Making room for BenchSpace: A new initiative for spreading the love of working with wood

[DRAFT STORY FOR WELLINGTON SCOOP/ byline Stephen Olsen]

Members of the crew bringing BenchSpace to life: Brett Dunkerley, Oliver Dickie and Hannah Fletcher

An exciting new collaboration is emerging in Wellington to provide accessible bench space – literally – for people who practice or want to learn the creative craft of working with wood.

Under the name BenchSpace a trust has been formed in recent months that, in collaboration with Wellington City Council, has already secured a home to locate a community workshop and is now pursuing fundraising options as well as getting ready to put out a wider call for support.

The group of volunteers that has been working to bring BenchSpace to life has a strong vision of creating a well-managed venue that will be available to everyone, from experienced woodworkers through to City housing tenants and woodwork beginners.

When I met three of the BenchSpace crew at a garage in Mt Victoria it was obvious that this team effort has brought together a committed group from all walks of life.

For Oliver Dickie, who has a background in the legal profession, the love of working with wood grew out of renovating a house and has also gravitated to making banjos and furniture.

His Mt Vic garage is an extremely well stocked workshop of woodworking tools which, Oliver says “has become a place that people, woodworkers or not, often stop by at and start talking with me about what I do in here and what it’s taken for me to increase my skills”.

“I always say that while it can be a slow process to accumulate what you need to hone your craft, there is nothing quite like the joy of making something new – often inspired from something old – with your hands”.

Oliver says the two most frequent requests from passersby have consistently been either ‘could you make something for me’, or ‘could I make something in your workshop’. Knowing his answer to both would have to be a ‘No’ has been at the roots of his motivation to establish a community workshop space.

For Hannah Fletcher the commitment to working with wood has been part of a purposeful transition she made from working in communications and marketing to being a hammerhand on building sites.

Hannah: “I haven’t had the luxury myself of a dedicated workspace, so am absolutely excited by the prospect of what BenchSpace can grow into. I’m also expecially committed to minimising the really tragic waste of wood that I regularly see happening in our cities and towns, when instead of going into landfill really useful and beautiful timber should be being given a second life”.

Brett Dunkerley made a career change from the tech industry to furniture making, having graduated from the year long intensive programme with the Centre for Fine Woodworking [link: https://www.cfw.co.nz/ ] in Nelson.

“I grew up around tools because my father was a fitter and turner who when he had time after work loved working with wood,” says Brett. “A big motivation for me getting involved with BenchSpace is a passion for the sharing of knowledge and seeing the joy that brings”.

Another of several BenchSpace trust members with the same like-minded motivation is Ted Cizadlo (pictured above).

Ted is a former physics teacher, medical researcher and government bureaucrat, and is now enjoying an active retirement. 

“I first got into woodworking when I responded to an ad for a ‘Martin guitar kit’ to make my own guitar.  Building that guitar began a journey for me into the world of musical instruments and woodworking tools that has seen me create more guitars, mandolins, Irish bouzouki’s and recently Irish tenor banjos. 

“Becoming more and more skilled has given me an immense and fulfilling sense of satisfaction. I see BenchSpace opening up a place where people can share their expertise by teaching those skills at the same time as enjoying the company of others who enjoy making objects they will use and treasure”.

BenchSpace’s prospective location should soon gain more publicity, as it also begins to offer opportunities for more people to volunteer assistance or to make monetary donations in the future through the New Crossways Community Trust [Link: https://www.mtvichub.org.nz ]who are an early supporter of BenchSpace.

As it gets nearer and nearer to moving from idea to reality, donations of tools and materials will also make a big difference to BenchSpace as a bold new community asset. Watch this BenchSpace for more developments in the future!

All enquiries are welcomed by email to info@benchspace.nz