In Birmingham, craft projects are not only helping young people learn new skills but giving their self-confidence and resilience a boost. Deirdre Buckley explains how.

Photo of message on bridge
A message on a bridge, one of the Craft in Mind projects


Making has the potential to change lives on many levels. Many makers value the meditative quality of the processes and the opportunity to be ‘in flow’. Engaging in collective making can offer support, space to talk, physical distraction and cognitive benefits including a heightened sense of clarity and focus. The emphasis on the learning of skills, achievement of physical tasks, and then revisiting when things go wrong, can contribute to self-confidence and resilience.

At Craftspace we create learning opportunities in contemporary craft and are interested in craftivism (craft + activism) and how it can contribute towards developing social capital and individual empowerment. Two of our recent programmes that focused on young people exemplify the benefits.

Sarah recognises the meditative nature of craft and how it helps you to be present in the moment and block out negativity

In the programme ‘Craft in mind’ potter Carrie Reichardt worked with young people aged 14 to 22 who had experienced mental health issues. They talked about their experience and communicated this through a series of craftivist activities. From painting messages in moss and creating mini protest banners, to producing coffee coasters and cup sleeves printed with a mental health message, young people were empowered to make statements about how they felt and what affected their state of mind.

Poverty, lack of opportunities and family stresses were the key factors impacting on their mental health. By using social media we were able to make these messages visible in the wider arena, linking with organisations interested in these concerns and combatting their sense of hopelessness.

In a second programme ‘Making my home’, young people from St Basil’s, a centre for young homeless people in Birmingham, worked with a furniture designer over a six-week period to upcycle furniture. There were masterclasses on making coat hooks from old chair legs and spindles, turning a drawer into a wheeled storage box and creating a lampshade from wool and a discarded frame.

While on the surface the project focused on upcycling and creating furniture for the young people’s rooms, at a deeper level it was about creating a community centred around a shared goal, learning new skills in a supported environment and reintroducing a sense of purpose.

Making was at the heart of both of these projects. Its relationship to wellbeing is evidenced strongly in the words the young people used to describe the work: mind occupied, brilliant, missing it, great experience, being around people, teamwork, structure, meeting new people, one big family, own ideas, calming and handy.

By working collectively there was a sense of teamwork, belonging, sharing and contributing, as well as the opportunity to make something for themselves and others. The focus on making created a calming environment where other concerns could be put aside. An engagement with activism was empowering and in both projects the transformative powers of the making process led to the creation of safe social spaces where young people felt able to talk about personal issues in a non-judgemental way.

A worker from St Basil’s said: “It was clear that through making young people felt able to relax, talk openly and share experiences. The difference between a making environment and that of a meeting was clear.”

The intrinsic nature of these projects requiring you to use your body, learn a new skill, work alongside others, with a focus on being in the moment, connects very well to wider wellbeing markers such as NEF’s Five Ways to Wellbeing (connect, be active, take notice, keep learning and give).

These wellbeing benefits also have a longer-term impact. Following engagement in the ‘Making my home’ programme, one young person gained a job. Another used it as a springboard to do volunteering and others started courses. Participants from ‘Craft in mind’ continued to meet after the end of the project and one young person was successful in accessing funds to run their own craft and mental health project.

Sarah, a participant on ‘Craft in mind’ and other projects of ours, has spoken about how the projects have contributed to her sense of wellbeing. Sarah recognises the meditative nature of craft and how it helps you to be present in the moment and block out negativity: “Making gets you talking. It can distract you like a kind of hypnosis. It gives you a sense of purpose to express yourself and get your thoughts, feelings, views and worries out into the world.”

We have an ongoing interest in how making can contribute to wellbeing, and for our most recent project ‘Making for change’ we are working with the University of Birmingham’s School of Education to research the relationship between craft and social change and its impact on young people.

Deirdre Buckley is Learning and Engagement Manager at Craftspace.
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