Groundwork NE & Cumbria's gwk woodshed has had a successful first year1A project that helps to support social enterprise Groundwork NE & Cumbria in its mission to improve people’s employment prospects has had a successful first year.

The gwk woodshed at Dunston, near Gateshead helps to transform waste and surplus timber into unique bespoke affordable, high quality, indoor and outdoor furniture and other products that are sold at the on-site shop and online in order to help the charity generate an income.

Its main purpose is to provide training for volunteers and those on work placements to help boost their employment prospects by increasing their skills, knowledge, confidence and self-esteem.

Since the gwk woodshed opened, it has diverted more than 100 tonnes of wood from landfill and achieved sales in excess of £40,000.

Its recent significant commissions have included providing 40 timber planters to Catchgate Horticultural and Planter Society (CHAPS) in Stanley, as well as a number of seats and pieces of furniture for Gateshead restaurant, Vivere.

Groundwork NE & Cumbria Chief Executive Kate Culverhouse, said: “The gwk woodshed is working well on three levels – a means of helping people improve their confidence and skills, protecting the environment by recycling previously used wood rather than it go to landfill and as an income generator.

“The gwk woodshed reflects Groundwork’s ethos of making the best use of resources for the good of the community and helping increase people’s ability to secure permanent employment.”

Doug Carmichael, chairs CHAPS, which organises neighbourhood projects with planters and other horticultural activities in Stanley and the surrounding communities. He said: “As a community project, we feel that it is important to support other local organisations that benefit the community, such as NE & Cumbria, so when we required additional planters, gwk woodshed was our first choice.

“Our first order was for just 10 planters and after seeing them in situ, they looked so great that we have put in an order for another 40. The quality is just as good as any commercial product, but is a fraction of the price and the money is going to a good cause.

“Dealing with GWK’s staff, Geoff and Nathan has been excellent. They have been helpful, imaginative and responsive to our needs – everything a client could ask for. Their range of bespoke products on a tight budget is extraordinary.”

Pier Carlo, owner of the Vivere restaurant said: “The guys at gwk woodshed are amazing. They created a totally bespoke set of tables and seats for me using old whisky barrels, saving them from the tip or fire. The furniture is totally unique to Vivere and really adds to the atmosphere. I’m sure it still has an aroma of whisky.

“The quality of the finish and the price, along with the fact you can have an input into the design of your furniture, means that I keep going back to gwk woodshed. I currently have another commission in with them to create a table from a giant cable reel, which will look really cool when it’s finished.”

The gwk woodshed is part of a horticultural nursery that Groundwork operates on the same site, which is next to Whickham Highway. The gwk nursery employs three staff, provides work placements for up to ten people and training opportunities for nine volunteers.

Micky Stobbart, a 38-year-old gwk woodshed volunteer, who lives in Blaydon, said: “I am learning so many new skills including the use of power tools and how to design and built a range of garden furniture.

“My hope is that once I have finished my placement at the gwk woodshed I will have the knowledge and skills necessary to find work with a joinery.”

Alistair Nixon, 46, who lives in Wallsend, and is on a work placement, said: “Being involved with the gwk woodshed has made me a happier person – a big difference from what I was like when I was spending all my time in the house.

“I used to have depression, but working here has improved my confidence and helped me through it. In the future I really hope I get taken on permanently at the gwk woodshed.”

Groundwork NE & Cumbria is dedicated to improving the lives of people across the region. It achieves this through a wide range of life-enhancing projects including community space improvement programmes, training and work placement schemes, and initiatives to help improve residents’ wellbeing, health, confidence and self-esteem.

The gwk nursery provides horticultural training, offers courses and activities in health and wellbeing and specialises in growing trees using locally collected seed, which are then sold across the UK for use in woodland schemes, hedging, landscaping, schools, plantations, highways and many other projects.

The gwk nursery, also based at the former Gateshead Central Nursery site is open to the public, who can buy from an excellent range of plants and trees as well as products from the gwk woodshed.