‘We have far more ideas than space’
The quest to find a new home for Northampton Community Shed
By Sarah Ward
“Our biggest issue right now is space” says Phil Osborne, the chair of trustees at thriving charity Northampton Community Sheds.
“It’s accommodation. How do we jump from this, renting - to larger premises. We have been working with West Northamptonshire Council (WNC) for a couple of years but it is not easy. We could easily have 500 members here in Northampton within two or three years.”
Northampton Community Shed opened in 2016 and is now bursting at the seams. Located in the Spencer Contact Centre on an industrial estate in the Dallington area of the town, the workshed and its storage space are packed to the rafters, with wood, machinery and people.
Now at 50 members, the charity has had to close its list, disappointed to have to turn people away, but unsafe to squeeze anymore in.
They desperately need a new venue, but despite looking and campaigning for more than three years, they have not been successful. A £150,000 grant from the National Lottery has had to be passed over for now after the earmarked building fell through, but they hope to be able to access it again when they find a new building.
The charity says it would be happy to move to anywhere in the town that had good transport links and parking for members and would ideally like 2,000 square feet of space. They have looked into renting a unit that size, but the costs are too high and so they need a place to own. They would build their own venue if given the land, but that is also proving hard.
Senior officers from the council as well as the authority’s leader, Cllr Jonathan Nunn have been to visit and been impressed by what the charity does, but the authority has not as yet been able to help the charity expand.
“People come, but they go away and we have found it very difficult to maintain communications. It is just that final link that we need and someone to act for us.
“WNC has just listed a schedule of properties for charity use, but it is perhaps a garage. We sat and looked at all of them but nothing there was for our use. We know there is property that WNC has that we could use. I do understand their position that they have to make money for Northampton, however the value in this organisation and what it does for the community is huge.”
The dream is to have a place big enough to accommodate hundreds of people and to turn it into a skills hub, with young and old sharing their capabilities with each other.
“We do a bit of tutoring, on the woodturning and lathes but wouldn’t it be lovely to be able to do it formally and teach classes? Somewhere older people can transfer their skills to other people, especially youngsters. The possibilities are endless.”
How it began
The idea for the shed was that of Martin Price, a well-travelled former management consultant who saw how the idea of community sheds had been embraced in Australia. He joined forces with Phil Osborne who had worked for Age UK, retired market trader Keith Westhead and architect Hars Samrai, who were also considering the shed concept. Originally a men’s shed, a few years ago they opened up to women and now have several female members.
“I think the case for community sheds is blindingly obvious. What we have done here with this community shed has proved the point. We have created an island of community to show that Northampton could return to being a rich community. I’m very well aware how the church provided a church community, but we’ve lost it.”
The engine of the charity is its long term members who dedicate many hours and share their skills with others. Former aircraft engineer Bill Gill has made many items for charity - he is currently making a picnic bench for a school - and is often to be seen showing new members how to use items such as the scroll saw and lathe.
‘This is what I’m missing in my life’
Members are evangelical about the value of the place. They make things for themselves or loved ones; join a collective with others for a larger project, or make for charitable purposes.
Ann Brebner is one of the shed’s newest members and came across it by chance through her own volunteering work.
“I like creativity but I’m not a sewer” she says.
“ I was frustrated about not being able to do things at home. My dad - who is now longer with us - was really into woodwork and I used to go with him to the DIY stores at the weekend, and so for me, I just thought ‘this is what I’m missing in my life, this is what I’ve been looking for for years’. It was just right up my street.
“It is so sad that people are having to be turned away. People come here for a chat, we have a giggle. It is a really good community. There are so many skills here that people share with each other. You can’t see them on YouTube, you need to learn them in person from somebody.”
Widower Derek Thorndike drives from Rothwell twice a week to go along on to the shed. He says it provides him with activity and company:
“I joined because I want something to do. I don’t want to sit and mope all day.”
Retired nurse Emma, 80, has recently made a wooden trolley to help her pull heavy items at home.
She was recommended by a social prescriber after suffering from social isolation.
“Coming here has just been wonderful. It really has been a lifeline for me.”
If you can help the community she’d find a new home, contact Martin at Martin.email@example.com