Older volunteers turn charity carpentry workshop into cash with help of playground

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A GROUP of older volunteers have turned a Cheshire wildlife charity’s carpentry workshop into a money-spinning enterprise with help from a children’s playground firm.

The Cheshire Wildlife Trust (CWT) launched the workshop earlier this year after securing funding from the Ageing Better Brightlife initiative, created by the Big Lottery Fund with the aim of combating social isolation for older people.

The project has secured a ready supply of donated treated timber from the Chester-based company Creative Play which designs, manufactures and installs children’s playgrounds across the UK.

A cow shed within the grounds of the charity’s base at Bickley Hall Farm, Bickley, near Malpas, was converted specially for the project, with the help of students from Cheshire College South and West.

The project has now established a trading name – Create For Nature – and is taking in its first orders for bespoke furniture.

The news has delighted Creative Play managing director James Harris who visited the project and met retired men and women hard at work creating a variety of items which they hope to sell and boost funds for environmental conservation projects.

They included expert carpenter David Burton who said the workshop has inspired him to look forward to Mondays again, and former schoolteacher Eleri Hunter who is following in the footsteps of her late father, an accomplished amateur woodworker.

James praised the group’s original designs and high quality shelving, storage chests, tables, and cabinets.

He said: “I never for a moment envisaged the standard of professionalism which is clearly evident here. I’m hugely impressed. It makes me proud to think our company is helping to resource such an outstanding venture.”

Creative Play’s donations are batches of tanalised timber professionally treated for long term outdoor use. The company specialises in the design, manufacture and installation of top quality children’s playgrounds and the donated wood consists of left over off cuts, which would otherwise be wasted.

James said: “Seeing the carpentry group in action is a real eye opener which makes me re-imagine what we consider to be scrap. It is amazing how such good use has been made of it, a great way of recycling and helping fundraise for the wildlife trust at the same time. I’m pleased we’re part of that.”

CWT corporate partnership manager, Sam Salisbury, said the support of companies like Creative Play was immensely important.

He said: “Without the help of the public, businesses like Creative Play and other organisations we’d struggle to continue conservation projects and protect local wildlife.

“We rely on donations and our own fundraising. So we’re very excited about the long term potential for this woodcrafts workshop. To think that in such a short time we’ve already established a trade name – Create for Nature – and secured orders is incredible.”

Sam is working on developing the enterprise’s online presence to attain more commissions through artisan and craft orientated websites such as Etsy and social media like Instagram.

Dave Burton, 74, of Tattenhall, was encouraged to join the group by his daughter, Adele, who read about it in a local newsletter.

He said: “I’ve been a carpenter all my life, starting as an apprentice when I was about 15, so I felt a bit lost when I retired. I missed using the skills I had, but coming here has rekindled it all for me.

“I love the social part of it, but also the satisfaction of creating something from scratch. There’s nothing better than that. It’s made me look forward to Monday mornings all over again. My daughter rings me every Monday night to hear about what new projects we’ve been working on.”

Marketing executive Peter Weston, of Tattenhall, joined the group with the idea of using up wood stored unused in his shed for many years.

He laughed: “It was quality pine and when I retired my wife told me it was about time I did something with it.

“I’ve always enjoyed woodwork, but coming here has been a chance to learn from others more skilled in some areas than I am. I applaud the Trust for offering us this chance and such a fantastic space. Hopefully over time we can develop it into even more of a success.”

The group meets every Monday between 10am and 4pm, with members free to pop in at their own convenience and use the tools provided, including large workbenches for which the ingenious bases are the original iron cattle stalls, once part of the cow shed.

Eleri Hunter, of Tilston, who retired 18 months ago from her job as a Waverton Primary School teacher, said the project came at the right time for her.

“I’d always had a desire to learn woodwork, I think because it was my father’s much-loved hobby. I was fascinated by all the tools in his packed-to-the-brim shed. So when I learned about the appeal for interested volunteers here it was perfect for me.

“I’ve never done any woodwork at all before so I’m starting from scratch, but with one or two of the other ladies I’ve started by helping paint up the finished products and apply the wax. I’ve also been learning pyrography so we can burnish words and logos onto the furniture.”

Barry Turner, 66, retired five years ago as a research and administration liaison officer for Warwick University engineering school. He and his wife moved to Tarporley a few months ago and the workshop has proved an ideal way for him to meet local people.

He said: “I’ve done woodwork as a hobby for many years and this is a great way to meet others with similar interests and enjoy the social interaction of the workshop. We’ve worked hard to create high quality products.”

The group makes indoor furniture and outdoor garden equipment, and can take orders for personalised items with names or phrases burnished on.

All their wood is donated and would otherwise go to landfill.

To contact Cheshire Wildlife Trust about the project, call 01948 820728 or email Sam Salisbury on ssalisbury@cheshirewt.org.uk

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