Somerset Stories: The Old Stores Studio

The Old Stores Studio in the village of Evercreech exists to support the community by improving wellbeing and nurturing good mental health through the provision of inclusive, high-quality art and craft sessions.

We spoke to Studio Director Nik Slade, who told us more about how their recent £4,000 grant – including support from The Mulberry Somerset Community Fund – has helped to bring together local people to build connections, reduce isolation and tell their often very personal stories through craft.

“We started our Storytelling Squares project during the first lockdown by inviting people to make a 21cm x 21cm (8″) square textile piece to represent that strange time we were all going through. Anything from drawing a scene or text on a piece of fabric, to appliqué, crochet, knitting, print or embroidery. It was a way for people to share their stories and experiences, enabling them to begin to process the effect lockdown and the isolation had upon them.

The project brought people together in a really simple form and they were really grateful to have something that helped them form a connection – even though they were essentially on their own. It improved people’s mental health and negated the loneliness that was being felt.
The project covered the whole spectrum of ages – from 2-3 year-olds in nurseries to older people in care homes. The intergenerational aspect of the project was really important – the older people who took part were really shocked by some of the imagery that the younger people created: bars on windows and the backs of their parents, for example.

We were open when the schools were open, so at times we were an online group, but when it was possible we met up in-person, safely indoors. Word spread organically through communities and also through our Facebook group mainly – and we soon had people taking part from every corner of Somerset.

People told us how taking part in the project anchored their thoughts and emotions; it really helped them during this unsettling and upsetting time. One woman who took part had lost her husband to Covid and she used parts of his old shirts in her square. It was a really powerful piece.

We shared and distributed the fabric in schools and nurseries, and people posted their completed squares back to us. Every day we saw little packages coming through the letterbox. People included notes of explanation, describing what the square meant to them and we displayed them in our window.

Our weekly textiles group is called Woolly Wednesdays and we have around 10 regulars who come every week. It’s for anyone in the village and surrounding areas. We serve tea and cake there – it’s not demanding and it’s a very supportive environment. Feedback from participants of the group tell us the weekly sessions are vital to some. One lady told me that apart from when she takes the bins out it’s the only time she leaves the house.

We encourage people to create visual pieces for all ages and abilities, which has an overwhelmingly positive impact on individual learners and local community. It allows people to connect. I think it’s the simplicity and beauty of it, more than anything.”

17 May 2022

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