#MakingAMark: Craft Cafe Edinburgh's Sarah Derron on her journey from volunteer to lead artist
2019 marks Impact Arts' 25th Anniversary! Continuing our 25 years of #MakingAMark campaign, we're looking to highlight the difference our work has made to people and communities over the past quarter century - and our artists' journeys along the way.
Sarah Derron first joined us as a volunteer in January 2014. Beginning on Craft Cafe Edinburgh, she later secured a paid position as a Creative Assistant on various young people's projects at Impact Arts, before returning to Craft Cafe where she now works as Lead Artist in two Edinburgh care homes.
Here Sarah talks about her unexpected arrival into community arts, the beautiful, strange magic of Craft Cafe, and what it has taught her about life itself.
I originally found out about Impact Arts through an organisation called Project Scotland, who pair people looking for full-time volunteer placements with oragnisations that match their profile or interests. After registering with them and completing a phone interview with one of their representatives, I was recommended the position of Volunteer Creative Assistant with the Lead Tutor of the Craft Café at the time, Tomasina.
Working with Impact Arts at Craft Café as a volunteer was an incredibly enriching and creative experience through which I discovered my career in community arts. I decided to become a full-time volunteer in response to a period of unemployment where I struggled to find work relating to my studies and interests. Volunteering allowed me to gain direct experience in an area relevant to my skills and eventually lead to my permanent employment with Impact Arts.
During my time as a volunteer, I was both supported in my learning and encouraged to contribute creatively. I felt that my input was valued and that my development was actively facilitated. While I had no experience working with older people upon starting my placement, directly assisting the lead tutor meant that I progressed quickly and grew my skills through observation and working closely with participants and the team.
It was also great fun being in workshops every day, working on projects that ranged from day-to-day arts and crafts to a giant fabric mural that required months of planning, preparation, and hand-stitching. There was a great sense of openness and enthusiasm and we were always trying new things. I can remember we attempted ‘pendulum art’ where we suspended small tubs of paint from lines connected to the rafters and attempted to create designs on an enormous piece of paper on the table. It made a quite a mess, but greatly amused the members who were participating! This sense of fun, warmth, and creative enthusiasm is still at the core of what Craft Café is today.
My journey from volunteer to Assistant Tutor to Lead Tutor has been one of immense learning. After my volunteer placement, I was offered a position as Assistant Tutor to work on various projects for young people that Impact Arts offered in Edinburgh. While I enjoyed contributing to these projects, supporting the Lead Tutors, and working with so many awesome young people, I did miss Craft Café and working with older people. When a job as Assistant Tutor opened at Craft Café, I eagerly applied and was offered the role – I was so happy to return to this project that captured my heart and about which I felt, and still feel, so passionate.
I worked as Assistant Tutor to Lead Tutor, Kate, for three brilliant years. I learned so much from Kate and we developed a great friendship over our time working together. After those years of teamwork and learning, when Kate decided to go to do a Masters, I felt ready to take on the role of Lead Tutor. It has been extremely satisfying to take my years of experience and the skills I learned from amazing teachers to work towards my own vision for Craft Café going forward.
Before I started working with Impact Arts, I had no real knowledge of community arts or the voluntary sector at all. During my studies, this path was never presented as an option within the arts – I often wish it had been! At the same time, I’m very grateful for my round-about journey into community arts, which has provided me with a wide variety of life and work experiences. One of the wonderful things about community arts is that it’s very much about creativity, of course, but it also so much about life itself. And when it comes to connecting to others, to kindness, to empathy, to understanding - no life experience is irrelevant.
Since my unexpected arrival into the world of community arts, I feel that I have never stopped learning. Every day is a lesson in creativity, in hard work, in organisation, in planning, in patience, in being present, and in giving the very most that I can at every moment, because that’s what the members deserve.
Working with Impact Arts has been a game changer. I’m working in my ideal job. I could not have imagined this role 10 years ago when I graduated from university, and after many years of stumbling along an unclear career path, I have the feeling of arriving. I love my work.
I believe whole-heartedly in the mission of Craft Café and I get to work towards it every day. How wonderful is that? I meet amazing people whom I get to encourage (and sometimes bribe with coffee and biscuits) to express themselves creatively, and I get to witness the beauty that arises from that. I get to work in a company composed of an all-star team of creative, hard-working, funny, and truly caring people. I’m not sure what the future hold for me, but all I can say is that I feel incredibly grateful to be where I am now.
In terms of my own artistic practice, my feelings have also evolved from my experiences working with Impact Arts. I have always been creative, but it has never been my dream to be a professional artist. For a long time, I felt conflicted by my love of the creative process and my complete lack of desire to make a living through creative output. Over the years that I have worked at Craft Cafe, I have come to the realisation that facilitating the creativity of others through my own artistic knowledge is the most joyful way that I have found to express myself as an artist.
When I do create my own work, it too is very much influenced by my experiences at Craft Café. There is a wonderful quote by Roald Dahl that I discovered during my time as a volunteer at Craft Café:
“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it.”
It still makes me quite emotional to read that quote, and the scribbled copy that I put down on a bit of scrap paper many years ago is still pinned up at Craft Café. To me, this quote describes the life of Craft Café – a tiny, hidden gem filled with secret brilliance. Finding Craft Café – or it finding me – helped me along the path of more clearly perceiving the beautiful, strange magic that exists around us all of the time. For the past years, this has been where my own artwork takes me – on an exploration of life’s hidden and everyday magic.
Craft Café has its own special type of magic. One member once walked through the door and proclaimed, “ah, magic land,” and I think that is a wonderful accolade. Another described it as, “where you leave all extraneous thoughts at the door.” We have, over the years called it ‘The Craft Café Effect’. People come into the workshop and immediately remark on how relaxing and peaceful it is. I think this has to do with the room itself, loving tended over the years to create a space that is both beautiful and engaging, but also with the positive energy that has been poured into the space over the seven years that the Craft Café has been open. So much love, support, enthusiasm and creativity goes into the workshop everyday – how could it not be special?
And while the space in itself is magical, it’s the people that I work with everyday who make Craft Café what it is. I feel so lucky to meet all of these amazing, interesting, and talented people, each with a unique and precious story to tell. From chatting over a cup of coffee, to giving artistic instruction, to engaging in collaborative art work, I enjoy all the ways that I am able to engage with the members and be present with them at this particular moment in their journeys. And they have taught me so much over the years.
Craft Café feels like a family. We all support and encourage each other, we enjoy lively conversations, we take interest in each other’s endeavors, and we celebrate our achievements. It’s a wonderful place!
Craft Café is important for so many reasons. It is an encouraging, social space that helps tackle the problem of isolation and loneliness amongst older people. It promotes creative activity and self-expression, which is so important at any age. It celebrates everyone’s journey and contributions with an understanding that each person’s story is unique and invaluable. It provides a chance to learn something new and to step outside of the daily routine into a place where one can explore and dream. Additionally, as part of its core values, Craft Cafe provides and encourages choice and freedom for its members, many of whom are living with increased dependence on others and a feeling of reduced autonomy as a result. All of these qualities make Craft Café important, because what we are trying to express to everyone who attends, both in actions and words, is that they matter. Their lives, their stories, their artistic expressions, their wisdom – it all matters and deserves to be acknowledged and celebrated. This is at the core of the social change that needs to happen to alleviate some of the challenges facing older people. Through creativity and the arts, through enablement and celebration, Craft Café is doing what it can one day at a time.
I would absolutely recommend working with Impact Arts to other artists. It is a place where every single employee is working hard every day towards the overall mission of improving lives through the arts. One of the most satisfying aspects of being a part of this company is the simple fact that Impact Arts lives and breathes its values. For this reason, working with Impact Arts feels truly like being part of a team – we are all working together towards the same aim, no matter where we are located or with whom we are working.
And while we always work hard, there is also an element of fun to being a part of the Impact Arts team. Everyone is caring and inspiring and great to work with. Company events are always full of laughter. Staff are given the freedom to be themselves and to be creative, and it’s awesome to see that shine.
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The team at Impact Arts work hard to secure over £1.5m of funding per year to provide life changing creative experiences for more than 5000 people.
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