Halifax Community Workshop That Offered ‘Sawdust Therapy’ is Closing

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For David Clearwater, running a community woodworking workshop in Halifax’s north end was a labor of love.

However, like so many other love affairs, it has now come to a bittersweet conclusion.

The Hands-On Halifax Community Workshop offered woodworking lessons and offered the space and tools for persons to work on their own projects.

When Clearwater retired from the navy after 30 years in 2016, he discovered the workshop founded and run by Russell Zwicker in 2016.

He had just lost his father, who loved woodworking, and the workshop proved to be the perfect transition for him to get back into civilian life.

“I call it sawdust therapy,” he said. “It was kind of a daycare for men. I went to a few classes and then I got to know Russell.”

WhenZwicker got a job offer in Montreal, Clearwater jumped at the opportunity to take over the workshop. That happen back in Sep. 2017.

However, the business model was not working and COVID-19 restrictions did not help. Earlier this month, he announced on social media that the business would shut down.

It will stay open till August 15 for those who donated tools they want to reclaim and for those with advance bookings.

Clearwater said he was living in denial and had not filed corporate taxes in two years. He was afraid to find out “how much money we didn’t make.”

It was just when he and his wife hired a local bookkepper this 2021 that the true enormity of their loss became apparent.

He said the bookkeeper found that the enterprise had lost $43K last year and was on track to lose another $27K by July 2021.

They just made razor-thin profits in good times. The COVID-19 pandemic and rising lumber prices were the nail in the coffin.

“I’m not a business person,” he said. “I’m a mentor. I’m a talking board. I’m an advice-giver, a consultant — but I’m not really a businessman.”

Clearwater said he realizes now he should have registered as a non-profit enterprise rather than a social one.

As per Clearwater, had he gone that way he would have been able to access more grants and have a more consistent cash flow.

He credits his landlord for helping him survive the COVID pandemic for as long as he did by applying for federal grants to help ease the rent burden.

Clearwater said the constant issues about money and the associated stresses were starting to take a mental toll on him, leading to the decision to close.

Now in the process of liquidating the assets of the workshop, he said it is a difficult process because he is reminded of the sense of community that will be lost and memories associated with some of the items being sold.

In spite of the financial hardships keeping the business open, Clearwater said the experience has paid him back in ways he never expected.

He said he has post-traumatic stress disorder and the process of running the workshop and interacting with persons there have helped him cope.

“You learn a skill, you grow in your ability and you build a project,” he said, ” And that was me every day learning from our patrons.”

“I learned compassion. I learned empathy. I learned communication skills, collaboration. Those are all gifts that were given to me by our patrons.”

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