Developing a Sense of Place

19th July 2004 – my first day working for West Kilbride Community Initiative Ltd. When I set out that first morning,  I could not have imagined that I would be involved in the project for the next 13 years.  It has been an enriching experience where I have seen first hand the power of the individual and the collective, where local people have worked with creative indivuduals and made lasting, postive change.  Volunteers have underpinned every aspect of the project and I have been grateful for their  day-to-day support and enthusiasm throughout.

Having had a brief introduction to what was expected of me, I was handed the keys and then shown to the small gallery space which would also be my office.  The main focus of my new role as Craft Development Officer was to support the volunteer Board of Directors and other volunteers, develop West Kilbride as an accredited Visitor Attraction, attract makers to take on studios, offer business support and build a brand recognized for the quality and distinctiveness of its craft offering.

I ‘inherited’ a 2-drawer filing cabinet (with files), a small Rolodex (with contacts), a single page website, a small gift shop for local enthusiasts, a small gallery space with no exhibiton programme and four craft studios.  Two of the studios had been purchased by the Moffat Charitable Trust on behalf of the community in 2000, the other two had been purchased as part of a funding support package from Scottish Enterprise Ayrshire.  As I was starting my first day, the  newest studio tenants, Virgil and Alison Bauzys, were just about to relocate with their two young children from Somerset to join the project – I had a huge amount of catching up to do very quickly!

It seemed daunting but one step at a time, gradually building local, regional and national networks whilst gaining much enouragement and support from local volunteers and the studio makers, great things were achieved.  Funds raised in the first year helped develop a new visual brand, website and leaflets. Another studio was purchased and private sponsorship and Scottish Enterprise Ayrshire funding enabled the redevelopment of  the former Clydesdale Bank as a light filled exhibiton gallery.  In July 2006, a rebranded Craft Town Scotland was granted 3-star Visit Scotland Visitor Attraction status with the new gallery noted for the quality of its exhibitions of contemporary craft. By the end of 2006, the impact of the project was recognized by its winning the Department of Trade and Industry’s Enterprising Britain and a Scottish Urban Regeneration’s Annual Best Practice Award (Place).  This was an incredible achievement for a locally-led project competing against those with major public and private investment.

Enterprising Britain 2006 National Winners Award Ceremony

Part of the success centred not only on what had been achieved to date but also on the ambitious plans to redevelop the old Barony Church.  Purchased on behalf of the community in 2000 as a result of a local bequest, it hadn’t been used for services since 1978.    Initially used to  host a one-off fundraising event selling second-hand furniture,  its success grew. The sales became a weekly occurrence, providing a much needed source of match-funding for the next 8 years.   From 2006 onwards , major development plans focused on broadening community benefit whilst increasing the project’s reach beyond the village.   By early 2007, my role was made full-time as I developed the strategic plan for the development of a creative hub and submitted funding bids whilst continuing to manage the expanded studio and gallery portfolio. What was achieved next is another story…for another post.

Save

‘Born-again’ Maker/Place Maker/Collaborator

Making places starts with people.  Although I’ve just launched Maggie Broadley @CoCreate,  my commitment to supporting the role of craft, creativity and locally-led development in building confident, inclusive and culturally rich communities comes from 25 years of experience within the creative/creatively-led regeneration sectors.

I have direct experience of the impact creativity and making can have; my personal and creative development flourished, having first had my children (4 of) then being accepted to study Ceramics at the Glasgow School of Art in 1993.  Supported by my family, I immersed myself in it and loved every minute – even though at times it felt like I was being brutally challenged, both technically and intellectually, by the staff and my fellow undergraduates. Incidentally, the friendships I made at GSA remain my deepest and most valued.

MMBCoCreate Blog - GSA Banner 1F

I read the art school prospectus time and time again whilst preparing my application portfolio in 1992 and remember it talked about transferrable skills. At the time, I thought this was just a way of preparing us for the fact that earning a living as an artist/maker wouldn’t be easy.  Well it’s not, but the transferrable skills I developed during my art school training have stood me in very good stead in the outside world. The ability to look, really look at things; to draw or make the same form over and over again, testing out materials and technical skills, and find something new to observe every time; to question and challenge long held beliefs – yours and others – whilst retaining a ‘measured subjectivity’.

Strangely enough, it’s not necessarily the creative and technical skills developed that have come to my rescue time and time again but rather the resilience and perseverance built up over so many disappointments.  Of course, I’ve had many positive, inspiring experiences but it’s how you cope when things get tough that often make a difference.  Like those firing disasters when opening a kiln only to find a load of brown pots instead of the brightly coloured pots you expected (not that there’s anything wrong with lovely, rich brown pots but that’s not the drab brown of a firing gone wrong!) or finding out that you are a ‘failed 1st’… which you quickly learn is not a disaster and feel rightly proud of your BA(Hons) Design 2.1+ from the Glasgow School of Art.

MMBCoCreate Blog - GSA Banner 2F

I graduated from art school in July 1999 and, thanks to a £1,000 prize as the GSA Chase Charity Scholarship winner, set up my ceramic workshop in a converted garage at my home.  This followed a trip from Ayrshire to Lancashire to collect my first kiln – and then straight back to Ayrshire, very bleary eyed…late nights became a regular occurrence waiting for kilns to complete their firing cycle.  I concentrated on developing work for exhibitions but still found time to complete a Business Gateway Course for small start-ups.  Although it took several attempts to create a cash-flow forecast that showed my craft ‘business’ as profitable, I did eventually succeed.

Making can be a solitary process but time spent on this is less than all the other things you need to do to produce new work; administration, book-keeping, costing your work, managing stock and ordering, marketing and promoting you/your work, research and development, building up relationships with galleries and clients, attendance at art fairs…not an exhaustive list (although exhausting at times). I did all of this as well as re-connect with other makers through Visual Arts Scotland, first as an elected professional member in 1999 followed by being part of the selection and hanging committee for its annual show at the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh.  I also became Treasurer of Ayrshire Makers, a collective established as a peer support network and way of promoting an annual Open Studios event across Ayrshire.

MMBCoCreate Blog - GSA Banner 3F

During this period, I worked on several projects in secondary schools which I found really rewarding; one with boys who were regular non-attenders and a few workshops with senior pupils during summer schools.  A chance enquiry diverted me from pursing more education workshops to top up my modest income from ceramics.   One commission for a mosaic in a local hairdresser’s salon propelled me into the world of creating decorative artwork for commissioning clients.  Things snowballed when my clients acquired a pub, then a hotel…and so on for several years.

Making had to take a back seat as I began to take on other commissions in the hospitality sector.  During this period, the design aspect of my art school training came to the fore – responding not to my own direction but that of commissioning clients, visualizing their practical and aesthetic requirements.  High on my list of skills acquired during this period was learning to adapt designs and work with others in a sector where commercial concerns ranked very high.

MMBCoCreate Blog - GSA Banner 4F

And so, decision time came along in 2004 when I became too busy to cope with the demand for my decorative features and interior décor schemes.  A showroom and taking on staff seemed to be the answer when a friend told me she was leaving her post as Craft Development Officer for a small, community-led project. Based in West Kilbride, North Ayrshire, the group’s big ambition to become “Scotland’s Craft and Design Town” had been endorsed by the Scottish Parliament in 2000. The 3-day a week freelance post seemed a great opportunity to get back into my own studio practice whilst working to support and champion craft at a local level.  It did not quite work out that way… but more about that later.