Arts & Culture

Churchill Fellowship supercharges Bega builders vision for change

By Ian Campbell 5 March 2017
Jo Saccomani

Jo Saccomani

A Bega carpenter’s big picture ideas for her trade and community have won the backing of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust.

Jo Saccomani is off to the USA and Canada later this year having been awarded a Churchill Fellowship, an initiative set up in memory of the wartime Brittish PM to foster research and innovation and enrich society.

“I have promised to change the face of what Australian society sees as women’s work,” Jo laughs.

Jo has been a builder for over 30 years, starting out through a women’s trade program.

Apart from working on building sites as a licenced chippy, supporting other women into a carpentry career has always been part of Jo’s makeup.

In recent years, injury has forced Jo to rethink how the craft she loves could continue to sustain her financially and emotionally –  out of that process a teacher was born.

Two Sheds Workshop opened in 2014, tucked away in the Bega CBD under a beautifully big Jacaranda tree in two small old timber slab huts.

The original Two Sheds Workshop

The original Two Sheds Workshop

Offering woodwork classes to women and children, hundreds of students have since left wood shavings and off cuts on the floor of Jo’s classroom.

“I’ve ignited a little spark in Bega of people wanting to learn this stuff,” Jo says.

As a woman working in a field normally the domain of men, Jo is aware of the example she sets and enjoys quietly disrupting those ingrained gender roles at play in our community.

With real consciousness, cultural change underlines the woodwork skills taught at Two Sheds.

“Boys and girls work alongside each other, there is no differentiation about what they can and can’t do,” Jo says.

The mums, aunties and grandmothers that also attend the regular calendar of events at Two Sheds add their own presence and weight in the community. They’re Jo’s foot soldiers, taking her example to more and more people.

Jo sees a day when Bega will be a microcosm of woman building and working with wood and no one will notice.

“We will shift the culture, it will just be a normal thing, which is really how you create social change,” Jo believes.

And it’s already happening.

“They (children) don’t come in and say geez it’s awesome you’re a woman Jo’ it’s nothing to them,” she laughs.

Women at work in the new Two Sheds Workshop

Women at work in the new Two Sheds Workshop

Part of her overseas travel will see Jo tap into schools and teachers using woodwork as a central part of their curriculum, further developing her own skills as an educator, and extending what she currently offers the schools and children of Bega.

“You learn woodwork skills here but they’re basically the skills of – this is how you do anything,” Jo says.

“Being able to provide that environment to women and children is really great.”

Jo is now keen to take students to a new level of skill and offer more advanced building and construction tuition.

In January this year, Two Sheds moved to a bigger workshop space on Bega Street, opposite the willow tree.

Being awarded the Fellowship for travel overseas has added momentum and depth to the new plan for 2017.

“Part of what I want to learn about over there is using ‘tiny houses’ as a teaching platform,” Jo says.

Hammerstone School of Carpentry for Women just outside of Ithaca in New York state is Jo’s first stop.

Maria Klemperer-Johnson is the owner and driving force behind Hammerstone and the lady Jo is keen to connect with.

Jo sees potential in what Maria and Hammerstone are doing in their community for her own at the opposite end of the globe.

“Each year they build a tiny house,” Jo explains.

“As part of that, they’ll run a timber framing workshop.

“And then they’ll have a cladding workshop and so on until the tiny house is finished,” Jo says.

A tiny house has the look, presence and strength of a ‘regular’ size house, but is transportable, but not in a caravan kind of way.

One of Hammerstone's tiny houses

One of Hammerstone’s tiny houses

Jo’s vision is to use the smaller scale inbuilt in tiny houses to teach full sized construction and building skills – unlocking big ideas and big potential in people.

“If I can go over there with the Fellowship and talk to Maria and see how they do that, it will really help me do something similar back here,” Jo says.

Part of Jo’s drive is empowering people to take control of their future.

“I’ve had a bit to do with the SEWACS (South East Women and Children’s Services) youth program,” Jo says.

“There is such an amazing need to create homes for kids, youth that are living on the street.”

“They end up having to stay at the pub, but those kids could learn how to build a place,” Jo says.

Part of the theory is that the bite-size nature of a tiny house makes it more approachable for people.

“It’s not as daunting, people think – yeah I reckon I could do that,” she says.

Cost is the other x-factor in Jo’s tiny house movement, with plans being developed to construct a tiny house using leftover, unwanted, readily available, cheap as chips timber pallets from the transport and logistics industry.

Jo’s goal is to design a tiny house that costs just $500 to build after the purchase of a trailer as the base.

The plan is being road tested with Jo’s 16-year-old son, the pair teaming up to build what will be Liam’s home away from home when he heads off to uni or work after high school.

Plane tickets are being booked for September – October, and Jo is planning to blog along the way before presenting her report to the Churchill Trust.

“What they want is for you to share your passion and what you have learned as much as you can, and that’s my life really,” Jo says.

Click play to hear Jo’s vision and spark for yourself…

Jo’s travels will also be featured at the second Tradeswomen Conference in Brisbane in 2018.

The Two Shed’s motto of ‘build yourself’ is now clearer than even and has been supercharged by the Churchill Fellowship.

Applications for the next round of 100 Fellowships opened this week, Jo says “Go for it!”

What's Your Opinion?

6 Responses to Churchill Fellowship supercharges Bega builders vision for change

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Alicia Gauld 1:45 am 07 Mar 17

Can't wait to see how things go Jo & sign me up when you get back! Thanks Ian.

    Ian Campbell 2:19 am 07 Mar 17

    Jo's class just keeps getting bigger! Thanks Alicia, Ian

Jane 9:44 pm 05 Mar 17

I've been wanting to build a tiny house with my daughter for a while but didn't know whether to start. Can't wait!

    Ian Campbell 9:55 pm 05 Mar 17

    Thanks Jane, I think they'll be a line out the door. Cheers Ian

Peter Buggy 10:13 am 05 Mar 17

Congratulations Jo on the Churchill Fellowship.

As well as an excellent solution to short-term homelessness, a few small houses among the coast towns would be a good solution at accommodation for seasonal workers during the Christmas-New Year and Easter period when accommodation is hard or next to impossible to get.

It would be nice to see the council help facilitate small house projects in the Valley.

    Ian Campbell 9:16 pm 05 Mar 17

    Good to have your big idea thinking part of the discussion Peter! Cheers Ian

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