Chesham Old Boot Factory

Nominated by: Rob Levine

The Old Boot Factory was built in 1854 and owned from then until 2008 by Giffard Newton who make working and occupational footwear.  Boots are one part of Chesham’s four B’s, the others being beer, brushes and Baptists!

As well as being an important symbol of Buckinghamshire’s heritage, the Old Boot Factory now also represents Buckinghamshire’s sense of community and ability to regenerate.  It is occupied by Workaid, a wonderful charity which collects unwanted tools and equipment from around the country.  These items are then refurbished in Chesham by a team of volunteers and sent to training projects in Africa where people use them to learn a vocational skill and so acquire the ability to help themselves out of poverty.

When Workaid moved in to the building in 2008 it had been unoccupied for two years and was in serious need of clearance and renovation.  There were hundreds of left-footed boots in the loft and parts of the warehouse were overrun with new plant life! In keeping with the ethos of the charity, the volunteers set to work and after a few short months of planning, drawing, fundraising, clearing, plumbing, wiring, restoration, building and painting, the Boot Factory was home to the refurbishment of 80 tonnes of unwanted tools and equipment each year.  Instead of going to landfill, these things are now being used to help 10,000 people each year to find a route out of poverty.

The building principally comprises a main workshop, a warehouse and a shop.  Donated items are collected in a goods inwards area, sorted, refurbished, picked and then packed up for vocational training centres in Africa.  We sell donated items that are not useful for training or which have a higher financial than intrinsic value for training, to help the charity continue to run.  We also have a space in which we run classes in a range of craft activities, which are open to anyone and, like the shop, this space has become a real community asset.

Until Covid-19 we had around 300 volunteers, many from the ranks of the retired but also a team with learning disabilities, young offenders volunteering as part of their community service and another group recovering from head injuries.  As we rebuild after lockdown we will be able to accommodate fewer volunteers and so won’t be able to refurbish and send quite as much as before, but we are confident that Workaid will continue to thrive.  The Old Boot Factory wasn’t designed for its current use but, particularly since so many of the volunteers were involved in its restoration, the building with all its quirks and foibles is a much-loved home for them and remains an important part of the Chesham community.

The Old Boot Factory was nominated by Rob Levine.