Club Profile – South Downs Woodturners

Monday 9 July 2018

Having met in each others workshops periodically, a group of four friends decided over a lunch that a new woodturning club was needed in the area. “We had a good idea of what was required due to our involvement in a variety of clubs.” Wanting to start 'big-bang' we approached it from a business perspective.

The first decisions were where and when to meet. We looked at the location of existing clubs and centres of population near us and decided upon the Brighton & Hove area due to good transport links to surrounding areas. How about when to meet? We looked at existing clubs on the AWGB website and found Thursday evening is most popular. In choosing a name we wanted it to be broader than an individual location – so South Downs Woodturners was chosen. Next was the interesting game of hunt the venue. Luckily there are some very good resources online, so we were quickly able to identify most of the available halls. Many were rejected due to size, price or lack of parking, etc. Finally we settled on Portslade Town Hall, just west of Brighton & Hove, as it is an excellent facility in a good location served by public transport and well lit roads – so ideal for evening meetings. We chose to meet on the first Thursday of each month from 7-10pm, starting in February 2013.

Our aim

We had an impressive ambition – our aim was to start with a fully functioning club, rather than to grow organically. This was partly fuelled by our projection of costs. We wanted to secure a hall where we would have room to expand, rather than starting with something small and then having to search for another one. So, to pay for the hall we needed members, to attract members we needed a full range of facilities – but just how do you start 'big-bang'?

The four of us agreed to provide a small amount of startup funding to get the club off the ground, guaranteeing it until we could be self financing, and created a budget to prove it would be viable. Initial planning resulted in a constitution and relevant rules, a website and a programme. Then about a month before the first club meeting we kicked into high gear and launched a publicity campaign. We contacted over 60 community websites, newsletters, newspapers and other media within a 15 mile radius of our base. We also put up posters in community centres, libraries and tool shops. In the meantime we had identified sources of grants and applied for help with equipment from a couple of organisations who support groups such as ours in the community. I rather foolishly volunteered to be our first demonstrator, which solved some problems as I have a small portable lathe and audio equipment. During some belated preparation I created a disconcerting 'it'll all be alright on the night' feeling after having three big catches on one of my 'Blue Peter' pieces at home, introducing an unwanted spiral pattern that had to be corrected. I knew I would have to approach that part of my demonstration differently later that evening to prevent the same thing happening again.

What we offer our members

We were conscious that prospective members would have a variety of requirements, from the complete novice seeking help to get started, through to experienced turners wanting to share their knowledge and pick up new ideas.

So plenty of opportunity to socialise was scheduled in, both at the start and in the break for the essential tea, coffee and a biscuit. Plus to stimulate conversation between members, we have a Tools 'n' Turnings table where members can bring any tool, part or fully complete turning, etc. to discuss. Placing this in an open part of the hall allows members to gather all around to maximise interaction.

Lots of people seem to like a raffle, and ours is essential to help fund the hall hire with donated prizes. We recognise the need to provide prizes that are relevant to our members, so we include a number of turning specific items like blanks and abrasives.

Woodturning-related demonstrations, talks and competitions are the mainstay of most clubs, and we planned a full programme from the outset. However, we decided that it should be as inclusive and thought provoking as possible. We would like to encourage all forms of woodturning and embellishment, allowing for both people who want to experiment as well as traditionalists. We feel there is plenty of merit in everyone getting together and sharing inspiration, tips and techniques – something woodturners seem to do so very well when given the opportunity.

We understood that two key elements of demonstrations are the ability of the entire audience to be able to both hear and see everything that is going on. So from the first meeting I used a wireless headworn microphone linked to the hall's PA system so that I could speak naturally whilst concentrating on what I was doing.

Communication is extremely important, and we have all put a significant amount of effort into our website, which will be regularly updated. In addition we will produce regular newsletters to keep members up-to-date with what's happening and provide them with interesting tips, etc.

First meetings

We were apprehensive – would there be just the four of us not knowing what to do in a huge hall? Luckily all of our hard work was rewarded on the night with local press and 39 people attending to watch the first demonstration where I illustrated the process of creating a lidded winged box. More importantly, the majority of those who attended, paid their £25 annual subscription to join the club. Our second meeting was also a success with a similar turnout and more people signing up as members. We enjoyed a local turner, Pete Brown, showing us how to make a pot-pourri vessel in two halves.

The pressure on the founding four

We underestimated the amount of effort required to start a club in this way; however, we have all found the process hugely rewarding. Whilst all of the jobs on day one had to be covered by the four of us and our wives, new members immediately started volunteering for key tasks. This enabled us to operate our shop and library, and relieved pressure on the founding four, freeing them up to implement future plans.

Future plans

All of our plans are subject to members needs, resources, and funding; however, there are several initiatives that we know are required and we are actively working towards. These are:

Projection equipment

It is important for members to be able to see the detail of how our demonstrators are manipulating tools and presenting them to the workpiece, so we plan for cameras and a projector to meet that need as soon as funds can be raised.

Beginner's tuition

A number of our members are beginners, or would simply like to start turning. As soon as we can arrange it we will operate beginners sessions in a smaller room with a high mentor to beginner ratio where experienced members will pass on their skills to help others on the path of woodturning. In addition we hope to be able to put on sessions on specific tools and techniques subject to demand.

Loan equipment

To further support anybody wanting to take up turning as a hobby, we plan to have loan equipment that we can make available to aspiring turners.

Outlets for members work

Sooner or later we run out of friends and family that we can give our turned items to, so we would like to offer members the opportunity to sell their work collectively, as a fore-runner to those who may ultimately want to run their own craft stall.

We have many more ideas, but feel that this is ample to be getting on with in our first year. If you are interested in becoming a member, then see our website for further details.