Nova Scotia makers group celebrates 2 years of forging friendships

Life School House runs community programming for adults

The Alderney Gate Public Library was bustling on Sunday afternoon as makers of homemade goods got together to trade the fruits of their labour.

They were there for February’s Community Makers Swap. The monthly swaps are organized by community group Life School House, which celebrates its second anniversary this month. They describe themselves as a “non-traditional learning community that celebrates local wisdom, builds connections in community, and reinforces the social value of barter and exchange.”

Anyone from the community can participate in the monthly swaps. The only rule: bring something you made with your hands to trade with others.

Makers can bring anything from knitwear and birdhouses to handmade soaps and kombucha. Some traders return for things they know and love, but what brings many of them back is knowing they’ll find something new each time.

“It’s a place to find appreciation for the things you make yourself,” said organizer Jessie Crabill.

After assembling their crafts and treats on tables, they take turns going up and selecting what they’d like to bring home. Sunday’s selection featured homemade artwork, lip balm, red pepper jelly, kefir, and much more.

A display of homemade items at February’s Community Makers Swap in Dartmouth.   Leslie Amminson

“We operate with the idea of bring what you can and you take what you need,” said Crabill.

The room was filled with upwards of 30 people, but organizers said this turnout was on the low end of what they often get. Even so, the room was alive with chatter as people introduced themselves to new faces or reconnected with old ones.

Ages ranged all the way from five to 40 or 50, and some experienced makers could be heard passing down skills to newcomers.

Five-year-old Iris Walsh-Crabill enjoys a chocolate-covered marshmallow treat made by a participant.   Leslie Amminson

There is no requirement for perfection or expertise, though some members of the community have been working on their crafts for years.

Paul Williams, who’s been making kombucha since the late eighties, is one of them. Like others, he heard about the monthly swaps from people he’d met through a trading website. That led him to start coming to the in-person monthly swaps.

“I really like the whole swap item for item kind of thing instead of the monetary stuff,” he said. “It’s just a really nice sense of family.”

Community building is also a draw for Andrea Taylor and her daughter, Laila. The two are newcomers to the community, and attended their second swap on Sunday. They recently arrived in the HRM after living in London, England for four years.

They said the community of makers is a welcome change from big city life.

“It’s easy to get lost in a city of eight million people, you know what I mean?” said Taylor. “So we wanted to be more involved in our community.”

Andrea Taylor and her daughter, Laila, pose with some of the items they selected at this month’s swap.   Leslie Amminson

Organizer Jennifer Decoste said she often sees a lack of adult-oriented community programming, which serves as a way to bring people together.

“Realistically this kind of programming is often available for children and not really for adults to get together and spend time together,” she said.

The group began two years ago by organizing workshops in Decoste’s living room. Participants didn’t pay money to attend, but would bring a handmade gift to facilitators to show their appreciation. Decoste said she was inspired to start the swaps by the amount of talent and generosity she saw in the community.

“It was after a couple months we realized there were so many people with so many talents we should find a way to share them,” she said.

Her favourite part of the swaps? The people.

“It’s one day a month where I know that I’m going to see people that are coming just to be together, just to support each other,” she said.

“It’s just a very joy-filled, sharing environment and I feel like there’s not enough of that in the world.”

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