I came to Hollybush about eight years ago as a volunteer, there were no courses then. The woodwork workshop was very basic, with people just making things without much training. I did the Environmental Conservation Diploma Level 1, the next year I did my teacher training and got through that and started running the courses. My working background is as a time-served carpenter; it’s fantastic for me and fantastic for Hollybush. I’d never done any teaching before coming here. That was all new to me. When I was on building sites, I would always train the apprentices; I think I was good at that. It’s been a vast learning curve really, but I’m a very patient person and I think I’m a good carpenter, and just the fact that the courses have been successful must mean I’m doing something right.
In the beginning we only ran three courses a year, but it was so popular we expanded it and now the Basic Woodwork is eight courses a year. There’s also a Further Woodwork course and a Production Woodwork course, where we make things for the site. And we’ve also started this year running a ten-week Design course. I also run a Learning Disabilities Project twice a week; this year we’ve started a Wood Squad project for over 50s. So it’s fairly busy really! I actually started working at Hollybush two days a week; that’s increased over the years and just today I’ve found out I’ll be doing five days, so that’s fantastic and I love it.
When I first came, the guys in the workshop allowed me to work with them. People of all ages come on the courses. When I came to my interview I wanted to get more women involved and more people from minorities; I was told this was unlikely to happen, but I’ve proved that it is possible and on some courses we’ve had nine different nationalities; that’s absolutely fantastic. Most courses are 50/50 men and women, and different ages as well. When I pick people, I try to pick people of different ages and different backgrounds, so they are meeting people of different origins and different ages and it makes it interesting for me as well. Anybody can come on the ‘Basic course’ and we’ve had people from massively different backgrounds; we’ve had blind people, deaf people and some using wheelchairs. I like it being busy and we can manage the risks involved. After the first course I generally have the final say on who joins the next one, because if I feel somebody can’t do it it’s not fair on them; they get left behind.
The courses make a massive difference to people; it’s about giving people confidence and control and passion to be able to do things they didn’t think they could do. I took my daughter to nursery the other day and practically half the women there, I’ve taught them, and they still remember and say they loved the course. Some take it further, and we’ve had five women go on to building college who’d never done any building before and they are doing their apprenticeships now.
We always love the Christmas Fair. We push to make that really good; it’s good fun and always well attended. I don’t do as many events now because I work at the weekends, but I try to get down and see things. I came down to the Art Trail; I thought that was great this year.
Hollybush has got a lot more diverse over the years, with a lot more going on and a lot more talented people in their own fields. We’ve got a lot of courses: bushcraft, natural crafts, and woodwork, which has expanded from three courses a year to about 22. A lot of it is to do with John pushing to do these exciting things; my job here is totally down to John and his passion to push things forward. You just have to look at the site and how different it is now; we’ve got the roundhouse, which is fantastic, and my new shed, and the woodwork shop is fully kitted out now. It’s very vibrant and there’s the café which draws people in and everything supports everything else; people come to the café and see the woodwork or come to woodwork and see the café. I think Hollybush has got a lot more recognised outside of here.
I absolutely adore my job. Coming from a building site to coming to work here with so many nice people and so many exciting things happening, is completely different. I’ve been through some bad times over the years and everybody has supported me, staff and volunteers as well. I feel very privileged to work here. Everyone I know envies me my job and wishes they had something similar near them. I look forward to coming to work; I leap out of bed.
Tom Lister, Volunteer 2011 – 2013 and Woodwork Tutor 2013 – Present