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I've known John Hinton a long time. I'm pretty sure he entertained my kids at a party many moons ago with magic tricks and balloon modelling! John's always had a heart for people and planet, so it was great to catch up with him and find out more about Handcrafted, the project he's been throwing all his energy and creativity into for the past few years.
What is Handcrafted and why does it exist?
Handcrafted is a local charity founded in 2011 - born out of a desire to see people who are disadvantaged due to crime, alcohol or substance abuse, unemployment or ill health make a positive step and become active members of the community again.
We're passionate about providing an opportunity for socially isolated and vulnerable people to turn their lives around.
This is a very collaborative process - we recognise that everyone who we work with brings their own strengths and talents but many have been through challenging experiences which have robbed them of self-confidence. We offer a range of practical activities including woodwork, upcycling, cookery, HDPE plastic moulding and soap making. People who connect with us have the chance to discover new interests and a sense of purpose and achievement, whilst at the same time can become part of a supportive community empowering them to build healthy coping strategies and positive social networks. They also have the chance to share their own experiences with others, we are continually inspired by the resilience we see demonstrated by people who, despite facing many challenges, find the resolve to face the day and come along and be part of what's going on.
We have seen this leads to really positive outcomes such as: reduced isolation, improved mental health, improved ability to cope with setbacks, and reduced risk of relapse or offending.
What is your role at Handcrafted and how did you get involved?
I tend to introduce myself as one of the team - we are not very focused on hierarchy at Handcrafted - although my email signature describes me as Operations Director. Handcrafted has 3 training hubs - Durham, Chester-le-Street and Gateshead, as well as a property renovation project which provides supported accommodation for around 30 people - it's my role to try and coordinate our activity across the hubs and look for new opportunities to increase our capacity to provide support in our workshops and increase the number of people we can offer housing to.
How does Handcrafted embody ‘new life’ for people and planet?
We're passionate about working with people that other organisations may have found 'too complex' or 'too risky'.
We see time and time again that a 'shoulder to shoulder' approach which allows people to discover, or indeed rediscover, skills, talents and expressions brings new joy, life and confidence.
We're also deeply committed to mirroring this sense of new purpose in our selection of materials - we work largely with reclaimed materials (we try to only buy new materials when absolutely necessary - typically to incorporate alongside otherwise salvaged components) - finding new use and purpose for what many society deem to be of little use is really what we are all about.
How does Handcrafted reuse/recycle/upcycle in order to reduce waste to landfill?
We try to get as creative as we can across all our hubs:-
Our Durham workshop is able to put even the smallest offcuts of woodwork to use - I think our smallest items are pens and keyrings which are made on our lathe.
The Gateshead hub has been pioneering some work melting and moulding HDPE plastic - commonly used on milk, bleach and shampoo bottles - so we're saving these across our hubs and would welcome donations if anyone reading this would like to send us some.
At the Chester-le-Street hub they've been busy partnering with local CIC - REfUSE - to make chutneys, jams and pickles from food which may have otherwise been destined for landfill - we're beginning to sell these under the brand Rubbish Pickles.
We're also developing a range of soaps and shampoo bars to try and provide an alternative to plastic bottles - and we're using coffee grinds from a local cafe as an exfoliant.
What have been the challenges and opportunities for Handcrafted over the last year?
The Covid 19 pandemic has had a massive impact on the way that we work. Gathering people together in our hubs for practical activity hasn't always been possible but we wanted to make sure that we did what we could to combat isolation and stay in touch with our community. We decided as soon as restrictions were being introduced that we could use our training kitchen facility to cook meals and deliver them to people in need and enjoy a socially distant chat.
We reached out to the local authorities who put us in touch with vulnerable members of the community who would appreciate the support and we ended up delivering just over 13,500 meals during 2020.
This has in turn seen new faces at all of our hubs when restrictions permitted through the new contacts we made as a result of the food support we were able to provide.
What is your vision for Handcrafted going forward?
We want to keep encouraging people to see that they have more skills, talents and strengths than their current circumstances and/or self-confidence suggests.
We want to keep facilitating creative spaces where people can make full use of their imagination to transform materials - giving them new shape, purpose and destiny.
I'm sure you would want to join me in congratulating John and the wider team at Handcrafted for their amazing work in combatting isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic. This has been such a difficult time for so many and it's great to see how the team has reinvented itself to meet a real need in the local community.
Handcrafted is all about innovation and hope - bringing new life to individuals and to a range of waste materials. Here at Green Collective, we're excited to be looking at ways to collaborate in this vision with Handcrafted.
You can follow the adventures of Handcrafted on Facebook here.