Simon Walker, a trustee of the Charlbury Community Workshop, shares the journey of early planning days to their recent opening of the Shed.
Saturday 20th May 2023, marked the culmination of a major effort by the team who got together to organise a community workshop for Charlbury – a town of around 3,000 people that sits on the eastern edge of the Oxfordshire Cotswolds. As the chairman of the organising group, Chris Potts, explains, once the project started to develop some momentum, it didn’t take long for things to get under way.
“The idea for having a Shed in Charlbury was floated a few years ago,” Chris says, “and although it didn’t get off the ground at that stage, a number of possible locations within the town were looked at with an eye to the future.
“Then in the middle of last year,” he adds, “the trustees of the charity that runs Charlbury’s new Community Centre made a piece of ground available for a shed, if we could show that there was enough support within the town for it. We took a stand at Charlbury’s Street Fair (an annual fund-raising event that includes, of all things, a raw egg-throwing competition) and had over 80 people sign up as being interested – that was good enough for us to commit to the build.”
The team looked at a number of options for the Shed design, including modified shipping containers, before deciding on a custom-built steel-frame unit, 9 m long by 5 m wide. “We took a bit of gamble,” says retired civil engineer Dave Court, “with placing an order for the shed before Christmas, but the way prices were going up, it seemed to be the only way to get what we felt we could afford.”
Dave, and a small group of volunteers, set out and poured the concrete slab for the building in March, with the suppliers on site at the end of April to put the Shed up. “It just took them about five hours,” Dave says, “which shows the benefits of having a modular building like this. The sections just bolted together.”
As Chris explained at the opening ceremony, funding for the project came from the Thomas Gifford Trust (which runs the Community Centre and owns the Shed), local benefactor the Glasgow Foundation, Sustainable Charlbury (which contributed to cost of the insulation in the walls and roof), and the Town Council. “As you will see,” he said, “there’s still a lot of things to do in fitting out, so we’ve not called this a Grand Opening – just an Opening!”
Charlbury Community Shed were really thrilled when TV personality, expert saddlemaker and repair enthusiast Suzie Fletcher agreed to come along and perform the actual ribbon-cutting for them. Suzie explained to the 130-strong crowd just how important she feels that Sheds are.
“What I love about these community-based Sheds,” she said, “is that they are open for everybody to come, everybody to share their levels of skills, and for everybody to come and learn something that perhaps they didn’t know.”
Turning to all the equipment that people have already donated to the workshop, Susie went on: “That is fantastic in these days where we need to recycle and reuse all the stuff that commonly people don’t realise the value of, and don’t know what to do with it. It’s really important that we keep those nuts and bolts and useful little wizz-bangs out of landfill, and bring them to your community Shed.”
While the Community Workshop is a member of the UK Men’s Sheds Association – and we’re grateful for all the help and advice that we’ve had from the Association and from the Sheds that we visited at Thame, Witney, Moreton-in-Marsh and Bourton-on-the-Water – it is, as Suzie said, for everyone. A ‘clean’ area for upholstery, sewing and other fabric-based activities will be partitioned off from the dust and noise of the woodworkers at the other end of the building.
And the first woodwork task? – to restore the donated workbench with the decidedly wonky leg. After that, birdboxes, garden furniture, maybe a punt to pole on the River Evenlode? Why not? After all, one end of the workshop is equipped with a full-height roller door for getting big stuff in and out!