New Project Builds Crafts Skills and Confidence

Screenprinted Christmas cards, illustrated card packs and tote bags made by learning-disabled adults have gone on sale on at Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft, as part of a new enterprise project called Make It Happen!

Over the course of 8 sessions, learning-disabled adults have been taught a range of craft skills by experienced practioners, building their confidence and employability. The group of participants from the St Nicholas Centre in Lewes have produced original designs which will be sold in the museum’s award-winning shop, just in time for Christmas shopping season.

Director and CEO Steph Fuller shares more about Make It Happen!

This programme is a bit of a passion project for me. Over the last few years I’ve observed opportunities for learning disabled adults reduce and reduce as austerity has impacted on funding. Once formal education is over it’s hard for people to access provision that’s tailored to their interests or might have some progression within it.

Here at the museum we had space which could be used, equipment and craft knowledge, and I conceived the idea of an enterprise focussed project which would teach making skills to participants, creating products which could be sold through the museum shop and perhaps in time, further afield.

This would give the programme the potential to become self-sustaining, generating income to cover its own costs, as well as providing benefits for the participants.

The first stage was to raise the funds for a ‘proof of concept’ pilot, and find some collaborators to help us. We were fortunate in receiving a grant from the Grocers Company, and funding from East Sussex County Council who were also keen to support us. We developed a relationship with the St Nicholas Centre in Lewes for this pilot phase, who provided transport and a support worker, which helped to keep costs down. Things were all ready to start in early 2020, but then were sadly derailed by the advent of the pandemic. Vulnerability in the participant group as well as covid restrictions led to a long delay, but in 2022 we were finally able to start.

We held a workshop at the St Nicholas Centre to introduce the project and then had a visit to the museum so people could find out more about what we were offering. Along the way the project was re-named by one of the particpants and Make It Happen! was born in it’s current form.

The University of Brighton has joined us as a collaborator providing expertise and additional equipment for a first phase of printing activity, and we’re looking forward to offering the products produced for sale in our shop for Christmas.

Gavin Ambrose, Subject Lead, Visual Communication at University of Brighton and DMAC board member has been the artistic lead on the project:

‘It’s been a privilege and a please to work with the participants from St Nicolas Centre. They are such a warm, funny and embracing crew to work with on making and designing. I have learnt so much in this journey and am sure I’ll be working with them again in the future. The Clore Learning space at Ditchling is the perfect environment for this type of project. The group have space to work, talk, make and create. This group have exceeded what I thought was possible and they continually amazed me. For me, the greatest compliment on this project was when I was leaving a session, and the staff behind reception said ’that group have really grown in confidence, it’s really noticeable’. And I believe they have grown in confidence – and that is the gift of making. It empowers, it motivates and it really makes a difference. The Make It Happen! initiative has to continue, and in some small way, in this proof of concept stage we made it happen. We had eyes light up when printing, had people become more confident and had people sharing and engaging ideas. Thank you my new found printing friends!

These projects require a lot of support and input. I’d like to thank Steph, Charlotte, Hannah, Emma and the team at Ditchling. In addition, staff from the University of Brighton: Helen Gibbs, Mark Joste, Wayne Chase, Rose Walker, Chris Hunt and the amazing student assigned to this, Alex Adams, who has simply been a star.’

To show your support for the museum’s outreach work, donate to ‘Crafting Communities’. Each donation will be doubled between midday on Tuesday 29 November and midday Tuesday 6 December as part of the Big Give Christmas Challenge.

Make it Happen! was funded by East Sussex County Council and The Grocer’s Charity, with thanks to University of Brighton.

Photographs by Emma Croman