DIY for dummies

New classes for the DIY illiterate are bringing back those long forgotten skills, says Annie Deakin

First it was Kirstie Allsopp, then B&Q and now Jo Behari. All are on a mission to bring back the long forgotten skills of DIY. While in recent years, we would pay someone else to do our dirty work, there is a growing trend to get domesticated and learn how to do home chores. New workshops teaching the simplest of manual tasks - from drilling walls, basic plumbing to upholstering eBay furniture - are selling out fast. The Easter bank holiday weekend has long been synonymous with DIY and this is no exception.

‘The Easter break affords a long weekend opportunity to crack the first DIY projects of the year,’ says a spokesman for B&Q, Britain's biggest home improvement retailer. Across the country, the DIY illiterate – of which we are many – are being encouraged to take advantage of the long break and tackle home jobs. ‘The country is a hive of innovation with new ideas springing to life in people's homes.’ This month, B&Q launched weekend DIY classes teaching tiling walls, wallpapering and other forgotten skills. Euan Sutherland, the UK Chief Executive, recognised a shift in generation; ‘I’m less able to do DIY than my father or my grandfather and I think other people are too.’

How – and when - did we forget basic yet important skills like rewiring a plug or bleeding a radiator? ‘I think that there was a generation of fathers who didn’t teach their sons how to do jobs at home,' says TV presenter and home improvement expert Behari. 'These fathers considered it menial labour and wanted their sons to get good desk jobs and pay someone else to do the jobs at home.’ The education system is also to blame. ‘Schools have changed.' Says Behari, 'When I was at school, we did a lot more practical hands-on learning whereas CDT classes today are about writing projects, and health and safety rules. Children should be working a power jigsaw like I did.’ The result is a generation who don't have the confidence (or know-how) to drill into walls, build a garden wall or hang curtains. Yet, there is now a renewed interest in these DIY skills as a direct result of the recession. When people can't afford to pay tradesmen, they want and need to do the jobs themselves. Hence, the wave of DIY workshops across the country.

In 2006, Behari founded Home Jane, an all-female property maintenance company and now employs 60 female tradeswomen. ‘Through Home Jane, I realized that nobody knows how to do simple DIY tasks at home. People were asking us to hang pictures and blinds. They are the kind of easy jobs that I took for granted people knew how to do.’ Behari, who considers DIY a life skill on a par with cooking, was shocked at such a lack of knowledge. To generate extra income during the recession, Behari ran a workshop called Tools for the Terrified. Within a week of advertising, the course had sold out.

In February this year, Behari opened the training facility The Good Life Centre in Waterloo. Courses include Furniture restoration, Tools for the Terrified, How to wallpaper, Woodcarving and Mosaic tiling. ‘The idea is to allow people to learn old-school life skills like fixing, re-using and re-inventing that have got lost in this generation. I want to give them confidence to tackle things in their own home.’ The trend for upcycling has boosted her business; ‘People want to customize furniture bought on eBay but don’t know where to start. We show them how.’

For the next four weeks, Behari is presenting a Channel Four TV series Make do and Mend teaching people how to drill into walls, change a tap washer, the kind of thing you shouldn't need to pay someone else to do. Of the role, she says, 'Being a TV presenter wasn’t a childhood ambition but I’m the kind of person to say yes to opportunities.'

Will Behari be the next Kirstie Allsopp? ‘Wouldn’t that be nice,’ she laughs.

Annie Deakin is interiors writer for sofa and interior design website mydeco.com

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