If you’re the type who wants to rewire your basement or build a cabinet, but can barely screw in a lightbulb or hold a hammer, Matt Whitford wants to talk to you.
As founder of the Dying Light Collective, a loose-knit group of trades workers willing to teach those skills in a non-intimidating environment, Whitford has found no shortage of individuals who are less familiar with the building basics, but felt daunted over wanting to learn.
“I have lots of friends who tried to learn skills and reach out to somebody at a professional level,” says Whitford, who founded Dying Light nearly two years ago. “A lot of times you run into some gruff attitude or someone who doesn’t know how to teach you, it can be so off-putting at that point. We want to make a place where you could come and feel like you’re not being downsplained to.”
Calling Dying Light a “non-disciplinary workshop” designed to teach basic building skills and encourage participants to start their own projects, Whitford has already attracted interest. He gets an average of 20 attendees to regular shop talk sessions, and has over 450 followers on the collective’s Facebook page. It’s already facilitated courses on woodworking, welding and 3D printing. And participants, under the guidance of the collective’s experts, have been working on projects that include plastic shredders and motorcycle rebuilding.
Whitford has already got the collective recognized as a not-for-profit society. Now he’s looking for a central space to house all this activity, which is taking place in various garages around town as well as an auto mechanic’s shop after hours. Once completely up and running with a venue, he hopes to build a paid membership to conduct more courses and make expertise and equipment more readily available to anyone who joins.
An efficiency expert in industrial hydraulic design by day, Whitford admits to being an avid builder during his downtime. In his apartment, he created a woodworking shop right in his living room, where he built cigar- box-guitars. He used hand tools to avoid any noise complaints. That’s when he arrived on the idea of the collective, where people could work on projects and share ideas on their own disciplines with others.
He chose the Collective’s name taken from a phrase from the Dylan Thomas poem “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” which he saw as a metaphor of empowerment for do-it-yourself types. He also hopes that the skills and hospitable environment offered at Dying Light will also encourage more neophytes to get involved.
“Our push is that we want to build makers,” says Whitford. “We want to take people who have no idea what end of a hammer to hold or how they’re supposed to swing it and make them feel welcome and comfortable.”
This article appears in the August 2017 issue of Avenue Edmonton. Subscribe here.
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The 2021 municipal election takes place this coming fall.
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