The London woodshop that transforms lives with sawdust and 'therapy'

Most of the people who walk in through the door of the London Community Woodshop come to transform a piece of wood into something useful, but Lori Joseph says almost all of them end up transforming themselves in the process.

Most come to transform a piece of wood, but almost all of them end up transforming themselves

Jeff Turnbull, 49, started coming to the London Community Woodshop after a cancer diagnosis last year. 'It saved me in a way,' he says. 'It really helped with my recovery and helped to feel normal again. It's like therapy.'

Lori Joseph sees it all the time. 

Most of the people who walk in through the door of the London Community Woodshop come to transform a piece of wood into something useful, but she says almost all of them end up transforming themselves in the process. 

It's why the coordinator of the London Community Woodshop offers a friendly heads up to all those who enter. 

"I joke and say 'I just want to warn you, you're going to make friends here whether you want to or not,'" she laughs.

"I've seen people blossom, their whole personality and their ability," she says. 

'I was sick with cancer'

'I was sick with cancer' 0:26

One of those people is Jeff Turnbull.

He's found not only mentorship, but a new sense of purpose after a prostate cancer diagnosis and treatment made him re-evaluate his life. 

Turnbull applied and got a $5,000 grant to start his own business, Family Tree Woodworking. At about the same time, he heard about the London Community Woodshop, which was about to have its grand opening.

At first, he didn't want to join.

"I thought it would be really busy," he said. "I couldn't imagine working around so many people, but it turns out that's the best part." 

Turnbull found his skills accelerated at a pace he never imagined possible. When he wasn't sure how to do something, he realized that at the London Community Woodshop all he had to do was tap someone on the shoulder. 

"I thought at home I had a pretty good grip on all this stuff and I was pretty talented at woodworking, but I come here and it's a whole other level higher." 

It's not just skills he's acquired either. 

'I've made a lot of close relationships'

Turnbull says the woodshop transformed him.

He remembers a time when he was recovering from cancer that he just didn't feel normal and was depressed at the possibility he might never feel like himself again.

With help from his newfound friends, he was able to beat the after-effects of cancer.

He was able to keep his mind off his worries by working with wood, or talk it out if he needed to and, when he was feeling low, which was almost daily in the beginning, there was always a daily hug from Lori. 

"It saved me in a way," Turnbull said of the woodshop. "It really helped with my recovery and helped me feel normal again."

"It's like therapy." 

About the Author

Colin Butler

Video Journalist

Colin Butler is a veteran CBC reporter who's worked in Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton and London, Ont. Email: colin.butler@cbc.ca