Whether you’re looking to undertake a spot of DIY or get creative and design your own furniture, Tottenham’s Blackhorse Workshop is the place to be. Dedicated to making and mending, the public space caters to everyone from dabblers to professionals, and is at the beating heart of the Maker revolution. Elliott Lewis-George explores what's on offer.
Make do and mend’ is my grandma’s favourite mantra. Picked up during peak wartime austerity, the saying encouraged people to repair what they had instead of taking the costly route of replacing it. Nowadays, the act of making, doing and mending is an increasingly popular pastime. It seems that many Londoners want to build something more tangible than a following on social media, and to develop practical skills away from the computer screen. Escaping the monotony of the always-on urban existence, Londoners are keen to get stuck in.
Luckily for them, a number of safe and sociable workshops are popping up around the capital that offer a range of tools and hands-on tuition if you want to build more than just flat-pack furniture.
One such space is Walthamstow’s Blackhorse Workshop, a fully equipped wood and metal workshop that’s open seven days a week to anyone who wants to get their hands dirty.
Just a ten-minute walk from Blackhorse Road tube station, the workshop is instantly less intimidating than your granddad’s garden shed. On arrival, a twenty-something woman in paint-splattered overalls welcomed me inside, past a curious construction of metal pipes, where I was greeted by benches of people tapping away on laptops and sipping on coffee in a café I’d expect to find on Brick Lane, not Blackhorse Lane.
The bustling café, appropriately called Wood St Coffee, is just part of what Blackhorse Workshop has to offer. Founded in February 2014 by the celebrated architecture and design practice Assemble, the workshop has attracted funding from the likes of Legacy Trust UK and Arts Council England to support a range of creative courses and public facilities.
“It’s the ever-increasing community of members that keep the success of the workshop growing,” explains Mhairi McGee, the Blackhorse Workshop’s administrator, as she shows me around the wood and metal workshops. “I think people just find it satisfying to build and create stuff here. Especially if they’re stuck in an office all day.”
In the woodwork studio, half a dozen Londoners are running through a simple induction so they can get their hands on the saws and drills safely.
“Everyone needs to complete an induction before using the machinery,” says Mhairi as she battles against the sound of welding coming from the metalwork studio. “Once you’ve completed an induction run by one of our qualified technicians, you can get started or sign up to courses catered to all levels – whether you need to brush up on soldering basics or master the art of furniture upcycling.”
If you’re looking to build more than a bedside table, Blackhorse Workshop also offers reasonably priced studio space for creative start-ups. “We offer 30 spaces to support creatives from all disciplines. Whether you’re a furniture designer, architect, lighting designer, shoemaker or mechanical engineer, each creative gets 24-hour access to their studio unit, seven days a week,” explains Mhairi, “they can get support from our technicians and access all the tools and machinery too.”
Back downstairs, Mhairi delights in showing me the outdoor market stalls where a lot of the start-ups sell their creations to the local community. “One member also brews his own beer,” Mhairi says with a smile. “Another guy runs his own wood shop and hangs a wood menu in the café. One engineer is trying to build the equipment needed to power the workshop completely self-sufficiently.”
That’ll explain the pipes and barrels then!
I’m joined on the workshop tour by a product design graduate called Stephen, who hopes to hire out some studio space to develop a new range of gadgets to sell commercially.
Joanne, a marketing manager, also joins us and explains that she wants to build a cabinet for her record collection. “I loved woodwork at school so I’m going to sign up for some beginners courses and spend some of my Saturday afternoons building the cabinet,” she says enthusiastically. “Who knows, I might make a couple and try to sell them.”
It’s nice to see my grandma’s favourite mantra is alive and well at the Blackhorse Workshop.
Tours take place every Saturday at 3pm.
“I think people just find it satisfying to build and create stuff here. Especially if they’re stuck in an office all day.”QUOTE: Mhairi McGee, Blackhorse Workshop