Wild Roots Creative was founded in the summer of 2020 as a ‘not for profit’ company with a mission to help people experience the wellbeing benefits that nature-based and traditional crafts can bring. Wild Roots Creative believe that when people step into a natural setting and participate in meaningful activity, then positive changes begin to be made which, if nurtured, can become deep-rooted and will positively impact mental and physical health.
Wild Roots Creative (WRC) is a Community Interest Company, set up by two friends, Sally and Claire, who share interests in traditional craft, creativity and nature and enjoy working with other people. Despite being set up in the middle of a pandemic, WRC has gone from strength to strength in a short time thanks to the valued support of their creativity loving customers, their community and the trust placed in them by grant funders willing to put their funding into high quality creative activities delivered with care and with a sustainable outlook. Sally and Claire shared with us some insights into this wonderful initiative.
Q1. What is the ethos behind WRC?
We use natural materials and sustainable products where possible helping people to connect to nature, heritage and the environment. We focus on nature based and traditional crafts, always looking for ways to make them relevant to our everyday lives.
Q2. What was it that prompted you to set up this initiative?
(Sally) Through working as a ranger with groups in outdoor-based arts and crafts and running willow workshops, I became increasingly aware of the positive impact working with natural materials and learning new skills can have on someone’s mental health and self-esteem.
Claire’s background of youth work and teaching echoed this experience. Taking someone into a natural environment, working with natural materials and learning new skills can have a really positive effect on wellbeing. 1 in 4 adults and 1 in 10 children will experience some form of mental health illness in any year. There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that time spent outdoors in nature offers huge therapeutic benefits to both adults and children, relieving symptoms of anxiety, stress and depression as well as the many benefits to physical wellbeing.
Whilst home schooling during the initial lockdown (once restrictions allowed) we’d meet up outdoors so our children could see each other and dream of running a project where people could meet, learn new skills, connect to their roots and connect with the environment; that’s where Wild Roots was born.
Q3. How did you find your First Class carriage space and can you tell us about it?
We had been looking for somewhere to base ourselves for a good few months and drawn a blank. We’d accumulated an impressive collection of materials and resources and were finding it difficult to find spaces to hire to run workshops and establish regular groups.
We were invited down to the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway to talk about providing some activity for the Queen’s Jubilee celebration weekend. The staff there were so welcoming and gave us a tour of the station which included a few carriages that weren’t being used. We left having arranged to run some traditional craft activities for the Jubilee as well as some thoughts about those empty carriages. We decided to ask outright if they’d consider renting the 1973 first class carriage to us and were blown away when they said yes!
Our section of the carriage has had half of the seats removed which makes a perfect area for demonstrations. We’ve kitted this area out with some fabulous vintage furniture to stay in keeping with the age of the carriage. The club class seats in the other half of the carriage make for a comfortable crafting space and the luggage racks hold most of our craft materials. We’re installing a small kitchen area so we can provide hot drinks. The carriage will soon to be moving up next to the station’s converted railway carriage bar so we can offer crafts and cocktails soon along with fabulous cream teas and craft. Running alongside the railway is Wirksworth community garden who have offered their beautiful space to run any outdoor workshops and activities.
Q4. Can you tell us about yourselves and your background?
Claire has worked as a teacher for over 20 years across all phases, with specialisms in Special Educational Needs and Social, Emotional, Mental Health (SEMH) and behaviour as well as a qualified youth worker and maypole teacher and guru.
Sally has worked for the Ranger for the Peak District National Park for almost 20 years focussed on health and wellbeing outdoors and delivering outdoor based learning to all ages, she is also a keen willow weaver, mostly working in willow sculpture, as well as being a keen wildlife enthusiast.
We met through having children of the same age over 10 years ago and found we have a shared interest in the outdoors, crafts, camping and festivals. We had always talked about working together and over the years our ideas have come together to create Wild Roots.
Q5. What was the first workshop you ran and how did it go?
Our first workshop onboard the carriage was a macrame plant hanger workshop. We hadn’t been moved in long, so it was a real test for the space. It worked so well! The luggage racks made a perfect place to hang the macrame hangers and we even managed teas and cake onboard. Being at the station in the evening for the first time was a special experience. It’s a really peaceful place with a special atmosphere and we feel very lucky to be there.
Q6. Could you tell us about the variety of courses you have on offer?
We have a whole range of courses on offer including eco printing, willow weaving bird feeders, willow sculpture, peg loom scarves, rush hat making, macrame and straw weaving. Now we’re settled, we’ll be adding more all the time. We’re also taking private group bookings from birthday parties to hen parties and get togethers.
Q7. Tell us something about the people who attend your course.
We have a real range of people attending our courses and activities. As a community interest company (social enterprise) we offer regular craft activity to people of all ages and abilities. We work with local groups and offer regular outdoor craft sessions to people experiencing poor mental health who benefit from the time outside in nature and the mindful benefits of craft. We have recently worked with a self-advocacy group of adults with learning disabilities who have helped us co-create an accredited course in craft.
Anyone can suffer from poor mental health, so our activities span all ages and backgrounds. Income generated through our workshops helps us to provide activities for people who may not otherwise get to take part.
Q8. Can you describe a particularly meaningful workshop?
Most workshops have those ‘moments.’ One lady came to me at the end of a workshop and said her mother had been seriously ill and she had been unsure whether to come along, but she hadn’t thought about her problems all day as she had been totally absorbed in weaving and that she felt stronger for it.
Another lady joined us at a community event. We were making willow bird feeders and she nervously had a go, (she was convinced she wouldn’t be able to do it). She made a fantastic feeder and was so proud - she spoke to us afterwards and said she was currently coming off heroin. It was coming up to winter and she was dreading the long dark nights as she knew she’d struggle, but she went away fired up about learning to willow weave and with the information of where to buy it and a few book ideas to start her off. I often think of her and hope she went on to do more.
Q9. Can you think of the funniest moment from a workshop?
We have a lot of fun on our workshops and try not to take ourselves too seriously. We were running a workshop making willow Christmas decorations last year. The weather was very festive, and it had been snowing. It was a bit of a challenge to get in and set up but I managed it and all the participants arrived. Not thinking, I left the willow outside to stop it from drying out in the warm room. Everyone arrived and I brought it in only to find it was frozen solid!! We sat and had a slow coffee and mince pie and talked about willow at length until it thawed out enough to use and I mopped up the puddle it left.
Q10. Who or what inspires you both?
It might sound cheesy, but we’re constantly inspired by the people who we meet through the project and our workshops. Sometimes it’s the creativity shown in workshops (we always go away with new ideas); sometimes it’s the strength of the people taking part and working to improve their lives and battling through difficult times; and sometimes it’s the generosity and support of people who we meet, from those coming along to our workshops to our volunteers who give their time so generously to support us.
Thank you Sally and Claire for all that you do and for being one of our fabulous makers!
Check out some of the courses on offer via CraftCourses from this amazing pair of women.