We’re seeking up to four new Non-executive Directors, similar to Trustees in a charity, to join our small but growing and ambitious organisation from early Summer 2022.
Do you have skills or lived experience that could enrich our work, or just feel passionate about art, culture and community in East Leeds and beyond and would like to help make exciting things happen locally?
East Leeds Project Team visit to Sunny Bank Mills on Saturday 8th February 2020 Joanna Jowett
The Sunny Bank Mills Estate is owned by the Gaunt family, who have been converting the old cloth mill buildings into workplace units suitable for a range of businesses, from offices to artist studios, maker spaces, a play gym and an acting school, since the mill ceased creating cloth in 2008. There is a busy onsite café, Art Gallery and shop and creative enterprises such as SCRAP, a Centre for Creative Reuse, that we visited on the East Leeds project team research trip on 8th February.
The repurposing of old mill buildings and within them creating spaces for creative businesses and artists, is something seen across our region and the visit reminded many of us of the vast Salts Mill in Saltaire, but on a smaller scale. The buildings themselves are full of wonderful historic features, worn down stone steps and old Yorkshire stone. The Art Gallery had beautiful daylight streaming in through huge windows, creating a very different ambience to most white walled galleries. The gallery shop stocks a range of work from local designer makes and has a small tearoom serving hot drinks and cake. On site there are a small number of artist’s studios and a project space with textile printing available to hire for a half or full day. The mill also hosts small performances and concerts and can be hired as an event space.
Sunny Bank Mills sits at the very heart of Farsley. Founded in 1829 by a group of local weavers, the Mills developed into one of the world’s most important fine worsted mills. As it has always been such a central and iconic site for local people, it was wonderful to hear that some of the employees from when it was an operating mill are still employed there today. The mill felt incredibly grounded in its sense of place as part of a village community. The site is open and welcoming and the mix of different buildings, businesses and the position of the site, results in it simply feeling like part of the town itself and easy to dip in and out of. Having said that, making such historic buildings fully accessible is undoubtedly no small task. Modern toilet facilities and lifts have been installed but creating full access to all will be certainly an area with lots of challenges for the management. There does seem to be a real and genuine commitment to make sure these buildings will continue to be occupied and an important asset to Farsley for years to come by the Gaunt family.
There is also an onsite Archive, which houses an historic collection of mill items, including textiles and weaving looms. Open for the public to visit and to be used for research, the archive really acknowledges and celebrates the mills history and its legacy.
On our way to visit SCRAP, I noticed School of Sew, who offer tailored sewing lessons and courses. Seeing a space dedicated to one craft was brilliant and the possibility of having multiple studios and dedicated spaces for a range of creative practices seemed very natural and at home in the mill buildings. They are really making the most of the opportunity that such a large estate offers, with a range different buildings and sizes of space to play with and configure.
SCRAP itself is full of possibility for any creative, continuously stocked with discarded materials originally destined for landfill, sold on at very low prices. This a wonderful resource for individual artists as well as community groups, schools and students. As well as the ScrapStore SCRAP also has an eco-friendly refill station and hosts a community craft café. They create ScrapSheds for schools and educational settings and also run creative workshops and training. It is a brilliant example of a social enterprise that really engages with the local community in several ways.
Some proposed further research for the Project Team would be to speak to some of the studio holders to find out more about the creative community that exists around the site and if any activity or collaboration takes place that is artist lead or managed in any ongoing way by the estate. There is clearly huge potential for collaboration across art forms and to grow the creative output and engagement of the mills, but as a private business this might not be something considered or prioritised by the management. It would also be useful to get a sense as to how tied into the wider creative community across Leeds the mill is and what, if any conversations are happening with other creative organisations in the area. With local businesses, including HR, engineering and digital marketing companies all within the same complex, there is something quite refreshing and exciting about just how easily these different industries occupy the same space and how embedded the arts are throughout these buildings, providing an asset and helping to make Sunny Bank Mills in to a real destination, rather than simply a place of work, or office block, but part of the community and somewhere people want to be, live and work.
Considering Making and Makers for the East Leeds Makers survey
It’s a mixed weather Sunday in mid March, and I have just emerged from an hour-long bath. My neighbours trees now just tap lightly on the bathroom window, as opposed to the past few days where, thanks to storms Gareth and Hannah they have battered, with a sense of unusual urgency, upon the side of the house, as if sending a tree morse code.
Batten down the hatches, the winds are here.
The dulcet sound of James Shakeshaft (a Leeds musician, a maker of music) wafts up the stairs, as I contemplate what it is to be a maker.
My initial thoughts are; we are all makers. From the moment we wake up, we are making decisions. When to get up, what to wear, when to leave the house, or indeed whether to stay. We make our beds, (well, not all of us but let’s not get distracted here) we make breakfast, lunch, tea, dinner, supper, a snack, a cuppa.
We collectively make a community come together, or separate. We collectively make decisions as to whom we might honour with speaking on our behalf, and, similarly, many make the decision to abstain from the debate. We make our way in the world.
Making is inherent in our language as something we do.
However, when asked, “Are you a maker?” so many people immediately translate that as something ‘other people do’.
So what if we take the dictionary explanation of making: a person or thing that makes or produces something.
Does this change our perception of what a maker is?
Perhaps we don’t acknowledge that a large part of our daily lives is a creative process? Perhaps a maker is a person or thing that makes or produces something, which in itself, is not necessary for survival?
Perhaps it is because we are not taught to relish something that doesn’t turn out as well as we’d planned in our heads?
So here are a few maker myths debunked…
An artist is not necessarily just someone who can paint.
A musician is not only someone who can play an instrument.
A singer is not someone defined by whether they can sing in tune.
A writer is not exclusively someone who has had a piece of work published.
A craftsperson is not confined to someone who sews, knits, welds, saws or attaches things together.
Yes, they are all makers, but they have learnt by trial and error, by giving it a go, by stepping outside their comfort zone, by hanging out with others and sharing knowledge. There are no right or wrongs in the world of making, which is why so many of us make things just for the sheer delight of doing so.
However, confidence, accessibility, encouragement and dedication can often be the elements separating those who do, from those who believe they can’t.
Whatever you think a maker is, of this you can be sure, there is nothing more pleasing than standing back and looking upon something you have made just because you wanted to, and enjoying your creation, flaws and all.
And whilst I still believe that we are all makers in one form or another, there are only some of us that do it to satisfy a creative urge that goes beyond the day to day.
Creativity is inherent in us all, whether we choose to take it to another level is completely the choice of the individual, but there is room for us all to follow our dreams, make mistakes, pick ourselves up, and start again.
Right, I’m of to make a cup of tea…
Claire Irving Communities Director East Leeds Project
P.S. If you are a Maker – please have a look at our survey below – it’ll only take a couple of minutes!
The East Leeds Makers survey is now live and will gather data over the next couple of months, with the intention of publishing our research in the summer of 2019. Please go to the survey by clicking the link below: