Joel Lewis moved from London to Brighton 24 years ago and worked in bars and restaurants. Now he’s based in an old convent.
And he’s trying to encourage men with practical skills and time on their hands to come and join him.
He wants to set up a group of “sheddies” – along the lines of the Australian “Men in Sheds” concept.
The men involved use their skills for the benefit of a good cause. In Joel’s case, the good cause is Emmaus Brighton and Hove.
The idea to set up the Sheddie Association at Emmaus’s premises – the old St Mary’s Convent in Portslade – was inspired by the success of the Goodwill Co-op.
The venture began just over three years ago. Joel, the business manager at Emmaus Brighton and Hove, said: “We were looking at how successful the Goodwill Co-op had been bringing in people from outside.
“They were making things –and getting to know us. Some of the people had been living on their own so it had a social side while they were making and creating beautiful handmade gifts.
“All the items are made using textiles, old unwanted bits of fabric. They’re knitting, sewing, crocheting.
“Last year they made a knitted front room for the Brighton Fringe Festival. It got coverage all over the world.
“This year they’re making a knitted garden for the Fringe. When it goes on show it will even have a knitted seagull with a knitted Albion scarf.”
While the Goodwill Co-op wasn’t targeting just women, it’s probably no surprise that they have shown the most interest.
Hence the Sheddie Association as an attempt to redress the balance and tap into latent talent in the area.
Examples of the recycling and up-cycling work that volunteers can expect to do include
- Making items from waste wood like bird boxes and garden planters
- Painting and up-cycling furniture for Emmaus’s “Ordinary to Extraordinary” project
- Refurbishing gardens tools to be sold in Emmaus’s garden centre
- Repairing bikes for sale
- Reclaiming fixtures and fittings from broken furniture to be reused or sold on
The Drove Road site has a thriving café – recently enlarged – and two shops. The shops are the Secondhand Superstore, which has everything from toys and clothes to music, films, books and all sorts of bric-a-brac, and the Emporium.
The latter is based in the chapel and has an eclectic mix of retro and vintage goods from furniture and clothing to china and glassware.
Emmaus Brighton and Hove took over the old convent when it closed 15 years ago and is home to a community of 42 companions.
All 42 were homeless and unemployed before accepting a place in the Emmaus community where they have to work to earn their stay. They are supported by a team of seven staff.
Joel said: “It’s all about helping others and that underpins everything that Emmaus is about. Our ethos is to serve first the one who suffers most.”
Despite the setting, he said, it’s a secular community and it’s the largest of the 22 Emmaus communities in Britain.
Joel said: “As far as backgrounds go, it can be anyone and everyone. Many people are a pay cheque away from being on the street.
“If people lose their job and can’t pay the rent, they can end up homeless very easily, particularly if they don’t have a support network of friends and family.”
He accepts that Emmaus can’t solve homelessness and unemployment but it plays a creative part in helping those who are willing to help themselves – and others.
Also on the cards, Joel said, is a garden project. The beautiful grounds offer the perfect opportunity to grow plants and herbs.
As the project is cultivated, the produce will go on sale in the shop, he said, while giving companions a chance to gain training and work experience in another field.
Well, gardens and sheds seem made for each other, so it’s little surprise that the two ideas are coming to fruit at the same time.