Hands-on skills program a lesson in inclusivity


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A series of hands-on workshops to teach women trade skills is fully booked, and it hasn’t even started yet.

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This article was published 03/01/2019 (1363 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A series of hands-on workshops to teach women trade skills is fully booked, and it hasn’t even started yet.

Skill Jill, a new, six-session program by the Winnipeg Repair Education and Cycling Hub (WRENCH), begins Tuesday, and runs every second week, alternating between ArtsJunktion on William Avenue and WRENCH on Logan Avenue. The program aims to offer beginner-level workshops on practical skills and trades by and for women, trans, non-binary, two-spirit and femme-identifying people.

Volunteer co-ordinator Sarah Thiessen said it was apparent after hosting a basic carpentry workshop last summer there’s an appetite for accessible trades workshops.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Skill Jill co-ordinator Sarah Thiessen says the free workshops — for carpentry, electrical wiring, auto mechanics, sewing with a machine, arboriculture and audio storytelling — are sold out and there is a waiting list.

“So many people want these skills,” Thiessen said. “It’s such an empowering thing to be able to build things and to just understand how things are made.”

In 2011, Thiessen became a part of the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association bike lab, where she learned to repair bikes.

“I liked my classes at university. I got a biology degree, but I think that my time getting involved with the University of Winnipeg bike lab was really what left a more lasting impact on my life,” she said.

“The feeling of becoming the person that can help someone feel more welcome and included and in a space that can be very intimidating feels really, really good.”

After the success of the carpentry workshops, Thiessen focused her efforts on classes to demystify supposedly masculine skills. After obtaining a grant from the provincial government under Neighbourhoods Alive!, the Skill Jill workshops were created.

The six free workshops focus on carpentry, electrical wiring, auto mechanics, sewing with a machine, arboriculture, and audio storytelling. Scheduled from January to March, each workshop has the capacity for 15 people.

Thiessen said registration spots filled up faster than expected and there are more than 60 people on the waiting list. She said she was overwhelmed by the response and hopes to hold a second round of Skill Jill workshops in the future.

“There is a huge hunger for this type of workshop that is not being met in the city. Especially for folks that are low-income, I think the fact that these workshops are free is major, and I think that that is something that I know the WRENCH is really passionate about — reducing barriers to skills and making knowledge accessible to everyone,” Thiessen said.

Thiessen said she hopes the workshops help people feel comfortable in a setting that promotes community and inclusivity.

“I think a really cool thing that happens in these workshops is that you create connections with folks that you would never have crossed paths with, and it throws together a mix of people, and that can be really beautiful,” she said. “Who knows where these connections that you make in these workshops can lead?”

WRENCH is a non-profit organization focused on removing barriers to building, repairing and maintaining bicycles.

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