Our aim at Amazon Nails is to enable more people to become involved in the building process, particularly those people who would not normally expect to find themselves on a building site. These people would include women, people from other cultures, younger and older people, those with different physical and mental abilities, or people otherwise excluded from construction. But we also work with the traditional members of the construction industry, such as local firms of builders, carpenters, electricians etc. to offer a different and, we believe, a more effective and appropriate way of working in the 21st century.
Our building sites usually include a large number of volunteers; together with local contractors who would generally all be on site at the same time. By working with volunteers we are able to educate a much wider audience than if we operated a traditional contractor built site. Many volunteers come to work with us specifically to gain the skills and knowledge required to be able to build their own houses using environmentally friendly techniques and sustainable materials. Employers or community groups send some volunteers in order to learn skills they can then pass on to others. Often people have a building project in mind that they are working towards. Some come because they particularly want to learn skills as part of a group, or because they want to change their lifestyle, or have worked with us before and love the excitement of it all.
As part of our aim to educate and disseminate ideas about a different way of working, and about appropriate methods of building and use of materials, we encourage site visits by interested people and groups from as diverse a spectrum as possible. This can often be a wonderfully inspiring initiation into a more common-sense sort of building. Visitors can see at first hand our use of sustainable materials, an inclusive process of building, labour intensive but low-cost methods, respect for the environment, and commitment to low-impact building practice. They can also begin to understand how they themselves could be part of this process by beginning to introduce these ideas into their lives and by becoming a volunteer. They can also appreciate that we do all this without compromising on quality, or costing the earth (financially or ethically), and that we very often achieve stunning levels of beauty at the same time.
The atmosphere on our building sites is qualitatively different to that found on the majority of other building sites elsewhere. This is not by chance. We deliberately encourage a feeling of being part of a group, of all working together to achieve a common aim. Each person’s past experience and level of skill is valued and appreciated; we know that for most people this is their first experience of construction, and it may well be quite daunting.
Our experience has shown us that everybody has a valuable contribution to make to the work in hand, and often this can go unrecognised by the individuals themselves. We see part of our work to be in acknowledging the skills that each person already has, which may be drawn from what appear to be completely unrelated areas of life. This may be a flair for flower-arranging for instance, as having a good eye for detail and aesthetics is essential for quality control on any project. It may be skills in hairdressing, which can mean good observational skills and hand to eye coordination, or office and managerial based skills – problem solving and lateral thinking is of huge importance to a successful building project, and the ability to keep a site tidy and in order is essential for health and safety and the well-being of the whole group.
Our approach is one of integration and wholeness, to move away from the limiting stereotypes of the 20th century building site, and to liberate the imagination of each person, to expand their perception of themselves beyond what they thought they were capable of. A building site doesn’t have to be intimidating, or competitive and macho, all attributes associated with ‘modern’ building practice. Through our method of teaching we positively encourage the recognition of other skills such as the ability to organise, communicate, and share feelings, perceptions and ideas; all necessary on a building site.
Using tools for the first time can often present a big barrier for people, but once their initial nervousness and unfamiliarity has been overcome, their own natural skill can develop, and it can be a tremendously empowering experience to wield a hammer effectively for the first time. We teach the safe use of tools on site, and how to use the whole body to do a task, integrating hand skills with body stance, observation, thought and feeling. We encourage an atmosphere of learning and sharing, so each person is not only learning new skills themselves, but also can share this new-found knowledge with others. As trainers, we also learn a lot from each group we work with. In this atmosphere, quite amazing transformations can take place. People become empowered, and this means not only on the building site, but within their own life and relationships as well. They become more effective people.
Our building sites are happy places. People are well motivated, look out for each other, share experience, and have fun. Inevitably this means that we achieve a lot, health and safety is excellent, and the quality of our work is high.