CARE, which stands for ‘community asset-based research and enterprise,’ is a research project funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council’s Connected Communities Programme. It brings together an interdisciplinary team of academics, practitioners and community researchers to work collaboratively with hobbycraft groups. The aim is to test and develop a methodology for co-produced community learning through creative practice, skill-sharing and storytelling that builds confidence and promotes self-reflection and reflexivity. Its ethos is based in the belief that communities already have skills, the value of which they may not be completely aware.
Millions engage in creative hobbies each year. Activities are undertaken voluntarily for pleasure and involve high levels of ingenuity, competence and creativity. Hobbies are particularly valuable for this project because they represent an important area of community assets and strengths: skills, knowledge, expertise and capabilities that are often devalued or dismissed and which, if recognised, might be developed and applied more widely through volunteering, training, community activism, small business or social enterprise.
A focus on handicrafts and to a lesser extent collecting, the purest form of hobby activities according to hobbies historian Steven Gelber (1999), offers opportunities for an integrated participatory methodology that both grows from the grassroots and has the potential to be scaled up; applied to other ‘communities of interest’ such as sports clubs, business groups, ecological societies, performers, dance enthusiasts or gardeners, for instance (Wenger 2002). While small group settings foster dialogue, however, the experience of making, whether drawing, construction, knitting or sewing, brings something more that can enhance trust and focus concentration (Csikszentmihayli 1979). Making, moreover, is connected with narration. There is a long history of women talking while they make, exchanging confidences and telling their life histories in sewing groups and quilting bees; something that artist Suzanne Lacy’s socially purposeful project The Crystal Quilt (1987. Tate 2012) reveals as it gives voice and visibility to older women.
This project aims to co-create a methodology around making, narrating and inter-generational sharing through creative material, aural and visual means. Action research (Crouch & Pearce 2012), participatory practice (Ledwith & Springett 2010), visual methodologies (Rose 2007), digital storytelling (Lambert 2002), co-produced creative processes (Matarasso 1997), and making as a component of material culture and design ethnography (Miller 2008), provide a framework for thinking about processes of making, talking, sharing and connecting.
Having confidence in one’s own abilities is a powerful position from which to take on new skills, and a belief in the value of intergenerational skill-sharing through applied learning (learning through doing) between community participants and the project team underpins the project’s co-creational ethos. The project takes the DIY of doing hobbies and looks to see if the same ethos can be applied to communities. This paper talks about the project to date, its findings and direction for the future.