Just a quick reflection this week on what was another insightful and energetic workshop. Once again I found myself with a bag full of stool components and all the relevant tools and equipment for assembling the, only this time I was heading to Ark-T; a community art space in Cowley, Oxford, which I had never visited before.

Emmy- head facilitator of the Her Space project- held a debriefing before the girls arrived. Her Space is funded by the money raised during the Children in Need campaign, and provides a safe and supportive space for young women from a variety of backgrounds. Leading up to Christmas, the girls have been working with the residential artists from Ark-T, as well as other visiting craftspeople, to stock their own stall for a Christmas market. Oxford City Council provided further funds for this project specifically. I was visiting the girls for just the one session, after which they would be able to take home their very own piece of furniture.

The session was a success, but proved challenging in lots of ways. It was the first time I had delivered a workshop of this nature solely by myself, meaning the ratio of participants to facilitators was 1:8; the most it has ever been! Safe to say, I didn’t have much time to think, as I was kept on my toes for the whole hour. So most of these findings have only come to me after I’ve had some time to reflect. It’s really interesting to acknowledge how every time I deliver one of these workshops, I learn more about myself as a craftswoman than I perhaps teach others about woodwork and furniture making.

The experience also brought to light some of the more stressful aspects of craft, for example, when things go wrong! Glue ups always have their difficulties, but having eight participants all trying to glue three legs into a stool top at the same time, proved just a little stressful. It’s good when the joint is nice and tight, but after the amount of usage the mallet received, perhaps they were a bit too snug? The result of excessive hammering meant several of the girls complained of nursing headaches, and there was even one split stool top! (Fortunately I had brought spares).

It was tough- both practically and emotionally- to ensure all the girls were engaged or preoccupied for the whole of the time. Although the activity might not have been in line with all of the girls’ interests, it was rewarding to see at least a few of them seemingly to enjoy it. Despite the chaos going on around them, there was a few- predominantly the quieter girls- who did a very neat job of assembling their stool.

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Photo of the girls’ hexagonal stools arranged in formation.

Having been ‘thrown in at the deep end’ as it were, I think I will be better prepared for any future sessions at Ark-T. Getting to the know the different characters within the group will also enable me to be a better workshop facilitator in the future. My hope is to inform the girls on how they might pursue a creative future for themselves; whether through their studies, jobs or personal lives. Art and craft have been such useful tools at helping me navigate my own path adolescence, so I really hope the girls took something beneficial from the session. As Emmy said- in response to some of the girls exclaims that they ‘can’t do it’- ‘not everything in life is easy, sometimes it’s good to do things that are difficult’.

Emmy is definitely right. The workshop had used up all of my energy for the evening, meaning it was an early night for me! But it had certainly taught me a lot: about myself, about others, and about my own discipline.