By Georgie, 11 September 2014
It’s moving-in day for Centric Learning Tree, who have found their ideal new home in one of the Remakery’s workspaces. Today sees giant spools for industrial wire being wheeled in, with bags of colourful fabric and armfuls of animal masks and colourful drums joining them in a space that has been eagerly awaiting some Remakers. Soon the sounds of drumming and story-telling will fill the room…
Centric Learning Tree is Stephney Bent, Olivia Donkor and Hilary Rimington, three women who left their jobs in education and social work to start up their own social enterprise in March this year. CLT run creative story-telling workshops for children and adults aimed at tackling social exclusion. They go into schools and run events in pubs, and from now on they will also be using their own space here at the Remakery to hold their workshops.
The drums and masks arriving at the Remakery today are story-telling aids. Made from scrap materials and transformed with paint and fabric by children and adults, the objects are then used by everyone at their workshops to bring stories to life. You would never guess that the animal masks CLT have prepared for one of their workshops were once old boxes, milk bottles and newspaper. The brown-papered masks have a kind of rustic look to them, and Stephney admits that they all have a real thing for brown paper at the moment; it almost seems a shame to paint them.
Olivia and Stephney previously worked for a charity that helped young boys in danger of exclusion from school. They both strongly believed that creative activity – too often dismissed by others in their line of work as “just something nice to do” – was a powerful tool for helping children and young people to change their behaviour and their perception of themselves. Their decision to leave these jobs and start up CLT was motivated by this belief in the power of creativity. This ethos therefore lies at the very heart of what they do.
As well as creativity, reusing and repurposing are central to their aims. For Olivia, Stephney and Hilary, the very practice of remaking something – like a plastic milk bottle into an animal mask – shows in a simple and powerful way that anything can become new again. It demonstrates to children and adults that they do not have to be today who they were yesterday; they can remake themselves into the people they want to be. The creative transformation of rubbish, unwanted and ignored, into something fun and useful that they can be proud of empowers children and adults alike to believe in their own potential to make change in their lives: to make of themselves something to be proud of.
The story-telling aspect is equally important, as it gives children and adults access to their own voices, and indeed a space to use those voices. CLT work with families who suffer from a sense of isolation from community and society, and learning to communicate and tell their own stories in their own way is a vital step in overcoming this common problem. The girls say they have been absolutely amazed at how adults in their workshops have responded to participating in something creative. Often it is the quietest ones, those who resist taking part, that experience the most profound change and begin, sometimes spontaneously, to open up, talking about things they might never have felt able to otherwise.
So with such a strong focus on the power and importance of remaking, it’s hardly a surprise that CLT found their new home here at the Remakery. They needed a permanent space for their expanding activities, and after seeing a flyer for the Remakery in the Harry Caddick community centre just down the road, they visited and decided that the space “just felt right”. Plus, Stephney’s kitchen really wasn’t big enough for them anymore.
Starting up on their own hasn’t been easy for Stephney, Olivia and Hilary. Although they now have the freedom to work in the way they believe is best for those they are trying to help, that freedom comes with a lot of hard work and at the expense of security. Nevertheless, they knew that there simply wasn’t room for them to pursue their particular goals within another organisation, and have found that total control of and dedication to their work is truly exciting. Olivia describes the experience as “throwing yourself into a dark space and hoping you’ll find a light switch” – and it certainly seems like they’ve found one.
Setting up will take longer than just today, and CLT have exciting plans for adapting the space. The industrial wire spools, salvaged from BT by Stephney, will make perfect story-telling tables and stacked on top of one another can be used as great little bookshelves. Once settled, CLT intend to start running workshops as soon as possible, and Remakery is very excited indeed to see the space come alive with stories.
By Georgie, 30 July 2014
One of the first and most active groups of makers working at the Remakery is the sewing and upholstery group, known informally as the Cover Girls in honour of their prowess at transforming tired old chairs with vivid new covers. Today they are meeting in their busy corner of the Remakery to discuss plans for upgrading the textile room – now an Aladdin’s cave of half mended furniture and sewing machines shrouded in dust sheets – into a multi-functional workshop. So far the space has been home to some amazing feats of re-upholstery by the group, but the plan is to make the finished workshop a space for even more members and all kinds of textile skills.
First to arrive, as usual, is Janet Showell, a probation worker whom the Remakery has to thank for countless hours of volunteer work as well as most of the fabric and machines now in use by the textile group. Janet found the Remakery in the course of her job, when she accompanied young offenders working here on community service. She spied an opportunity to put to use the mountains of beautiful fabric and few industrial sewing machines she had shrewdly salvaged from the sewing workshop she used to run for young offenders, dismantled when Serco took over the Community Payback service. Now either stored in the textile room or already covering re-upholstered chairs in the Remakery’s office and cafe, her materials provide a vital resource for the growing projects of the Cover Girls. Janet also brings a vast store of knowledge and skill as a seamstress and a teacher.
Next comes Ken Okafor, an architecture student at the University of East London, who is here to lend a technical hand in the design and creation of a workspace to fit the needs of the group. As more Cover Girls arrive – Moya, Jenny, and Gina, along with Hannah, one of the Remakery’s directors – the conversation turns to the need for different functions in the space, including storage and workspace for both sewing and upholstery; a comfy corner for hand-sewing and knitting, and a changing room corner; as well as a varied selection of work surfaces at different heights including a large cuttting table. Ken’s role is to help translate the needs of the makers who will use the space into practical furniture and interior design.
Talk soon turns to action as the team get their gloves on and make a beeline for the Remakery’s extensive collection of reclaimed wood to search out the perfect work surface for their giant cutting table. With help from another of the directors, furniture maker Andrea Naef, some large fire doors salvaged from the Olympic Village are picked out to make a suitable table-top. Work on the cutting table and workbenches can now begin! The fully fledged workshop is still some way off, but the enthusiasm and time given by these volunteers will certainly see the textile room ready for the Remakery’s full launch this autumn.
The work already completed by this small group is an inspiring example of how wonderful things can be created from materials rescued from a future rotting in landfill or gone up in smoke. The first clusters of re-upholstered chairs proudly furnish the reception area of the Remakery, and look fantastic. When the textile workshop is completed, we can expect even more varied products to emerge from individuals and groups using the workshop: from furniture to crafts to fashion. Budgetary constraints are a challenge, but can’t dampen the group’s spirits. Equipped with their sartorial skills and entrepreneurial thinking, and constantly supported by the Remakery team, the Cover Girls and the fledgling textile workshop are off to a running start.