The WalknCraft group in Suffolk is a great example of how people in our communities are rallying round to help each other. And they are looking for one more member!
Last Friday’s ‘awful’ weather didn’t deter the WalknCraft women of Mildenhall. Instead of walking the three miles they normally do. They met in a garage instead!
Group secretary Allison Holloway says: ‘Four of us met at a social distance in one of the lady’s garages – she’s got a large garage – and we had a cup of tea. We were all looking forward to catching up.’
WalknCraft was set up a few years back by Melanie Tilford and Holly Sandiford of ArtatworkNorwich, and the aim to help women make new friends, exercise and take part in activities to help their wellbeing.
Allison says: ‘ArtatworkNorwich encouraged us to keep it going before they handed over the reins last October. It felt like we had just started to form again as a group when lockdown happened and put a lot of our plans on hold.’
Members normally meet at the St Johns Community Centre but have been continuing their art sessions throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, albeit over Zoom video chats.
Thankfully ArtatworkNorwich came to the rescue on the technology side of things. ‘Mel and Holly got back in touch and got us all using Zoom – I’d never used Zoom before – and that brought us back together again.
‘We have had some fun sessions, some of it carrying out abstract art and learning new techniques such as Pointillism, an art form using dots, and we have more planned between now and the end of the year.
‘We’ve also been making scrub bags for the NHS, face masks, knitting, painting, up cycling old furniture and much more.’ Alison says: ‘I’d never crafted before joining the group. It’s now become a hobby.’
She has nothing but praise for Mel and Holly. ‘They are two amazing women who do an awful lot for the community – I think they are unsung heroes. They do a lot on the wellbeing side,’ says Allison. ‘We as a group always feel a lot better for having seen each other on Zoom.
‘We are only doing one art sessions a month, the first Friday of the month. Usually it’s twice a month.’ This Friday they will be crafting with slate roof tiles, either hand-painting or doing transfers.
‘We could’ve gone back into our community centre, but it’s difficult to wear a mask for two hours and share art supplies safely. We’ll review it when there’s a vaccine, next year.’
She explains the original thinking behind WalknCraft: ‘The idea was to bring women together who might be disadvantaged or isolated on that estate where the community centre is based. One member from the estate has been going since the very first meeting. The rest of us come from different backgrounds – it’s a good mix, different abilities we’ve learned things from each other about crafting.’
The chair of the group is a retired vicar (‘she moved into the area a couple of years ago’), and the treasurer is retired from the MoD, as is Allison herself.
And they recently recruited a new member – completely by chance. ‘We were out walking in the woods about a month ago and this lady was out walking her dog and she said her mum had just moved into the area. So she has joined us. It’s been good for her as she doesn’t know anyone.’
Members have recently restarted their twice a month local walks, to places such as Brandon Country Park, although COVID restrictions have limited these walks to six people at a time, of course.
Allison is a keen walker and so leads the walks. The new restrictions haven’t made too much different to the group. ‘We were doing the rule of six anyway, just by pure chance, because not everyone has the ability to do the walks we do. We tend to do three miles.’
WalknCraft’s activities were recently supported by independent West Suffolk Councillors Richard Alecock, Andy Neal and Ian Shipp, who represent the town and who each gave £200 from their locality budget to support the cost of materials for the craft sessions.
Allison says: ‘Being able to continue like this has been so important, some of our members are isolated and for all of us it is a chance to totally immerse ourselves in some of the arts and craft challenges.
‘It really makes such a difference and we all come away feeling so much better for it. We didn’t all know each other before we started, but now we are great friends, they are just absolutely lovely people.”
Allison says: ‘I can honestly say we would be lost without it.’ Plus she adds: ‘We’ve got room for one more!’
Councillors across West Suffolk have a locality budget available to community groups for projects or activities that the whole local community can enjoy. To apply, contact your ward local councillor.