100% volunteer, Hands-On Halifax has faced a lot in recent years – a pandemic included – but looks forward to a brighter summer
Three summers ago, Hands-On Halifax seemed to be on the brink.
As they prepared to move to their new North End location on Commission Street, more than $ 1,000 in power tools went missing from the shop, allegedly stolen. For a community carpentry shop – which, even in the best of times, wasn’t designed to be a cash cow – it was a real punch in the guts.
“Right now our hearts are broken and our wallets are empty,” the store said at the time, adding that “we could stand still and just let a good thing have its time.”
But things have a way of working out, and now – three years, a bunch of donations and a move later – Hands-On Halifax has survived the pandemic and continues to be a place for what Dave Clearwater calls the sawdust therapy.
In part, they kept the store open during the pandemic by taking external contracts with other businesses and organizations in Halifax.
“We’re 100% volunteers, so we’re trying to open the store to fulfill the contracts,” says Clearwater. “Booking, planning and all the good things that come with running a business get very difficult, but luckily we have a few stable and constant volunteers who are able to come in regularly on a certain day or night. “
They built displays for Leonidas Chocolate, they hosted four teenagers with the Atlantic Jewish Council who came over and built a little library, they did some specialized work for someone with a heritage home, and they have “a permanent gentleman, Rob, who makes cat houses and cat accessories for local pet stores, ”says Clearwater.
“We help the Legion every year for their annual. We help the police association, for Kids Help Phone. We’ve also helped the Parker Street Food Bank with back-to-school kits, and we’re also working with the Nova Scotia Ground Search and Rescue Association, to help them, ”he says.
“We try to give back as much as we get from the community because they are a big part of how and why we exist. It is to learn, to build, to grow.
They have also expanded the tools they have in the store, with more emphasis on cutting edge technology. They have a new STEM lab and a Glowforge 3D laser printer, popular with small artisans and capable of engraving virtually anything.
While things are returning to normal, it is still the community carpentry aspect of businesses that is at the heart of their mission.
So many people, Clearwater says, from apartment dwellers to people looking to downsize, don’t have access to the kind of expensive tools found in woodworking shops.
At the same time, the pandemic has highlighted that there is a high demand for places like this, places that provide people with a low-cost option to work on their projects. And despite what you might think of carpentry shops (or remember the high school workshop class), this demand exists with all types of people.
“Traditionally, we have a lot of middle-aged people taking the courses. It’s a resurgence – getting back to natural hobbies and stuff, ”Clearwater says. “And then we have a younger generation doing cosplay – a demographic that we really didn’t know about until this person came along, and [now] he’s one of our volunteers.
So after 18 tough months and a few tough years, now it looks like there are better days for the community store.
“It was tough,” he says. “But we’re still thriving, so I hope this summer really helps us. Especially inside, it’s always 20 degrees and it never rains in the store!