A real "can do" attitude

02 October 2019 | North East England

Hala Zaruczkowska

Women's Workshop teaches skills from basic DIY to helping build a house

Women’s Workshop has a motto that sums up what they are all about and the attitude they like to project. That motto is simply ‘Can Do’.

Don’t think you can use a power-tool? What about putting up shelves? How about helping actually construct a building?

Well at Women’s Workshop, you can. The innovative community group has been encouraging women, especially vulnerable women, to learn new skills, and support them in enterprise and employability.

They offer services run ‘by women for women.’ These include workshops which will show you how to use a power tool, and teach basic carpentry skills, care and repair. Recent activities including building wooden herb planters, storage boxes and basic DIY. Some of the items are for the women to take home, others are items to improve the infrastructure of the centre, like the planters.

Over the last few years, participants have been able to get hands-on experience of construction. The timber building they work from, in Amble, was designed and built over a period of five years by women who attend.

They are still improving on the building, and on project days women will make shelves or address anything that needs fixing. “We call ourselves women, not ladies,” says Hala Zaruczkowska, 59, director of the group. “What we are doing here is challenging gender stereotypes. So many women lack confidence, thinking they can’t do something when they can. But it’s not just that, we want to help women get training and explore the kind of skills needed in architecture and construction that they might be interested in working in.  They face so many barriers out there going into these male-dominated fields so we are trying to fill that gap.

“We have women here referred to us by mental health charities, health and social care, and disability groups. We have women who have faced domestic abuse or problems at home. We hope to offer a different and practical way of building up their confidence. But we are inclusive and anyone can come along.”

As well as the practical work, they also offer learning courses to help support women. For example they offer a six-week “Staying Afloat Together” course in conjunction with Barnardos. It looks at confidence issues around being in a relationship, and giving you the courage to address any issues there might be. It involves giving women the keys to confidence via peer mentoring.

Julia Lyeford, 66, who started the group, added: “Some of the women who come along, don’t even know they have these skills. We want women who come along and be as good at using a power tool as men are at washing up. I am very proud of what we do, we just want to give women more choices, more options in life.”

Trish was involved in the original build. “I came along not knowing what to expect and with no skills. I was always asking my sons to do jobs around the house because I wasn’t confident that I could do them. But I came away from the first day at the project feeling immensely empowered.

“Having power tools in my hand and drilling, is a great feeling. It gave me the confidence to go home and plan projects myself and not feel I couldn’t achieve things because I didn’t have a man around.  More than anything else I learnt not to be frightened of giving something a go.”


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