Meet the Maker: Black Paw Upcycle Project

There’s absolutely no doubt that we are being made more aware, on an almost daily basis, of the importance of being less wasteful. The climate crisis, financial pressures, impending winter, all are focusing our minds on ways that we can help ourselves to live a more sustainable lifestyle and survive the additional drains on our resources. While this, for most, is a work in progress there are some who are well into the swing of things!


Scott at the Black Paw Upcycle Project, believes very strongly in the value of 'things' and that every 'thing' can be reinvented and repurposed rather than thrown away. He very kindly gave us an insight into his life and work with partner Sue at their workshop in Shepton Mallet, Somerset.

Q1. Tell us a little about yourself.

I have to start by saying I found it hard to believe what I do is a ‘Craft’, as this is something I have done all my life and is just a way of living to me. At the age of 18, I went to polytechnic to study community education (teaching) and had a flat with no furniture and no money. I started getting stuff out of skips, leftovers from building sites and I built beds, tables, bookcases and all the other bits you need in a flat. This has stuck with me as a way of life,  both from a recycling point of view, and it's just fun to make things!
For many years friends, and friends of friends have come to my house and asked me to teach them to build the type of things they have seen in my home. To this end, I ran my first weekend course in turning pallets into furniture and I thought that would be it! Eight years on, I am now running about 20-25 courses a year and my partner does about 8-10. We could do more, but we both want to keep it as an enjoyable hobby, not a full-time job.

Q2. Can you describe your workshop space?

We have two. One is our workshop which is small and snug where we do all our own creating and running the smaller courses. The second is a shared space in a community centre where we do the bigger courses and groups.  

Q3. What do students learn in your courses?

All our courses have three objectives, 

  1. Have fun.
  2. Learn skills and build enough confidence, so people can go and start creating stuff at home.
  3. Build and complete something on the day, that they can take home and show off to family and friends. 

Q4. Tell us about your team.

There are just two of us, myself and Sue Adams (my better half) and we take it in turns to run the different workshops, with one of us leading and the other supporting. Sue is a crafter in her own right with a passion for colours, working in material, fabrics, plants and jewellery. She also has some deft woodworking skills, of which I am in awe! (She wrote this in when she did the spell-checking for me!)

Sorry I almost forgot “Max” the dog who BlackPaw is named after and can be found giving advice and support any time there is food about.

Q5. Describe a typical month as a maker.

We run courses every other weekend throughout the year. Running the courses for us is about sharing our passions for upcycling and making one-of-a-kind items. People come on the course to have fun and be inspired by passion. So to keep it interesting to us, we rotate the courses, usually running each course every 8 weeks. Between courses, Sue and I use the workshop to do our own creative thing on our own projects. It's not uncommon to find it full of wood one day and then plastic tubs and beehive parts another. It's all about what we fancy doing and what materials we have got hold of that week.
You have to think about upcycling like eating fruit, to really get the most from it you can only eat what's in season and upcycling is just not the same this week as next week.  You may have access to loads of metal pipe one week and then next week old cameras, or light fittings. It changes every week and that's the fun of it.

Q6. Do you still craft in your spare time, when you’re not teaching? 

Yes of course. The fun bit is making something new or seeing something online and saying ‘I wonder if I can make one of them, or can I mix that up with wood or metal’? It also gives you the drive for going round junk shops, charity shops, and hunting in skips for materials to work with.

Q7. What other craft/s do you love apart from that which you teach?

I'm trying to learn to be a blacksmith as  I want to integrate forged metal into things that I make.

Sue has recently learnt to make stained glass and is now working on how to make ‘realistic sized felt bees in tiny boxes’.     

Q8. Who/what is your biggest source of inspiration professionally?

Though I had been doing it for many years, the first thing I saw on TV that made me radically start looking at things in a new way, was a program called ‘The Salvager’ with a presenter called Rico Daniels. He had a program that was the first to look at how you use things in a new way: taking old doors and making kitchen cabinets out of them, or a van roof and turning it into a boat.
Until I came across his programs I thought I was just odd, (which I still am) but I now know I'm not alone in having a passion for making new things out of other people's rubbish. I also have large rugs on my workshop floor and I suppose this is in tribute to Rico Daniels!

Q9. What advice would you give to other people looking to teach their craft?

Don't start teaching crafts to make money, teach because you have a passion to share your skills and interests. The money is just a nice bit on the side. Also, be friendly and remember (during those difficult times when people are struggling to master a skill), we all started with little or no skill. Even now I get a kick out of watching a student learn how to use a hammer for the first time. If you share your student's thrill of learning something new and look at it through their eyes, you will have an amazing time teaching.

10. What is the funniest thing to ever happen on one of your courses?

My favourite phrase which I hear every few weeks is, "my partner has one of these tools at home but I haven't been allowed to use it!" and I imagine the conversation next week when they say "Scott said I'm allowed now, I'm trained!"
Also It's the odd things or requests that are the most fun such as the student who requested that everything be made less than 25cms long instead of the standard metre plus size. Her reason was, as it turned out, a very practical one. She had come down from Scotland on the plane to do the course with her friend, and it all had to go back as hand luggage on the plane! 
You can browse the courses on offer from the Black Paw Upcycle Project here. Thank you Scott for such a great insight into upcycling. We are proud to have you with us at CraftCourses as one of our makers.

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