A few years ago, I formed the group Crafty Muthas with five friends – simply a weekly social for a crafty fix while getting on with the important business of boozing and scoffing cake. Back then, some of us were picking up knitting needles for the first time. Others had been making clothes since their teenage years. We started a blog in order to record our makes and share them with each other, friends, family and anyone else who was interested.
As our enthusiasm and commitment to our crafty pursuits grew we decided to host a craft fair. The response was overwhelmingly positive, with people turning up in droves to the local church hall to grab themselves a bit of hand-crafted loveliness. Bearwood Handmade has now become a regular event with up to four fairs a year and it is much more than a place to buy something hand-crafted. There’s a sense of a whole community coming together to celebrate local talent. We provide a warm, welcoming space for people to gather and socialise. I really do think these opportunities are disappearing in lots of communities.
We also wanted to open up our regular evening crafty socials to others, so we approached a local pub and arranged to take over their upstairs room once a month. We welcomed everyone, including men and non-mums! People did knitting, crocheting, needlework, painting, jewellery making, mosaicing. The pub provided the space, we supplied the cake (home-made), decoration (think bunting) and music (husband’s ipod). The monthly events ran for four years but at the end of 2013 we decided to take a break and recharge our batteries.
In the five years since we started Crafty Muthas we have seen an increase in community-led activities in Bearwood. I am involved with an organic food buying group; several local facebook groups operate for the area; there are hyperlocal blogs; an organisation called ‘We Are Bearwood’ has formed to raise funds and plan community activities; many local residents have been involved with a Heritage Lottery Fund project to regenerate our local park and historic house; new and existing shops have also started to sell handmade products, spurred on by the obvious market for such things.
I’m certainly not saying these projects and activities wouldn’t have happened without us, but I do think we sparked something when we first started those crafty meet-ups over five years ago. We helped lay the foundations, giving others the confidence to try new things and take a risk.
Five years on, we still have no plan, no funding and no sustainable income. We do what we do because we love it. Our activities have to be self-financing. When we stop loving it, or it doesn’t pay for itself, we stop doing it. We hardly blog now, despite our best intentions. Having to migrate from Posterous to WordPress has been technically challenging for some of us! We do still administer The Bearwood Tapestry facebook group though. With over 400 members in our crafty network it has become a friendly online community of crafters willing to share their experience and knowledge. The monthly meet-ups felt like a chore after four years and so we brought them to an end while not totally closing the door on them. The organisation of the fairs (and they are well organised and promoted) usually falls to a few people (those with the most time) and so if priorities or circumstances change even these successful events could stop in the future. Or they could grow into something even bigger and better!
I’m interested in how similar organisations and groups keep the momentum going. How ‘work’ is distributed, projects financed, and if sustainability in an environment reliant on community involvement and volunteering is even possible. That’s why I jumped at the chance to work on this project. I’m eagerly awaiting the release of the book. I’m sure there’s much to be learned from the individuals and groups who have featured in the research.