Courage and initiative Creativity Education

Empowering boys

Volunteers Graham Murray (left) and Wayne Dyke (centre) and Boys' Brigade South Island Development Manager Warwick Tomlinson with the Edge Workshop trailer in Dunedin

A woodwork programme for 10 and 11 year-old boys is so popular that there are many more schools asking for it than volunteers to run it.

Boys’ Brigade (BB) runs Edge Workshop on-site at primary schools throughout New Zealand, teaching at-risk boys basic carpentry and fostering fun, tool know-how and life skills.

“Our job is to be a fence at the top of the cliff, rather than an ambulance at the bottom,” says Warwick Tomlinson, the BB South Island Development Manager.

“The idea is to return boys to the classroom that are ready to learn and engage.”

Mosgiel volunteer Wayne Dyke says the sessions are practical.

Because it’s hands on, it’s going to be skills for the future and it’s showing them that it’s worth it and they can do it.”


Edge Workshop was launched in Tauranga about 10 years ago and has operated for three years in Dunedin and Mosgiel. Warwick is employed and serves with volunteers who are semi-retired or not in paid work.

On alternate weeks, they run sessions at six schools in the Alexandra area.

He says they’re inundated with requests from schools, but only have four volunteers for 10 schools. They need more.

At each school, six boys participate once a fortnight for one term, then teachers nominate a new group.

The Year 4 to 6 boys turn up to the Edge trailer and make wooden seats, small tables and phone holders.

Schools also suggest projects and the lads have constructed stackable compost bins for Alexandra Primary School and a coffee table for the Outram School staffroom.

“The boys puff up as they walk by and see the table,” Warwick says.

Warwick says most of the youngsters simply need encouragement.

Helping those who slip through the cracks

While the woodwork programme targets at-risk boys, it has moved from being for naughty students to those that “slip through the cracks”.

Some might be dyslexic or have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or a similar condition.

One principal told him that his school was not adequately resourced for two percent of children, particularly those with learning difficulties.

Warwick says primary schools don’t always have time for woodwork projects, plus some children don’t engage in conventional classes.

“They endure school rather than enjoying it – and that’s when we come in.”

The purpose-built trailer enables students to work inside when it rains and a shiny tool chest contains power and hand tools.

A project manager vest is awarded to the boy who behaves best each session.

“They’re all striving for that,” Warwick says.

The youngsters learn about health and safety and using power tools responsibly. They’re addressed as “gentlemen” and asked what they think, so they realise their opinions are valid and important.

Boys’ Brigade South Island Development Manager Warwick Tomlinson holds a prototype tool box and stool which children build at Edge Workshop

Through conversation and interaction, sometimes unknowingly, the boys gain both life and academic skills.

“They go, ‘ha, ha, we got outa maths’,” Warwick says.

“I say, ‘no you didn’t, you just enjoy it!’”

A few girls have participated and he finds that although they can turn out a better project, girls don’t respond in the same way as boys.

A generational problem

Warwick observes that these days, an entire generation doesn’t know how to do practical stuff such as woodwork.

The attitude of spending the weekend with your Dad tinkering with the car is gone.”


He says this is partly because of vehicles’ electronic and electric components.

In rural towns like Alexandra, some parents have two jobs and can’t spend time with their children.

Some boys are from large, mixed families and others are cared for by grandparents or even great-grandparents.

Volunteers note that drugs and unsupervised online access are now problems in towns as well as cities.

At Poolburn School in the remote Ida Valley of Central Otago, boys wanted to design and build a bird-house during their last session.

They managed this and took home the fruit of their labours.

“Even if it’s a bit rough, their mums will like it,” Warwick says.

Dunedin volunteer Graham Murray adds, “It’s a step in the right direction. If it’s a big step or a little step, it doesn’t really matter”.

Graham is a retired science teacher and recalls how, as a pupil 60 years ago, his introductory woodwork lesson was learning to make a window frame and cut the glass to size.

“Someone was teaching me how to cut glass and measure,” he says.

“It got me really excited, it seemed like a grown-up thing.”

Now he and others are handing on skills and excitement.

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For further information:

Boys’ Brigade New Zealand

Edge Workshop, run by Boys’ Brigade, is a Volunteer South organisation


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