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Posted 57 weeks ago
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Posted 57 weeks ago
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Posted 57 weeks ago

The hare clouds are brewing

In Japan they talk about the hare in the moon, rather than the Western tradition of a man in the moon.  There are references to it throughout their culture and you can (of course) buy many products incorporating hares and moons in all sorts of trinket boxes, mobile phone charms, and stationery.

So it amused me one recent Thursday evening as I walked with the dog across the fields near our home that I saw the clouds form into what appeared to be the shape of a hare streaking across the sky and it’s timing couldn’t have been more perfect.  After my walk with the dog, we were due to take a tour of our local brewery: The Bath Ales Brewery Tour.  Bath Ales has instant brand recognition with its legendary hare logo. 


Impressive that they put effort into creating branded signage on the night of their brewery tours by arranging cloud formations of a hare streaking across the skies of Warmley! 

Living as we do several miles from the hustle and bustle of the cities of Bath and Bristol we’re limited to what activities we can get to within walking distance so this was a really special treat for us; a pleasant spring evening walk and the promise of a beer at the end of it. 

We were welcomed on site at Hare House by Jim, an employee who’s been working for Bath Ales for many years: he knew just about everything about the business and, it turns out, also frequents our local pub. 


Jim told us how Bath Ales was established; 3 friends drinking in a pub came up with the idea to start their own brewery.  Two were already working in the brewing business and the other owned a couple of pubs.  A perfect partnership it would seem and I can really imagine the excitement of embarking on such an adventure as I have longed to establish such a hare-brained scheme myself in partnership with close friends of a similar tendency (no threat to Bath Ales, it wouldn’t be beer for me, though my raspberry gin is fast making a name for itself … !).  It all sounded like it might have been a bit of fun in the early days and I just wonder if any of them then dared to dream that one day they might be selling 4,000,000 pints a year (that was last year, up from 200,000 pints sold in their first year!). 

Bath Ales has been brewing ales in the Warmley area since 1995 and they’ve inhabited 3 different sites since that time, on each occasion, moving to a larger premises to keep up with the appetite of demand for their beer.  Hare House is their current premises where they use cutting edge technology including a highly efficient steam-driven brewing plant and complement it with their brewers’ expert skills with the use of traditional brewing techniques.  In 2015 they have exciting plans to bring in more brewing equipment and bottling processes to support production.


Jim talked us through the brewing techniques and showed us samples of the barley, hops and other ingredients.  The Bath Ales team are insistent on using British grown ingredients, with the exception of one speciality ingredient from New Zealand and America, everything is sourced from the UK.  When severe floods affected a crop in Gloucestershire a few years ago the beer simply wasn’t brewed for a period until crops could be grown again.  He showed us the brewing equipment and talked about the process to turn raw ingredients into the finished, award winning smooth ales.


I was interested in the growth of the business and the process of selling the beers through pubs to increase awareness of the beers, generate sales, and establish brand recognition.  Jim talked about how they came to supply the major supermarkets and the challenge that presented for a small and emerging business.  It was a challenge Bath Ales rose to and they pulled out all the stops to meet their first major order from one of the big supermarkets.

Bath Ales also have a bottling plant; this grew from the difficulties of getting someone to bottle their beers for them in the quantities they needed.  They now bottle beers for other breweries and that diversity must add an additional income stream to the portfolio. 

Talking of income, they also own a number of pubs; the Graze chain, Beerd, and several other pubs scattered across the south of the country.  Their brand values have been reflected from beer, to pub, to the merchandise they sell in the shops and in the manner of the staff we met; quality, individuality, and locally sourced produce.

As a local SME business one of the things that struck me was the noticeboard just into the corridor outside the shop.  Covered with letters, cards, photos, words of thanks and appreciation from local schools, groups, charity events, and individuals who they have helped in one way or another.  A letter from someone who appears to have spent some time with the business perhaps as a work experience placement reflects a truly positive experience from which she will grow and takes much away with her.  It’s good to see local business supporting the community and young people growing up in the area.


As we left Hare House after the brewery tour, goodie bags in hand and several beers sampled, the clouds had shifted and the skies were clear again.  We realised we should be heading into one of the Bath Ales pubs for a slap up dinner but with the novelty of being slightly tipsy and not having to drive anywhere we settled for fish & chips instead.  We’re saving the pub tour for another night. 

Arriving home we just had time to catch Digby Jones: The New Troubleshooter with our take away.  The second part of a three part series, this week he was in a woollen mill in Scotland and as the opening titles began to roll my attention turned to the work I’ve been doing recently with Coldharbour Mill in Devon and whether there could be any learning to be applied there. 

Digby talks about manufacturing, and whether we can call brewing manufacturing (I don’t see why not but I don’t want to offend anybody if that’s not correct) there could be further parallels to be drawn between Hawick Knitwear (the subject of this programme) and Bath Ales. 

Amongst other things the programme focussed on the expansion of the business into international markets, namely China but first by creating a step into Japan.  Could any of the brand values of Bath Ales be drawn out and expanded upon for foreign markets and I wonder whether in years to come the brewery tour will talk about their first international order (I don’t know that this hasn’t already happened, by the way! – nb. actually it has (of course!) – check out the website)

Many of the qualities that Hawick Knitwear were promoting as part of the brand to Japanese and ultimately Chinese markets could inspire local businesses like Bath Ales about future expansion into new international territories.  It strikes me their brand already has a familiarity for the Japanese with that lithe hare!  So maybe it wont be so long before the Japanese look to the moon and see the Bath Ales hare skipping across it!  In any case, it might be more reliable than cloud shaping!

You can find out more about Bath Ales, their ales, brewery tours and their pubs at www.bathales.com

Digby Jones: The New Troubleshooter was a three part series on BBC 2 which you can watch again on BBC i-player

Posted 203 weeks ago

A need to not be needed! 2013.14: a year in review

My blog has been neglected recently and I’ve been developing a fear of returning to writing again incase ‘I’ve forgotten how to’?!  It was one of my ambitions for 2013.14 to establish a blog and write for myself something more easy going than a policy, business plan or funding application, which I regularly author.  It’s taken a varied form and I suspect I’ve welcomed a different audience for each installment so far. I’ve really enjoyed collaborating with some guest bloggers and I thank them for their contributions.

So it seemed timely, after a weekend of ‘getting my house in order’; invoicing, recording mileage and expenses, balancing accounts and getting my year end finances in place that I should spend some time revisiting my highlights of last year and looking forward and planning some new adventures and projects for the year ahead.

It was last April that I stepped away from a 12 month period spent with BREAD Youth Project.  I had the greatest sense of pride and satisfaction that an organisation that I had begun working with a year previous with so many difficulties and challenges had transformed and almost been reborn! 

I recall sitting around the table with a new board of 9 trustees and a new staff team, with the announcement that the Big Lottery would commit another five years of funding to the Juicy Blitz project, at that moment I realised I was no longer needed: at last they had everything they needed to move forward again with a renewed sense of purpose and vision.  That was the best moment for me: to not be needed anymore!  I continue to follow their work and was delighted to see only last week the mobile Juice & Smoothie Bar they dreamed about then now travels the area with young people trained, and training each other, to cater for guests at events with healthy snacks and drinks.  A brilliant social enterprise model is emerging here and should be closely watched and supported.

Emma Rigby, Project Manager at Juicy Blitz and Lord Mayor at an event to celebrate Juicy Blitz’s 10 year anniversary and the announcement of further funding from the Big Lottery.

The Juice & Smoothie Bar decorated for the celebrations

Celebrations cakes to mark the occasion - the only unhealthy foods known to be served at Juicy Blitz!

Leaving BREAD – I was, quite honestly, in mourning!  Although I had other projects underway, I wondered whether I would have the opportunity to make the same kind of impact again and work with such outstanding staff and trustee teams.  With the announcement in January of the largest grant I have ever secured, I was reassured that indeed lightning could strike twice and the knowledge that specialist services have been secured for a group of some of the most disadvantaged and marginalized people in our city and with some of the most complex needs was another incredible moment for me to have been able to tell their story and contribute to their future security. 

At the end of this year, with calculator in hand, I have smashed my personal fundraising best, with over £575,000 raised for 4 organisations from lottery, private and EU funding sources.

Sadly not every organisation can be saved and my work with Appledore Arts culminated in a decision to close the organisation.  I have been working with the trustees to help them achieve their ambition of a dignified and graceful closure and as the financial year draws to a close this is now near to completion.  The organisation was able to celebrate a successful 15 year history of presenting visual arts festivals in the small fishing village of Appledore and was known for being the first visual arts festival in the UK.

The start of the year also saw the start of the Dare Devil Divas Compendium of Super Heroes and Alter Egos: a new project for Drastic Productions.  I am proud to be a board member for Drastic Productions and have been leading on the evaluation of this 18 month project which has been working with a group of up to 20 women with and without mental health issues to explore their inner super heroes and alter egos through performance and creative writing.  The group have now commissioned a graphic novelist to work with them to produce a graphic novel which will tell their stories through this fascinating medium.  It will be published later in 2014.

During the year both BREAD and Drastic Productions were featured in a short film made by VOSCUR, the voice of the community sector in Bristol.  It’s about voluntary and community groups in Bristol ‘Changing Lives for the Better’.  You can watch it here:


In the latter part of 2013 my work changed from being mainly about crisis management and working with charities at difficult and challenging times, to a new pattern which included more developmental work including some really exciting project development and fundraising briefs which have been the focus of my work from January to March 2014.  

Although I fear the extent of the cuts has not been fully felt yet, this does seem to signal to me an emerging positivity in the cultural and third sectors, that organisational change has taken place, and that organisations are beginning to surface with a new sense of vision, new ambitions, and new ways in which they can help and engage beneficiaries. 

I am humbled by the work I am engaged to play a part in; from telling the stories of the beneficiaries and the difference organisations make to their circumstances through to the passion and commitment of their staff teams, trustee boards, and volunteers in meeting those needs and striving for better outcomes for beneficiaries.  These teams welcome me to work with them to become part of them in the short, medium or long term.  I work with them as the experts in their organisations.  My aim is to spend a while with them, understand their needs and help them move from wherever they are now, to wherever they want to be.  I aim to have that magic moment, as I did with BREAD a year ago when I know instinctively, they now have everything they need.  And so I politely pick up my coat and bag and quietly I take my leave. 

Posted 207 weeks ago

All steamed up, once again

You might recall a previous blog post earlier this summer where I got all steamed up about a visit to Coldharbour Mill in Devon.  I don’t intend to revisit the same theme too often on my blog however; in this case, I’ve decided to make an exception to that rule.

In late October, Coldharbour Mill once again organised a Steam Up! event, unusual in that it was held on the last Sunday of half term; this one breaks with the tradition of Bank Holiday Monday Steam Ups! and gives visitors an extra opportunity to view the Working Woollen Mill in action in the long stretch between August Bank Holiday Monday and New Year’s Day.

Coldharbour Mill is perhaps one of those attractions that you’d be forgiven for thinking that you only need to visit once.  I beg to disagree!  

October’s Steam Up! couldn’t have been more different, and at once the same, as it was in August.  Enhanced, perhaps!  For me, August had been all about the mechanics of the Working Woollen Mill.  You might recall the knowledge imparted to me by John Border, one of Coldharbour’s regular steam volunteers, about how the boilers and machines work in order to power the weaving looms?  Nothing had changed – it’s all still there, to see, to inspect, to enjoy!  For me it’s always good to hear it twice, and thrice: I don’t have a mechanically minded brain so repetition is good for me!  I enjoyed catching up with John and other volunteers at the Mill and seeing them swap roles with each other, demonstrating the breadth and extent of their knowledge.  The team of volunteers who work on the factory floor, spinning yarn and weaving fabrics on the Victorian machines were once again speaking to the public with great enthusiasm and knowledge of the machines they work and the process of taking a fleece and transforming it into yarn and then woven fabric.

However, where this Steam Up! differed were the displays and demonstrations by local craftspeople displays and demonstrations by local craftspeople, which brought to life how the products of the Mill are used by people to create new garments, accessories and furnishings.  This was not obviously missing from the August Steam Up! yet returning to see this ‘second instalment’ really put the icing on the cake for me, and helped me to see how everything I saw and heard in August actually contributes to products that we buy and use everyday in our lives.

Louise Cottey, who runs weekly weaving workshops at Coldharbour Mill, had worked with the team there to arrange for a range of craftspeople to be resident for the day in the Old Stables where they were demonstrating a range of crafts from knitting, to upholstery, to weaving; all crafts and products resulting from the products of the Mill’s labours. 

A hand-spinning group meets weekly on a Wednesday in these lovely old stables and they were to be found this day on the top floor of the main museum demonstrating the skill of spinning fleece into yarn.  One spinner, Margaret Vickery, told me how she owns a flock of sheep and described the process of taking a freshly shorn fleece, washing it with soap and water in the bath, and leaving it to dry, before spinning it into a yarn and finally, knitting it into garments for herself and her family. 

She was wearing a cardigan produced by one of her sheep: a natural fleece that was not dyed yet yielded the most exquisite shades of browns, taupes, creams and greys.  The texture, colours and warmth were unlike anything I had seen or felt before.

We discussed whether the sheep recognised their fleeces when she was wearing them and whether the smell really ever leaves them.  As someone who once raised my own sheep (and who would love to have a flock of my own one day!) I’d like to think that they see the benefits of their shorn fleeces on their owners and know how much we appreciate their cosy coats ourselves.

Also on the fourth floor of the museum you can see the weaving school established by local weaver, Louise Cottey.  It was fully functioning today and a number of her students were on hand to demonstrate their skills and explain how the Mill and Louise’s classes benefit them. 

What was so striking to me was the breadth and range of weaving techniques her students are producing; colours, patterns, textures, tartans, and the different thicknesses of fabrics produced. 

The looms themselves are imposing and look terribly complicated and fiddly.  How one goes about threading up a loom seems simply terrifying but Louise’s students speak with clarity, passion and a matter of fact manner about the process involved in setting up the looms. 

No distractions, just peace and quiet … the flow of the weaving is great therapy and very relaxing.  You also get something beautiful, original and valued at the end of the course”
Weaving student

Once threaded, the weaving seems to take shape quite quickly; they certainly make it seem effortless and create impressive results.  

All the students I spoke to have been involved for many years and Louise has a way of building up their skills and knowledge in such a way that learning is enjoyable and final products are regularly produced and today, they were exhibited too: scarves, cushions, rugs, not to mention weaving caddies and clothing garments.


Various students’ work

Waistcoat: Susan Wasfi


Jacket: Heather Rabbage

So, my recommendation to you is this: if you’ve already visited Coldharbour Mill: go twice!  If you’ve never been before: there’s a treasure to be uncovered and you’ll need more than a day to take it all in.  The Steam Ups are a great opportunity to soak in the atmosphere and the expertise of the volunteers and students working here, but as it’s also open throughout the year* just check the website for details: www.coldharbourmill.org.uk. 

If you’re interested in learning to weave Louise runs classes on Thursday & Friday mornings and Friday afternoons with all equipment provided.  You can find out more from http://louisecottey.wordpress.com

And by the way, I’m not alone in my passion for this place: if you’d like to read another perspective, SowyStitch have also blogged about this event, you can read it here: http://sowystitch.blogspot.com/2013/11/steam-up-day-at-coldharbour-Mill.html

*Coldharbour Mill is open Monday – Friday from 10am-4pm and is just a few minutes drive from J27 or J28 of the M5 – follow the signs to Willand, then the brown tourist signs to Working Wool Museum.  Keep an eye open for occasional weekend openings on a Saturday or Sunday for special events. Visit www.coldharbourmill.org.uk for full details and follow them on Facebook or Twitter.

The next Steam Up! is on Wednesday 1January 2014 from 10.30am – 4pm with engines in steam from 11am and Victorian textile machines in actions.  Displays, exhibitions, model railways, gift shop, on site refreshments and free car parking. 

Posted 226 weeks ago

Goin’ back to my roots!

September, traditionally the month when the hazy days of summer feel officially behind us and we notice the leaves starting to turn, the nights getting shorter and the roads getting busier again as holiday makers return to work and the school runs start again in earnest. 

I always get a slight ‘back to school’ feeling even now: for me, it signifies another ‘new year’ in the calendar, a chance to set some new goals and three months hard work before I can enjoy the next holiday season. 

This year I looked forward to September more than usual however and for the very reason that I was myself due to go back to school!

As the summer term came to an end so too had the thirteenth round of Artsmark, Arts Council England’s flagship programme which enables schools and other organisations to evaluate, strengthen and celebrate their arts and cultural provision.

Artsmark is nationally recognised as a sign of commitment to high quality arts and cultural education and holding Artsmark status demonstrates that a school or setting values the arts and culture.  It raises the public profile of a school or setting in the eyes of prospective students, their families and across the wider community and contributes to the cultural aspect Ofsted’s requirement that a school promotes students’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development.

As a Validator for Artsmark, which is now delivered by Trinity College London on behalf of the Arts Council, I received my final allocation of Artsmark applicants at the end of July. 

My role as a Validator is to read a setting’s application, assess it against the Artsmark criteria, visit the setting and ensure that I see or hear evidence of what has been set out in their application.  I prepare a written report confirming my findings and guide the setting in areas of future development and opportunities for the arts. 

Imagine my surprise in July when I logged on to the Artsmark portal to find I had been allocated a very familiar organisation: Oldfield School in Bath where I spent my secondary education over 18 years ago. 

My first consideration was whether I felt I could assess Oldfield School completely objectively.  As Validators we all understand how much effort goes into preparing an Artsmark application, not to mention the nerves that accompany a visit and what is actually involved in terms of delivery and developing a whole school ethos towards being an Artsmark school.  So this is something I considered very seriously to ensure that I could offer Oldfield School, and in doing so that meant all the other schools applying for Artsmark, a fair validation.

Having left 18 years ago I felt enough time had passed from my days there and there was no conflict of interest for me conducting this validation.  I checked the website and there was only one languages teacher still in post from my time there.  The only similarity from my day to the present day is some of the buildings remain, although there has been considerable development of specialist facilities. Even the school uniform has changed; I noted how smart my two tour guides were in navy blue suits; they certainly mean business here!

As I arrived at reception in mid September for the validation visit I signed in and was asked if I’d been there before; I’d hoped to keep this to myself until the end of the visit incase it went terribly well or terribly badly!  Bemused that my name rang a bell in the office and hopeful that they hadn’t been looking through old students reports I was ushered into the headteacher, Mrs Sparling’s office to meet with her, Ms Malt, the Artsmark contact, and a representative from the governing body. 

Oldfield School was one of the first schools to gain Specialist Status and held specialisms in the arts, sports and science.  As a result, the school now boasts some exceptional spaces including a professional dance space and a new drama facility is due to open in spring 2014. With an impressive range of arts partners and a curriculum that is arts rich from top to toe and attracts a high percentage of students to take up arts subjects at GCSE and A level its provision really is nothing short of excellent.

The Specialist Arts College status, together with four consecutive Artsmark Gold successes (this validation being their fifth – no pressure for any of us then!) and their unwavering passion for and commitment to the arts has established Oldfield as one of the most specialist and well resourced schools to study the arts in the area. 

My assessment took me through their Outstanding Ofsted report, letters of support from local schools and arts organisations and this, combined with feedback from parents and community groups who had been involved in arts activities presented by the students, demonstrated to me that externally, the school is valued highly and respected for it’s arts provision. 

I met with a group of students from Years 8 to 13 and was impressed by how knowledgeably and confidently they each spoke about the arts at Oldfield School and the depth of knowledge and learning they were prepared to share with me and their own experiences of being involved in the arts at school.

As my visit came to an end Ms Malt walked with me back from Penn House to the main site.  In a split second, I was transported back 20 years by the trees that run along the boundary of the school and separate it from the road: my first project at A level Art & Design was during that first autumn term we took sketching materials outside and drew the trees over and over again.  I felt I knew every leaf, the pattern of the bark of each trunk, and every cluster of branches intimately by the time we completed that project.  And I can honestly say I’ve never looked at a tree in the same way since!  My art teacher, Mr Jepson, taught us the importance of really looking and really seeing.  He taught us how to draw with accuracy and sensitively and it is since that time that I’ve appreciated the seasons all the more, the depth and density of the leaves, textures, colours, shape and tone.

Until that moment, I could have been validating any school; as a Validator I was delighted with the school’s commitment to the arts and thrilled that their provision is of such a high standard, accessible to all, and creates outstanding results for their students.  But those trees brought me back to my roots of where my passion for the arts began: before Artsmark and Specialist Arts College status existed, Oldfield School was already inspiring it’s students to take up careers in the arts.

Oldfield was a good school as I remember it then (admittedly, I don’t remember much outside the art room and the textiles ‘hut’) but to see it now with the provision it offers was quite emotive.  Meeting students already experts in the arts, mature in their understanding and appreciation of the arts, and a staff team who are adamant that the arts offer will not be compromised and who pursue their own passions to share with their students, was truly inspirational and I felt proud that in some tiny way I was once a part of that. 

It’s not often that you get a chance to return to your old school, and especially on such an auspicious occasion: to validate their fifth application for Artsmark Gold status.  It was a pleasure and a privilege to assess and validate their application and now we all wait patiently to hear if their status will be maintained for a fifth occasion. 

Posted 231 weeks ago

Weaving the industrial past, social history and yarn making through the years at Coldharbour Mill

At the invitation of Susan Wasfi, secretary to the board of directors, I spent an enjoyable and educational Bank Holiday Monday at Coldharbour Mill in Uffculme, Devon. 

Open throughout the year* (with a brief respite in December / January), Coldharbour Mill hosts its legendary Steam Up! days every Bank Holiday Monday.  Having visited earlier this year on an ordinary week day, I was delighted to return to this working woollen mill in the tranquil village of Uffculme on one of these special open events when visitors get to experience the drama, noise and importantly, the smell of the working steam engines which once powered the mill!

Coldharbour Mill was built in 1799 by Thomas Fox, a Quaker, to spin woollen and later worsted yarns.  It is a rare example of surviving Georgian architecture, industry and enterprise and it’s superbly located just a stone’s throw off the M5 at Junction 27 – perfect for pepping up a weary traveller going to or coming from the south west. 

Coldharbour Mill provides a unique opportunity to experience first hand the use of different power sources to the mill.  Water power satisfied the needs of the mill up until the second half of the 19th century.  True to the Quaker way of life, Thomas Fox resisted installing steam engines until this time – fearful for the loss of jobs it may create for his workers.  A change from woollen to worsted fabrics in 1865 drove the need for change of power and as new combing machinery was introduced, he recognised the need to move to steam power. 

We started our tour in the steam engine shed, where we observed the Lancashire boiler being fed with wood by three enthusiastic volunteers to keep steam pressure up. We really got a sense of the heat, grease and hard work generated by keeping these beasts nourished.


Volunteer John Border described to us how the steam generated in the boiler runs around the building, supplying the power to drive the painstakingly restored steam engines.

Coldharbour Mill has a team of steam volunteers who meet every Tuesday to help keep the machinery in tip top condition and they recently worked hard to ensure the steam engine passed its annual steam test in order that today’s Steam Up! could take place.  Volunteers like John provide a pivotal role in talking to visitors like me, with no knowledge of steam engines, generating power or operating machinery, and bringing to life the mill as it was then, and how it is now. 

The volunteers turned out in steam engine mans’ uniforms (white shirts, blue overalls and red neckerchiefs – though I’m told these were often white in for mill workers).   

Many of the volunteers live locally, or worked at the mill during their working lives.  John told us that he became involved after researching his family tree and discovered that his maternal grandfather worked at the mill.  Sadly, when the mill was closed in 1981 all the staff records were burned and John has been unable to find out exactly what job his grandfather would have done there.  However, it certainly seems that steam could run in his veins as he looked perfectly at home here with the machines! 

John told me about the importance of the Gas Retort House which produced gas from coal which was used to produce lighting in the factory and provided the first street lights in the village, as far as the Uffculme Men’s Institute. 

Gas production would have ceased in the early part of the 1900s at Coldharbour Mill when generators were installed and driven by the Pollit & Wigzell steam engine.  This must have been quite a bonus for those living in the village in this day, and those who worked at the mill. 

He explained how gas lighting enabled the mill to operate for longer hours; a particular bonus during the war years when production increased to 24 hours a day.

After gas was replaced by steam generated power another volunteer demonstrated how the steam from John’s machinery was converted into electricity to provide lighting during the war years.  Visitors watched as the light bulbs on the wall slowly began to glow the dial of watts and amperes slowly rose powered by an alternator.

Having toured the steam engine sheds and refuelled at the Bobbins Café, we made our way into the three storey mill building and starting at the top, visited the main exhibition space which sets the scene for the mill during war time years; a time of high productivity for the mill as the patent holder for ‘puttees’ – a sort of leg warmer / britches worn by soldiers during World War One. 


 The exhibition sets the scene of the war years through displays and installations which demonstrate the wider impact of the war, and how the mill responded and coped during these difficult times and how the Quaker beliefs supported and shaped the mill and its workers’ lives.  

The floors below contain the original and still used mill machinery.  On the second floor, visitors can see the carding machines which take fleeces and thin them to a fine grade. 

And on the first floor, there were more volunteers on hand to explain the process of how carded fleeces are spun into yarns, reduced in size, and how different colours are blended together to create two tone threads in double knitting, or Aran wools, and used to weave rugs and soft furnishings – all of which can be purchased in the Mill Shop. 

Until recently, the Mill has been host to a textiles degree student from Goldsmiths College in London and frequently hosts  visits from schools and colleges nearby.  As a Validator on the Arts Council England ‘Artsmark’ scheme which rewards schools for exemplary access and provision to the arts and wider cultural activity I most highly recommend a visit to Coldharbour Mill for any students who are interested in textiles and textile production and for the way in which the displays and the volunteers can help students to learn first hand and understand more about history through the war years.    

Our final stop on our tour was the dyeing workshop with its array of colours from natural plant sources, it is rather like a scientist’s den; the range of shades mimicked only by the baskets of spindles dotted around the mill building.


For me, what made this visit such a delight was the volunteers; their passion, knowledge and ability to engage visitors.  The importance of maintaining heritage sites such as Coldharbour Mill is of paramount importance to our communities, young and old. 

As the education curriculum focuses more on literacy and numeracy, sites like Coldharbour Mill provide a unique opportunity for children and young people to learn hands on about science, enterprise, physics, history and craft. 

Not only this, they also provide a vital lifeline for people to engage socially in their community – as much now as they did in their heyday.  Regular groups meet at the mill – including spinners, weavers, and the steam maintenance team.  All the volunteers I spoke to told me of their passion for the mill and their desire to keep engaged and involved with it’s running as well as their ideas for the future; what a valuable resource to have at your fingertips!

This was an unusual day for me in that it brought together my husband’s passion for steam engines and my passion for craft, fabric and fashion.  There are few occasions I can think of when both of us have looked forward so much to a shared visit to a heritage centre and few that we have both enjoyed so equally.  I hope if you have read this, you will feel inspired to visit too. 

*Coldharbour Mill is open Monday – Friday from 10am-4pm.  Keep an eye open for occasional weekend openings on a Saturday or Sunday for special events.  Visit www.coldharbourmill.org.uk for full details and follow them on Facebook or Twitter.

Posted 237 weeks ago

Changing Rooms

As we step into August and the summer holidays get into full swing I’m hoping to take advantage of the quieter phonelines and lighter email load by giving my office spaces a bit of TLC.

Making changes to a physical office space is a technique I frequently employ when working with clients.  Its not important to know the content of what the project might be about as I find you can achieve great impacts regardless of where the organisation is and whatever it’s going through. 

Arriving at the same office space every day, getting on with the job in hand, managing customers, meeting deadlines, coping with calamities; it’s rarely a priority to pause and consider what your office space says about your business or your charity. 

Yet your office environment has the power to: 

  • motivate or demotivate your staff and / or volunteers
  • support your staff to be efficient, organised and effective – or to breed poor system management, sloppy caretaking and disorganisation
  • improve customer care – or contribute to the loss of valuable customers
  • create, nurture and build team relationships – or it can make team building difficult and tense
  • be an extension of your organisation’s brand and values that supports all the other communications you make about your organisation
  • inspire your customers, clients, donors, suppliers and visitors to deepen their connection with your organisation through sales, donations, or a desire to work with you

In a couple of recent projects I’ve been involved with making changes to the office environment has been key to motivating staff, getting the team on board with new ideas and ambitions of the organisation, and improving customer care and quality of service.  Overall, it’s been essential work for me to do to help me move with the organisation from where they are now to where they want to be. 

On the whole, I don’t need to recommend organisations spending any budget on making changes to their office environment – most frequently, there is a rationalisation of resources and perhaps a small investment in new office furniture or storage solutions.  Much can be done on a shoestring by improving systems, examining workflow, and most importantly, being creative and having fun; and that’s a role for everyone who works in the space. 

So with the holiday month ahead of me and a bit more flexibility in the diary to tackle my own office spaces (one home office and a space at Spike Design), I asked Mike Ahern from BritDecor to be a guest blogger and inspire us with some ideas for our office spaces; whether we need space, storage, motivation or inspiration, spaces to encourage calmness, or spaces to get fired up in, Mike has extensive experience of creating home and office spaces and no shortage of ideas to help us make the most of our day at the office.

Visit www.britdecor.co.uk and follow @mikeahern_ for daily doses of interiors inspiration.

Posted 241 weeks ago

Inspiring giving through creative fundraising

Credit: Amanda Harman

The latest installment of ‘Managing in a downturn’, the March 2013 report from the collaborative research partnership of PwC, Charity Finance Group and the Institute of Fundraising contains some stark figures.  In 2012 key findings showed that:

  • 93% of fundraisers say the fundraising climate got tougher during 2012 with 89% expecting their jobs to be even harder in 2013
  • While donor attrition improved slightly, the report details that securing new donors was a particular challenge, with major donors being the greatest challenge to secure
  • There were reported falls in corporate, trust and public sector funding
  • As a result, 85% of charities taking part in their research were exploring new fundraising options and 55% had increased their trading or social enterprise activity since the financial downturn

Looking ahead their report considers what 2013 will bring and states that many charities are planning bold steps despite the downturn.  There are two key headlines that stand out that I think all charities should take note of: 

39% of charities plan to increase trading in 2013

64% of charities are planning to expand their fundraising activity this year 

This is likely to represent conditions becoming tougher in an already challenging environment and is likely to have an impact across many of the ways in which charities are organised and focus their work.  

Charities may decide to raise the bar further in terms of finding creative, engaging and innovative ways of speaking to their donors and audiences, telling their stories and building robust long term relationships with them.

Perhaps that’s something that comes easily to you and your organisation, or maybe its something you would like some challenge on, some new ideas or inspiration?  Then read on for an example of how a charity and a photographer are working together to do just that …  

Credit: Amanda Harman

Amanda Harman is a colleague I worked closely with a couple of years ago as a fellow trustee of Artists First.  Amanda specialises in creating powerful photographic stories, projects and resources for charities and voluntary organisations in order to help tell their stories to funders, stakeholders, and donors.   Her clients include National Association of Youth Theaters, Renaissance South West and Stockport Borough Council. 

She has recently completed a tour of the country creating a set of portraits for YMCA England of the young people they house and support. The charity’s brief was that the portraits should form an exhibition at RIBA in London aimed at YMCA England’s most valued donors to connect them to the young people they are helping and to hopefully sign up some new donors. 

It is this sort of creative approach that YMCA England is using which may help set them aside from other causes and brands, help them build strong and long lasting relationships with their donors and draw in additional funds where other sources have reduced in the current climate.  

Credit: Amanda Harman

If you would like to know more about Amanda’s work and how she could work with your organisation, contact either of us for a copy of her Show & Tell projects leaflet or visit her website: www.amandaharman.co.uk

If you missed ‘Managing in a downturn’ you can find it here: http://www.institute-of-fundraising.org.uk/research/managing-in-a-downturn

Posted 243 weeks ago