News | 31 August 2023
Share on social

Community woodworking initiative goes from strength to strength

Over the past year, community woodworking initiative BenchSpace has been gaining momentum. It’s almost ready to launch to the wider community thanks to a deeply passionate and enthusiastic core team of volunteers who meet regularly to plan the next steps.

Volunteer doing woodworks at a table.

Founded in 2022, BenchSpace aims to bring woodwork and its many benefits to a diverse audience by breaking down the barriers to participation that currently exist.  

Volunteer Luca has seen incredible growth at BenchSpace over the past year. 

“It was immediately apparent that it was as much about community as it was about woodworking and that had me sold straight away. I jumped all in. 

“One year ago, they didn’t have a space for the workshop and there were only eight people who were meeting regularly. Now we’ve got a space, have 60 percent of the machinery, hand tools and we’re almost ready to launch. We’ve even had a huge surge of people signing up to be volunteers.” 

Two people doing woodworks at a table.

Finding a space was a big hurdle for the team. With the support of Te Toi Mahana and Wellington City Council, BenchSpace found a place to call home in an under-utilised room in Brooklyn’s Central Park Apartments, says Volunteer Trish. 

“One of the biggest barriers was a place for it to be held. Initially it was a storage room for stuff, the space wasn’t being used for anything. It has been cleared out and is now being used regularly.” 

With a space secured, the group of passionate volunteers ran workshops with various groups to gauge community interest and need.  

The team behind BenchSpace are clear that the benefits of woodwork go beyond learning woodwork skills. It is as much about building community, building confidence, reducing isolation, increasing the affordability of learning new skills, and supporting good mental health. 

Person demonstrating woodworks to another person.

With a particular focus on inclusivity and accessibility, BenchSpace has held workshops specifically for the rainbow and trans community and Te Toi Mahana tenants, as well as the wider community.  

The response and feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, says Volunteer Clare.  

“The first workshop was targeted at the queer and trans community. We had 40 people sign up before we realised and shut the registrations down. We’re limited to 20 so we had to hold two. The beginners’ workshop was over 85 percent those with she/they pronouns, which is amazing. This is for everyone. There shouldn’t be a barrier.” 

Clare believes that woodworking can reduce barriers and increase inclusion. 

“Woodwork is such a cathartic medium for the community as you’re doing something as you communicate. Everyone has a chance to be involved. It’s a very quick way to facilitate inclusion. For someone who doesn’t speak English, you can show them how to do it and they can do it. It goes beyond language barriers.” 

Close up of hands at work.

Trish, a volunteer who also works at Wellington City Council, says that BenchSpace also provides an opportunity to reduce waste by using materials that would usually go to landfill.  

She’s even been finding creative ways to source wood. Once, having been called to reception at the Council, she was excited to find half a cherry tree that had been handed in by arborist! 

Following the incredible success of the initial workshops, Luca says the focus now is on strategizing to ensure BenchSpace can grow sustainably and continue to provide spaces for the community, that they wouldn’t normally be able to access. 

“People are living more and more in rented spaces. Not everyone has room to do their craft. It’s a huge privilege to have this space.” 

BenchSpace will be officially launched in early 2024, and is supported by Wellington City Council’s Waste Minimisation Seed Fund and Social and Recreation Fund. Or, read more about BenchSpace.