It’s like they’ve flown: the awesome power of craft & companionship

We hear of remarkable progress among a small group on Merseyside

We all need a fresh start sometimes. A new idea, or a new opportunity. New friendships perhaps or a new routine. Maybe just fresh impetus and new hope.

A group of women in Bootle, near Liverpool, have been enjoying all of that newness, and more, since becoming involved in the Self Reliant Group movement.

The women became involved only in late 2022, but are already reporting greater positivity, new friendships and new excitement about what lies ahead. 

The pictures in this blog show some of the creative group members at work in Bootle. Members say the Self-Reliant Group has helped them greatly.

How Self-Reliant Groups work

Self-Reliant Groups bring people together. Members support each other and meet regularly, share skills, learn together, and typically save small amounts together each week, to explore new ideas and opportunities. Groups are independent and make their own decisions, so don’t have to tick anyone else’s boxes.

Church Action on Poverty has supported the expansion of groups across North West England, and was introduced to the group in Bootle through local community project, St Leonard’s, which had set up a women’s space in a local shopping area.

Jo Seddon, who runs the group, says: “It feels like they’ve flown. I do think the sessions we had kick-started a different train of thought. There’s a new confidence, a new self-belief. People are saying ‘You know what?… we can do it!’”

Self-Reliant Groups: a journey in Bootle

St Leonard’s had set up a women’s space in a local shopping area, and people were introduced via other local projects or through word of mouth. Bootle is an area with many difficulties: a lack of job opportunities, severe under-investment, challenges around health and education, and significant poverty. But as everywhere, there is community pride, tenacity, and a determination to make things better.

Jo says: “We set up a craft hub and had a sewing tutor, and we ended up having a fabulous group of people who were interested. We were then introduced to Joyce and Felicity from Church Action on Poverty, and it has been amazing.

“It has been a small group (three women and one man) but we have had some really nice sessions, and it has opened up people’s thinking about what they are all capable of. It has shown what talents people have and has helped improve their own sense of value.”

Two of the women had been lacking confidence and struggling with anxiety, and one was also grieving following a family bereavement when the group began.

Self-Reliant Groups: the impact for members

Jo said: “One of the women, Ann, has had some difficult issues but she makes amazing things and has started helping the tutor and she is going from strength to strength and has really benefited from Joyce and Felicity’s sessions.

“Another of the women, Claire, makes wonderful blankets. She has health difficulties and was feeling down, but what has come out of the sessions is belief. People started feeling they could make stuff for our shop at St Leonard’s, but we said to go beyond that – see what they could do independently of us. So now they have hired tables at craft fairs for this autumn and Christmas at an old church in Waterloo near where they live, and they will be selling things they have made.

“People have become friends. There’s another woman, Deirdre, who makes bags, and people are becoming friends and sharing skills. I cannot believe it’s the same people who I knew before. It’s just amazing seeing them looking ahead and planning things and talking about products they are going to make.

 “I’ve seen people walking through our doors anxious and not knowing anybody, and where we are now is lovely to see. Joyce and Felicity were so lovely. I have been working in charity for 40 years, and I know what it means to talk about independence. But these sessions have really brought it home for the people involved.”

Above: one of the group members works on her next item. Below: craft wreaths created by the group members already

What Church Action on Poverty did

Joyce and Felicity had spent several mornings with the group, talking through the possibility that some of them could form a group, who would meet regularly to support each other, learn to share their skills and learn from each other, and who would collect a small amount of money so that eventually they might launch a small enterprise or business.

When they began, the idea such an enterprise would have seemed far-fetched and something of a pipe dream but today, less than six months on, it is already a reality.

The group initially met at Claire’s house because of her health, and as it was hard for her to get out but they soon involved others. Ann had been inspired by and learned quilting from her late mother and was a fantastic quilter. Deirdre made bags, and was a talented sewer. They pooled their talents and shared their knowledge. The answer to the question “What can we do?” was that they could make things. And they did.

The group organised themselves and supported each other. The table rental of around £15 a session came from the funds they had collected, and the new friends are all making things for the fairs. A local woodworker and carpenter, John, who makes things but has had no outlet to sell them, has also joined the group and is joining in the preparations and production.

What the group has accomplished already is a triumph – but what if the fairs go well, that could be the icing on the cake.

  • The people mentioned in this article have made incredible progress, but do not yet want to be named widely. Jo is using her real name, but the other names have been changed.
  • To learn more about Self-Reliant Groups, watch the short video below.

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