TRICKY DIY tasks like putting up shelves and fixing a broken stool could become a whole lot easier thanks to a woodworking course aimed at women which has been launched in Saltney.
But founder Aleksandra Ola Rug hopes to pass on more than just the traditional DIY skills that are often seen as the preserve of handymen rather than handywomen.
With a background in landscape architecture, Ola embraced the joys of woodworking from an early age and believes women can build strength and self-sufficiency from doing their own jobs rather than relying on men.
Under the banner of “Love, eat, pray, drill” her course takes ladies through the first tentative steps of working with power drills and wood. They are helped to fashion items like basic bird boxes during a
two-and-half hour introductory session, before stepping up to more elaborate carpentry like doors and tables.
As well as the satisfaction from learning new skills, the women who attend sessions at the Woodwork to Wellness Centre – which is part of the Men in Sheds movement in Wales – get the chance to socialise in a friendly setting.
“We’re hoping to reach out to more women who may be isolated. They may have lost their partners and are struggling with DIY tasks. I am focusing on the skills they can learn and how they can be transferable into other lives. If they want to put up a shelf or make their own bed or even go as far as considering building their own tiny house or shed we want to provide the basic carpentry skills they will need to do that,” outlined Ola.
“For many women it is about having a patient or supportive environment to help them acquire these skills. There is no rush here and we don’t assume we know everything either, although some of us are very skilled carpenters and woodworkers. It is all about developing skills and allowing women to share their stories which is different from just going to a class.
“We are finding women want to do things at home but can’t afford a DIY person. If they learn about upcycling wood, for example, then they can learn do these things themselves.”
Ola herself is well versed in the art of self-sufficiency. She and her husband, Martyn Beyst, converted an old diesel van into a camper which they lived in for a time and she has helped develop a market garden scheme in Ellesmere Port.
As a child growing up on a post-communist housing block in Warsaw, Ola says she was enraptured by time spent in the countryside.
“I had a family friend who was brought up on the farm and was very envious of her. She had a small wooden shed outside her house in the garden and we spent many hours playing there. This is when I first thought of building my own furniture,” she recalled.
“My dad was an architect and engineer and I was brought up with the idea that anything you need you can make yourself as long you are willing to be resourceful and have the courage to be creative. Unexpectedly he died of cancer when I was 14 and didn’t manage to pass on all his woodworking skills to me. But I kept the basics going while I became a landscape architect.”
Ola managed green spaces and parkland in London before moving north when the opportunity presented to live more sustainably off-grid. With help from her husband’s parents and a family friend she and Martyn lived in their converted camper while she was working at the Bridge Community Farm.
“We’d moved up from London and we weren’t sure whether we’d like to live in the area, so we converted an old van to take with us and parked it next to the farm. It was built from upcycled furniture and wood and we generated electricity from solar panels. We ended up selling the van for a profit and used some of the money to buy a house.
“It shows that you can develop your skills using power tools as long as you get a bit of help. I built a camper van and also a geodesic dome on my allotment. But you do need basic woodworking tools to transfer these skills to other things.
“At first I realised how rusty my carpentry skills had become and how little confidence I had, particularly when it came to working with power tools.
“But I was also going through career change and recovering from serious career burn out and I found great comfort in working with wood in nature, especially with reclaimed and salvaged wood that someone thrown away. When I started to work with power tools I discovered it gradually made me feel more confident.”
Ola has set up a social enterprise called Heal Earth, which is to run a variety of courses aimed at encouraging women to become urban farmers and build tiny houses and she sheds as well as cultivating community gardens and allotments.
Its first woodworking classes are running through November at Woodwork to Wellness’ 2,000 sq ft of workshop at Saltney Business Centre.
“Women need a different approach to learning and experimenting. We need to be given the opportunity to problem solve and using power tools just makes you feel powerful,” declared Ola.
“Many women are interested in woodworking, carpentry and landscape design, but the access to women-friendly classes is limited. When women can come together and learn in a fun and relaxed way we can benefit greater from skill sharing and group empowerment. I’ve learnt that it’s empowering to be helped and help others.”
l Heal Earth, which works in partnership with Graham Stephens at Woodwork to Wellness, is looking for tutors to help out at its Saltney base. Ring 07501 323837. The introductory woodworking courses cost £25 per person. To book go to healearth.co.uk/shop
See full story in the Chester Leader