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Skill-share and Free Shop in Next to Nowhere (Liverpool Social Centre)

Emma Pooka | 23.01.2008 23:06 | Free Spaces | Liverpool

On Sunday 13th January we held a free shop and skill-share day at Next to Nowhere ( The idea was for people to come in and engage in whatever creative or practical skills they knew, to look at what others were doing and have a go, and to re-use, recycle or modify second hand items for free.

The background to this is the idea that many basic, practical skills are commandeered by educational institutions and culturally gendered by schools and the media, keeping us reliant on mass consumerism for all our daily needs, from food and clothing to plumbing and furniture. Contrary to what craft or CDT lessons at school may have led us to believe, taking back ownership of those skills isn’t about what you can do if you’re hard-working, diligent, give it all your time and effort and take a professional attitude. It’s about what you can do if you’re busy, short of cash, have little or no experience and less natural aptitude, but you’re willing to give it a go. It’s about getting together with other interested people, talking to each other and learning from each other. It’s about not paying ridiculous prices for things that are really quite cheap and simple to make if you know someone who knows how. It’s about discovering that you’re not as helpless as you’ve been led to believe, that women can weld, that men can sew, and that none of us have to be passive consumers, reliant on fashions dictated by images designed to make us feel worthless. Skill-sharing is a form of empowerment.

The first event began with an informal format: tables set up for a variety of activities, with a children’s area and Free Shop at one end. People arrived, with or without equipment, and either set themselves up to demonstrate their skills or had a look at what others were doing. Formal workshops may be considered for the next event, but in general we found people simply helped each other to have a go when they showed an interest.

Skills shared and used included woodwork, machine sewing, clay modelling, web design/message-board management and bicycle maintenance, and amongst the projects people worked on were a sandwich board (for outside the centre), curtains, clothes, banners, sculptures and photographic portfolios. Next time, with the gas cooker and kitchen units installed, we hope to add vegan cookery to the skills list, possibly with wild/foraged food.

The Free shop was a success, with a sewing machine and blender donated to centre, many clothes, books and games claimed and some scrap material used in the skill-sharing. Reactions to the day were positive and more are planned, to be arranged on a monthly basis. These will be publicised on the Next to Nowhere calendar (, and you are invited to seize the means of your production and bring them down to Next to Nowhere, along with any items you would like to pass on for free. Skills and equipment are not compulsory – you are also welcome to just bring yourself and an interest in learning something new.

If you are interested in attending, or in running a workshop on an unusual skill, please either e-mail me (, sign up for the Liverpool Social Centre newsletter ( or keep an eye on the Next to Nowhere calendar ( for announcements on skill-sharing events.

Emma Pooka
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