In Rialto, a People’s Shed Offers Skill-Sharing for All

A timber sign props open the door to the artists’ studio at St Andrew’s Community Centre on the South Circular Road.

The words “A People’s Shed” are carved into the wood and, Wednesdays through Fridays, Evelyn Broderick, the artist working inside, adds a piece of paper saying “Come in!”.

In the centre of the studio is the unfinished timber frame of a shed. Within the shed’s outline sit two cosy armchairs, a coffee table, and two mugs, into which Broderick pours coffee from a cafetiere.

People may well have heard of men’s sheds or, albeit less often, women’s sheds, says Broderick.

She loves the idea of these local clubs for men or women to meet each other, make friends, and learn new skills, she says.

But she has long wondered if there was a way of opening up the idea to more people, says Broderick. “Even though they’re positive places for the people in them, some people might be excluded from the terms, ‘men’s shed’, ‘women’s shed’.”

Broderick proposed a people’s shed to Common Ground, an arts organisation that aims to merge community and culture in Dublin 8, under their A Radical Imagination residency award, which she was awarded in March.

Between June and now, she’s been building the people’s shed and gathering her tools. Now she’s opening the doors of her studio.

She’s hoping passers-by will come in, sit down, and chat. “For me, people’s shed would be really about sharing skills and knowledge, and sometimes that comes from having a cup of tea with somebody,” she says.

Just Like That

Inside the studio, around the centrepiece of the shed frame, are cluttered bookshelves and Broderick’s unfinished projects.

She has been weaving seats into two wooden chairs using orange builder’s twine, and setting wooden planks between the steel ends of a bench she found.

There’s a dining table to sit around, a leather couch to fall into.

Broderick likes the idea of creating an informal atmosphere where people can learn how to use different tools, whether the drill, the wood burner, the glue gun, or another machine lying around or stowed in cubby holes in the crowded studio.

Just as her grandmother would teach rushwork to locals in her house, she says. She’d weave table mats, baskets, vase covers and St Brigid’s Crosses using cut and dried rushes, sourced by her son from nearby bogs in east Galway.

“I learned music similarly. My neighbour just started teaching tin whistle to a couple of kids on my road,” Broderick says. “It wasn’t a class. We didn’t sign up for it.”

Broderick thinks there should be more local free spaces, where skills can be shared informally, for the sake of sharing and connection, she says.

Right now, if people want to learn new things, the only option might be a class, she says. “When you sign up for a class you have to really commit,” she says. And if you can’t commit, you miss out.

No Strings

To start off the people’s shed, Broderick wants to share her own skills in timber cutting, inking and drawing, she says.

She’s been hunting down what materials she can scavenge and re-use for art there. “So far, it’s been timber.”

With the timber, Broderick built a bench, which sits near the window of the studio, a rope bridge which she has draped across the bench, and the still unfinished outline of the People’s Shed in the centre of the studio.

But people can start, if they like, with simpler projects, she says, like woodblock printing with ink.

Broderick takes two smooth little blocks, stained with black ink, out of a box, in her hands.

“You could cut the timber yourself, and then make little shapes, sand them down, and then use those shapes to ink them up and play,” she says.

She tilts her head at a piece of paper she’d tacked onto the wall with a brick-like pattern inked onto it.

There’s no right or wrong way of doing it, she says, “Carving away timber and inking it up, not even to make an image, just that feeling of printing.”

St Andrew's Resource Centre on South Circular Road in Rialto. Photo by Claudia Dalby.

People don’t need to leave with a perfect finished product or even mastery of a skill, she says.

“They can learn how to cut in a straight line, you know, or, like, sand something and get to kind of like grips with timber,” she says. “But not have to commit to coming back.”

Because making anything takes time, and Broderick says she understands people might not have the time.

But there’s value in piecemealing out your time to create something, she says.

“If you start woodblock printing, carving, stuff like, you know what that takes? That takes time,” she says. “But there’s an enjoyment in that, in slowing down.”

Places for All

Broderick has been back and forth with the Dublin 8 Men’s Shed, and the Sister’s Shed, which is for women.

The local men’s shed and sister’s shed in Rialto are fantastic, says Broderick, but she wants to try out something different, something with a broader reach, for more people who don’t have to share a gender or age with others to attend.

Men’s sheds aren’t for every type of man, she says. “Maybe men would think that they couldn’t go to a men’s shed because it would be very full-on, in building and stuff like that.”

There should be a place to share skills that aren’t gendered or for a group of people who are the same age, she says. “For anyone.”

Broderick will be helping the sister’s shed make a wooden frame, to display the woollen butterflies they have been crocheting, she says.

“I was telling them that I work a lot with timber,” she says, and leans back, widening her eyes to mime the curiosity the woman at the sister’s shed had in this.

“‘Can … can we do that?’ I was like, yes!” says Broderick.

She’d like to share basic skills with them, in using a hammer or drill, she says. “All the things that people are a little bit, like, ‘Oh, I couldn’t do that.’”

“I’d hope that that would be the message, getting across that art is something that you can come and do at your own pace,” she says.

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Claudia Dalby: Claudia Dalby is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. She's especially interested in stories about the southside, transport, and kids in the city. Get in touch at [email protected]

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