New life for old fishing rope: students weave mats for people sleeping rough

LeRoy Vincent and his students at River Valley Middle School in Grand Bay-Westfield have been weaving recycled marine rope into mats. (Mike Heenan/CBC - image credit)
LeRoy Vincent and his students at River Valley Middle School in Grand Bay-Westfield have been weaving recycled marine rope into mats. (Mike Heenan/CBC - image credit)

Students at a middle school near Saint John have been working in shop class on a project they hope will help the environment and people in need.

Winding recycled fishing rope around wooden spindles, the students at River Valley Middle School in Grand Bay-Westfield are weaving mats long enough to lie down on.

Teacher LeRoy Vincent said he got the idea from another teacher at a workshop who said his students were using the rope to make door mats.

But Vincent had another idea — creating long mats with handles that could act as a dry surface for sitting or sleeping for those experiencing homelessness in the Saint John area.

Mike Heenan/CBC
Mike Heenan/CBC

The project also has other advantages.

"It's teaching these kids hands-on skills," said Vincent. "We're coming out of a COVID [pandemic] where they've just been looking at screens for the last three years ... we're getting away from all that."

The fishing rope is from purpose-built recycling bins along the Bay of Fundy. Vincent estimates he's made 17 trips to pick up rope at Chance Harbour, Dipper Harbour and Saint Andrews.

WATCH | A life lesson that starts with old fishing rope:

Large wooden dowels, taller than the students while on the table, are lined up along the side of a work bench in the school's shop class and students work together to wind rope around each in a pattern.

One student weaves the rope between and around the dowels while another follows, tapping the weaves with the handle of a hammer. A few others stand nearby, feeding rope to the student doing the weaving.

Madi Carleton, a Grade 8 student at River Valley, said long days sitting at a desk can be tiring, and sometimes she wants to stand up and do a hands-on project.

Mike Heenan/CBC
Mike Heenan/CBC

"If you have your work done, you can come down here and nine times out of 10, Mr. Vincent will say, 'yep, you can go and work on some mats'" she said.

"We get quite a few mats a day and they're fun to make, they're satisfying to make, and it's just a good way to take a little break from class."

Prep is key

The rope cannot be woven immediately after pickup. The students have to prepare it before it's woven into the 6-by-3 foot mats.

"We unload them from my teacher's car, we bring them in here, we wash them, we untangle them," said Ashlynn King, a Grade 8 student.

Mike Heenan/CBC
Mike Heenan/CBC

"We weave them horizontally and vertically and then when we're done that, we splice them together and add the handles."

Community donation

On Wednesday, Vincent and his students loaded up a bus with finished mats and delivered them to Fresh Start Services for Women in Saint John.

Kristen O'Hanley, who does outreach for Fresh Start, spoke to the students and thanked them for the donation.

"This is perfect for someone who has to sleep on the ground," she said. "It's made out of waterproof material and it keeps that barrier from the rough ground."

Mike Heenan/CBC
Mike Heenan/CBC

Vincent estimated the students had completed 30 mats so far, but the project is ongoing. He hopes kids will learn the value of hard work in order to complete a project, while also learning there are lots of different ways to contribute.

"I think when we look at mental health with kids now, I think it's just that confidence," he said. "If we can get them doing lots of different skills, and learning lots of different trades, and talking to a ton of different people, then we've done our job as teachers."