Training Week in Exeter, UK

February 8th – 12th, 2016
Training Week Programme
Superact training weekRead the blog post

The very first Handmade Wellbeing training week in February 2016 was hosted by UK partner Superact in Exeter. The idea of the training weeks is to gather all project partners from Finland, Austria, Estonia and UK to get to know the hosting partner organization and their work, learn together about crafts, wellbeing and working with older people and reflect these topics together to inform future work.

On the first day, the team of Superact introduced themselves and gave an overview of the work of Superact. We learned about their previous work with older people, for example Arts, Crafts and Dignity in Care -project in 2013-2015. Some of the partners did not have experience of working with older people, so it is helpful to familiarise with previous projects and results.

Handmade Wellbeing UK
Central location of action during the training week, Exeter Community Centre. Photo: Sirpa Kokko

We also saw the start of their digital story, which will show their Handmade Wellbeing –process from first contact with their participants to the end. This piece of film will be a contribution to the final exhibition about this project.

Observing the Workshops in Care Settings

Superact had started the work in the Handmade Wellbeing project with three different care settings of the Guinness Care Partnership. Later in the week all the project partners got the opportunity to visit these settings. At a residential and a day care facility in Newton Abbot we observed willow weaving workshop, guided by willow artist Sarah Le Breton.

Handmade Wellbeing UK
Printing workshop by artist Jon L Gordon. Photo: Sirpa Kokko

In a day centre for adults with MS and Parkinson’s in Chudleigh, Devon we saw a printing workshop guided by artist Jon L Gordon. The participants printed a big piece of paper collaboratively, using different blocks, bubble wrap, leaves etc. The collaborative piece can stay as it is and be for example hanged on wall later. Another option is to cut smaller pieces from it, to make for example cards.

Handmade Wellbeing UK
Cards made of printed paper. Photo: Sirpa Kokko

Seeing workshops in action was truly inspiring and evoke a lot of conversation after workshops and later in the week. The workshop participants seemed to enjoy the printing activity and also the staff participated with enthusiasm, which was nice to see.

Handmade Wellbeing UK
Printing in process. Photo: Sirpa Kokko
Expert Lecturers

During the week we were joined by Betsan Corkhill from Stitchlinks, who explained the science behind craft activity, such as knitting, and the physiological and psychological impacts it can have to improve wellbeing. Research on the impacts is important to assure care settings and authorities to invest in provision of creative activities. Betsan has written the book ‘Knit for Health & Wellness’, which is a great source to find out more.

Betsan Corkhill Stitchlinks
Betsan Corkhill, Stitchlinks. Photo: Sirpa Kokko

Two very experienced care managers, Helen Webb from the Guinness Partnership and Janine Stedman from Tamsden Memories, explained life and work in care environments from the residents’ and care settings’ perspectives. Since all the partners in Handmade Wellbeing have a background mainly in arts and crafts, it was very important to get to know the care workers’ perspective. They have valuable knowledge of the residents in care settings, and the care staff are important co-operators for artists in care settings. This was stressed many times later during the project.

Handmade Wellbeing UK
Janine Stedman & Helen Webb with training week participants. Photo: Sirpa Kokko

We also heard Superact’s Story Teller, Stu Packer, tell about his experience in a pseudo care facility, roleplaying an older gentleman in care. This experience led him to better understand and reflect how it feels to be someone who is cared for and not being able to all the things one would like to do or communicate effectively. The experience of being dependent on someone else’s care has had a profound effect on how Stu now works and engages with older people.

This kind of reflective roleplaying practice would be beneficial to all who work with other people. It is often very hard to imagine how it feels for another person, but to step in their shoes for a little while might expand our perspective.

Handmade Wellbeing UK
Superact project manager Stu Packer, the Storyteller. Photo: Superact
Workshops & Cultural Activities

We also had a hands-on craft workshop on willow weaving, a traditional South West craft. The workshop was guided by Sarah, who also guided workshop in the care setting. Our workshop was before we went to observe it in care center. It was very useful to try it ourselves to have an understanding of what the older workshop participants are doing. The technique was probably unfamiliar to all partners, so it was nice to learn something new and perhaps utilise it later in the workshops in other partner countries.

Handmade Wellbeing UK
Willow weaving flow! Photo: Sirpa Kokko

We made willow tension trays. Willow weaving was not difficult, but it required quite a lot of strength and using the whole body, not just hands. This physical work makes this technique truly absorbing, but it is also good to keep in mind different abilities when applying this technique to workshops for different target groups. Often techniques that require a lot of hand force may be challenging for older people.

Handmade Wellbeing UK
Willow tension tray. Photo: Sirpa Kokko

On our last afternoon we also visited the Devon Guild of Craftsmen in Bovey Tracey  to see some local handicraft and artist work.

handmade Wellbeing UK
Devon Guild of Craftsmen in Bovey Tracey. Photo: Sirpa Kokko

Friday was reserved for reflection session to discuss everything we had seen and learned during the week. It was good to have different activities during the training week. Practical workshops, lectures and visits to care settings all offered possibilities to understand and reflect our practices from different points of view. Seeing different craft techniques in different partner countries makes it possible to compare them to gain new perspectives and share best practices.

Willow weaving, which we also tried ourselves, was fun, but we also saw some challenges in adapting it to care settings. It requires strength, so it might be too hard for older people. In the workshop we observed, many of the participants could not weave independently, but needed a lot of help.

Handmade Wellbeing willow weaving workshop
Willow weaving in interactive circle. Photo: Sirpa Kokko

This provides a chance for nice one-on-one interaction, but it can also undermine the empowering effect. Care home residents are dependent on help in many other things, so it would be nice if the activities gave them the feeling of being capable. Also, the group in the workshop was very big, and to provide individual guidance requires a lot of staff. However, this technique could be easier with soft materials, such as textiles, which would allow the participants to be more independent. The challenge is that workshop participants have very different levels of skills and capabilities. Maybe having many different materials to choose from would be one solution.

Nevertheless, the physicality of willow weaving was also a good quality. It challenges to use the whole body, and can be even developed to a dance-like activity. It was noted that especially men like this activity, perhaps because of this physical aspect and the hard material. The material from outside and nature was also very appealing.

Willow weaving could be developed into more collaborative and interactive way of working, for example by doing it in turns in a circle, and perhaps not making individual pieces but contributing to a shared piece. This could develop a new kind of playfulness and new perspectives on making crafts. It is not common to attach playfulness to craft-making, at least not in all partner countries. For example in Finland and Estonia, making crafts traditionally means making useful items and using the techniques in a ‘proper’ way. In these countries, the satisfaction from making crafts is often very much related to finishing a practical item one can use. So is there satisfaction in making without finishing an item? However, we all agreed it is good to encourage more artistic and creative ways of working, to provide something new and unexpected.

Printing activity was seen more free and open for experimenting. It is possible to use many different materials and techniques, and also there are many options for outcomes. The printed paper also seemed beautiful from the beginning, and it was easy to imagine it would turn out very nice in the end. It was noted that artist’s task is to build the framework and presentation for the outcome to assure it looks nice in the end. If the participants trust the result will be good, it raises their motivation.

We also reflected on whether it is beneficial for the artist to know something in advance about the clients they are going to work with.

Handmade Wellbeing printing workshop bubble wrap
Using bubble wrap in printing. Photo: Sirpa Kokko

Many artists don’t want to. They work with a person and it plays no difference what that person’s diagnosis is. Knowing too much in advance can even be harmful. We all have some prejudices about certain conditions and diagnoses. The artist might be scared to take contact with some participants because of these presumptions.

It was also discussed, whether artists in partner countries usually work alone or in groups. Working with a colleague or a group of artists was seen beneficial, because it allows reflection and creative ideation and development of activities together. It always helps to have someone you can talk to and share your ideas. If it’s not financially possible to facilitate all the workshops together (it costs more for the care setting), at least aim to form artist networks for working together in some ways.

All in all, it was a very educative and successful week. Looking forward to the next training week in Helsinki in May!