The Woodhouse Craft Centre, in Hoskins Road, Oxted, was founded by local resident Betty Woodhouse in 1971, as a place to provide ‘employment in friendly surroundings for elderly and disabled people’. 52 years later, it has been updated into a thriving hub where anybody, of any age, can meet, take part in creative activities and learn new skills.
Liz Martin-Lawrence took over as manager in 2022.
“The centre can still be perceived as a place for the elderly, but we’re actually a community space that exists to combat isolation and promote good mental health, which is relevant to everyone, no matter how old they are.”
The work model Betty originally set up saw members receiving payment for commissioned craft work, either repairing existing items or creating something new. It became apparent in recent years, however, that changes were needed to keep the centre sustainable. Commissions are still taken, but the money earned now goes towards its upkeep.
Many of the centre’s volunteers are accomplished in crafts such as caning, upholstery, needlework and knitting, and they pass this expertise on to the members. If woodwork is involved, the Oxted Men in Sheds group is on hand in their adjoining workshop, offering a supportive environment for local men at the same time.
A word that both Liz and Lorna use frequently is purpose. Liz explains.
“One reason people come here is to find company, but the centre can provide them with a sense of purpose and increased confidence too. There’s a range of crafts to get involved in, and they know they are helping the centre through commissions, or their work being sold at local fairs. They can learn new skills, but also do something meaningful, and that’s really important. When the Duchess of Wessex visited us last year, one member told her that the centre had changed his life. That’s why we’re here.”
Chair of trustees Lorna Edser has been involved with the centre for more than 20 years. In need of an overhaul for a while, she says an unlikely event was the catalyst for its recent revamp.
“The pandemic was obviously a huge problem, but we were eligible for a business grant, allowing us to pay bills and salaries and also start looking at how we could improve. Liz arrived last year, and we established a new trustee board, and with their help we began to transform how the centre was run.”
A much-needed refurbishment is currently underway. LED lights were installed in July, and in December it will be repainted, before new laminate flooring is installed.
“The existing carpet has been down for thirty years so it’s time for it to go,” says Lorna. “The new floor will be much easier to clean, and will make the whole centre look better. We’re fundraising £7,500 for it by asking people to sponsor a plank for £10.”
You can sponsor a plank for the Woodhouse Craft Centre’s new floor here.