are we seeking?
The dream would be to be located in a heritage building. Teaching Heritage Woodworking skills in a Heritage Building. A nice fit. Concrete tilt-ups in industrial areas are not really part of the dream. There is nothing wrong with having a dream! As the old saying goes: “Without a dream the people perish”.
The compromise reality is that we need a location which ideally fits several criteria:
- Location: preferably less than 20 minutes drive from Vic Park, as Greg and Tyson both live near and have related to this community for many years. We would rather be closer to home. While we would be very open to looking at dream locations outside of this, there are good environmental reasons to not be travelling hours each day as we go to and from work.
- Size: we currently use approx 150m2 of space. We could work with more but could work with less. It is our commitment to wood recycling and our green woodworking activities which mean we have a large amount of wood in various forms, which we utilise and constantly access. If it was merely a teaching space we needed, we would be looking at requiring about 80-100m2 of space.
- Council requirements: here lies a big challenge. We have previously had conversations with both Town of Vic Park and City of Belmont. They both said we would have to be zoned as “education” and “light industrial” concurrently. The By-Law requirements for “Education” zoning are very difficult to meet, and can involve hideous costs. They say “On street parking” would not be accepted. We would need at least 6 carparks on site – so this eliminates almost all of the older factory units which have no parking on site. Toilets are another matter, and the requirement for “after trip facilities” mean there has to be showers, bike racks and lockers for all those imaginery people who are going to ride their bikes to our Heritage Woodcraft Centre from all over the Metro area and the Perth Hinterland. I expect we would really need a very supportive Local Government who would support us to be able to get past the overbearing and non-sensical requirements which make no provision for unique enterprises like ours.
- Leasing/rental costs: If you want to make a lot of money, don’t set up an enterprise like this! While this is our 15th year of operation, The Joy of Wood remains an “enterprise for good”, driven by passion and ideology, not by economic gain and a desire for wealth. There is an acute shortage of commercial properties available, and the cost of what is available on the market tends to be prohibitive to a small enterprise like ours. We could not afford to pay $60,000-$80,000 a year to lease a factory unit. There is not enough money to be found in this game. We would currently struggle to pay $30,000pa including all the on-costs. That presents a real challenge to us, as we seek a new home in a commercial property market which is undersupplied and overpriced. Maybe we will need some kind of sponsorship or philanthropic support to assist us find a new home? I am very open to realistic suggestions and offers.
- Surviving our step into the void. As we commence 2024, we are fortunate that we have our partnership with the City of Stirling, where we operate the Stirling Women’s Shed in Scarborough. In this wonderful facility we can continue our work teaching women and kids, as we offer workshops, private tuition, activities and “Open Sessions” – opportunities for women to work on their own projects. The challenge for us at the moment is to find a place where we can work with our men. These include the dozen or so men with whom we have been providing Private Tuition and Therapeutic Woodworking sessions. Some of these clients we have been working with weekly for up to 8 years! We don’t want to lose our relationships with them, nor cease to offer the service to them which we have been doing. There are other men out there who also want to utilise our services. We need a place to be able to keep working with our male clients, while we seek a new home for our Heritage Woodcraft Centre.
There are those who suggest we just connect with a Men’s Shed for our male clients. There are three issues here: 1. Many Men’s Sheds do not have benches with vices. We need access to good benches and vices because we do hand tool woodworking. We expect to have to bring our own tools, as most Men’s Sheds do not have traditional hand tools of the quality or variety which we use. 2. Many Men’s Sheds are all noisy machines and power tools. Loud noises are a challenge for our Autistic clients, which amounts to about a third of our male clients. The need to wear ear muffs all the time will impede communication with all of our clients. Communication is key to good teaching, coaching, and the offering of encouragement and feedback. 3. We would need the permission of a Men’s Shed to utilise their facility. We would see the use of a Men’s Shed as a “stop-gap measure” until we find a new home for our Heritage Woodcraft Centre. I have in fact approached one Men’s Shed and one Community Shed, whom I know have benches and vices, seeking permission run our Private Tuition/Therapeutic Woodworking sessions with our male clients in their facilities. As I write this I expect we may not receive an answer from their management committees until mid to late January. They have the right to deny us access.
Not everyone understands how we operate: we offer Private Tuition/ Therapeutic Woodworking in 2 hour sessions. We have one tutor/instructor per client, and some of our clients are accompanied by a Carer/Support Worker. We like to get them involved too. The way we work, the focus is not on the project, but the journey. The process of the making. We work with people. Wood and tools are the medium we use to work with our clients.
We are passionate about sharing the joy of hand tool woodworking. We are passionate about the history of tools and how their evolution and development reflects our changing social history. We are committed to keeping alive heritage woodworking skills and techniques, and in passing these on to others. We believe we have much to learn from our ancestors and forebears, and so we have a great respect for the old knowledge behind the Crafts.
Our vision and motivation remains the same: We are passionate about sharing the joy of hand tool woodworking. We are passionate about the history of tools and how their evolution and development reflects our changing social history. We are committed to keeping alive heritage woodworking skills and techniques, and in passing these on to others. We believe we have much to learn from our ancestors and forebears, and so we have a great respect for the old knowledge behind the Crafts.
If you have viable suggestions for how we might find a new home for our Heritage Woodcraft Centre, please email me. firstname.lastname@example.org
It you would like to check out what we are doing in our partnership with The City of Stirling as we run the Stirling Women’s Shed in Scarborough, you will find more info here: https://www.thejoyofwood.com.au/stirling-womens-shed/
Is it time to reinvent ourselves again?
When Covid arrived in 2019, we lost all of our work. As we spent hours at a time with people in very close contact, under the public health rules we could no longer do this. We could no longer offer public workshops nor Private Tuition. We tried offering tuition via Zoom, but it didn’t work due to the nature of our work. The subtleties of the muscle movements in the hands, both macro and micro, could not be readily taught nor observed via video. We gave up on it as an unsuccessful medium for our work.
It was a tough time. In order to survive financially, I set up an on-line shop on Etsy and was selling my precious tools off the wall. Covid got us into retailing. We took on dealerships for several different brands of hand tools made in various parts of the world, and created a second on-line shop on our website. To connect with our growing customer base all over Australia, many of whom were in lock-down, we set up a YouTube Channel, where we provided free on-line videos of info and advice on the use of various tools and techniques with hand tools. The range of products we sold through our on-line shops kept expanding, especially into the whittling and woodcarving area. We started to provide our customers with a growing variety of wooden blanks for whittling and carving.
When we were eventually allowed under the public health rules to provide workshops again, we could initially only do one-on-one sessions. Over the next 12 months the allowable group sizes would gradually grow — but by that time our week was filled with one-on-one Private Tuition / Therapeutic Woodworking sessions with little available time for the group workshops to re-commence.
There were many ways in which we had to reinvent ourselves during Covid and many ways that our activities were changed by Covid and the public health strategies and rules.
With the tragic loss of our Heritage Woodcraft Centre location, and the challenges in finding a new location, is it possible for The Joy of Wood to reinvent itself again?
As stated previously, we are passionate about sharing the joy of hand tool woodworking. We are passionate about the history of tools and how their evolution and development reflects our changing social history. We are committed to keeping alive heritage woodworking skills and techniques, and in passing these on to others. We believe we have much to learn from our ancestors and forebears, and so we have a great respect for the old knowledge behind the Crafts.
If we are unable at this stage to find a new location for our Heritage Woodcraft Centre, what other model might we use to continue to exercise our passion for teaching these Heritage Skills in a financially viable way?
We are open to exploring considered and thoughtful suggestions, given all that I have written above. If you have viable ideas, options, leads, or practical suggestions, please email me: email@example.com
We appreciate your support and understanding.
Greg Miller and Team, www.thejoyofwood.com.au