Workshop at Whitworth Men’s Shed

It has taken me a while to write this post. Currently we are away in London and I am enjoying catching up with myself. There are no images to go along with the text and in many ways that reflects the experience of the workshop itself.

I first encountered a Men’s Shed last year when we went to Norfolk to visit John Lord. Karen hates paying for parking and so when we visited Norwich we walked in from the outskirts where we had parked to the centre where we were headed.

Norwich Men’s Shed is in an old industrial unit on the outskirts of the city. It looked interesting so I popped in. I found out that it is an organisation to promote social inclusion and wellbeing for older and economically disadvantaged men. This is facilitated through peer to peer practical skill sharing. Beautiful.

A few months later I found out that a friend of mine, Tony Sheppard, was running a Men’s Shed in Whitworth, just outside Rochdale. In the spirit of the project I offered to run an arrowhead making workshop for the men at the Whitworth project.

I had however an ulterior motive. I get a great deal from the making process and thought this may be an opportunity to measure a wellbeing outcome. A measured wellbeing outcome would be valuable for approaching funding bodies to develop future workshops. I (naively) thought this could be a win win. Tony was keen and so we arranged a date and I went to Whitworth.

The project comprised two organisers, about a dozen ‘men’ and a small industrial unit in the process of being refurbished by the men themselves. After a brief introduction from Tony I explained what I was about and passed around some flint and glass tools.

I propsed six weekly sessions with a wellbeing questionnaire at the beginning and the end. The wellbeing measure was something done for every activity and so really it was just the six weekly sessions that was new. The response was overwhelmingly negative.

The explanations as to why my proposal was not wanted could be debated, but that was not really for me to do. They did not need to explain to me why it was not attractive to them. Anyway, I was more interested in the overall feeling in the room.

It reminded me more than anything of being in a playground, with certain individuals making decisions and speaking for the group. Tony was frustrated because I was a guest. I was a guest and so had to take on board what was unfolding. It was really interesting.

Universities, museums and members of the public pay me money to teach them how to make stone tools. Here I couldn’t give it away.

I think the above is an accurate description of events. What follows is my conjecture as to the reasons why this interesting situation occurred, and it should be taken as conjecture.

Tony thought that we two were the only university graduates. I am 58 and almost all the men present were older than me. Some of them were skilled practitioners in their own fields, as  illustrated by the improvement work being done by them on the shed.

The same individuals who were recognised as skilled practitioners within the group seemed to also be the individuals that spoke up for the group. This suggested to me a relationship between recognised skill and leadership within the group.

Tony had not asked the men if they wanted a university person to come in and teach them a practice based skill. Both he and I had assumed making glass arrowheads would be of interest. It was a mistake to not include any of the men in that initial descision making process.

I think skilled older men with unofficial positions of authority within a group may resent not being consulted. Especially about a university person coming into their space and exercising ‘expertise’ upon them.

It made me think about how male identities and within-group status can be constructed through skilled practice. Conversely, how trying out a new practice and not being so skilled could be threatening to status and identity.

the nub of resistance coalesced around the commitment to doing six weeks of something they saw as having little value. I agreed to return the following week and do a taster session with a few of the men.

The following week I worked through the arrowhead process with five men, whilst another six or so observed from the sidelines whilst playing dominos. And it went well.

I want to work with Tony and in a wellbeing context in the future. However, the key here is how our assumptions were wrong, creating a context that was hostile, and suggesting interesting relationships between skilled practice and male status and identity. All that has been percolating for the past few months!

 

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August 2018 Bronze Age arrowhead workshop: a short photo essay

This was the latest workshop at the brilliant Old Abbey Taphouse. I think we all had a lovely afternoon and I get the feeling these workshops have some mileage. In other words, it’s not just me who is interested in these things.

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Mark, Paul and Eve’s arrowheads in that order. These are all first attempts, but the main take home is not the arrowhead, but an understanding of the complexity of apparently primitive technologies. Next month is our Neolithic Day.

A Bronze Age ‘Kilmarnock type’ flint arrowhead

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Same procedure as the last lot, except using my metal pressure flaker on some very hard flint. Again, I selected a pre-thinned piece, a blade produced by John Lord, of which I have about thirty. I took all the thick bits off with a stone, and then pressure flaked the shape. I am using Chris Butler’s (2005) book Prehistoric Flintwork for the relevant shapes and sizes and this is a useful exercise. I am learning about the flintwork from different periods by making the stuff. This flint was particularly difficult to work. I had an obsidian preform that I reduced and that was like soft glass, easy to work. This flint felt ‘dry’ and hard to work. Even with my favourite pressure flaker my invasive thinning was limited to 7 or 8mm maximum. When making it I made sure the thick section was the point and the thinner section could be the base, and therefore easily notched. And so it transpired. I am churning about two out per day at the moment, not sure what has come over me?

 

Flint knapping, 3D printing and primary school workshops

I have some workshops planned aimed at primary school children studying the prehistory of Britain. Following the theme of this blog, one of the activities is to bring together the components necessary for the kids to make a Bronze Age arrow. Rightly or wrongly, I am a little cautious about letting small children loose with flint or glass arrowheads so I thought I would get some 3D prints. The flint originals were a Neolithic leaf shaped example and a Bronze Age barb and tang arrowhead both produced by John Lord for Elizabeth Healey’s teaching collection . These originals were scanned in by a colleague Tom O’Mahoney.

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Tom also scanned one of my glass barb and tang arrowheads to see how the scanner would cope with a reflective and transparent material. This example had to be covered in talcum powder before scanning.

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After scanning, two prints of each of the flint versions was produced for me by Ed Keefe from the print unit at Manchester Metropolitan University (ManMet).

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The first two examples on the left have some horizontal lines running across. Ed described this as similar to when a photocopier is running low on toner. Consequently he printed them again in the more transparent material. The second two are excellent ‘plastic’ reproductions of ‘original’ flint reproductions. However, the most impressive aspect is the price. Because prints are priced by the cubic centimetre each arrowhead worked out at £2.50. Full colour versions would have cost £3.50. My scans can be uploaded to sites such as Sketchfab or Thingiverse and therefore downloaded free of charge by teachers with the print costs being minimal.

The workshops are still at the planning stage, but I have been impressed by the results and the prices for this process. I would certainly recommend the 3D print facility at ManMet to anyone who thinks the process may be useful to them. Ultimately though, it depends what the kids think!