18 at Heart – a new project by Woolly Mammoth Stitch Works CIC

What do you do when the premise of your project revolves around meeting up, stitching face to face and encouraging the over 50s to become artistic rebels yarn bombing their local bus route, when a pandemic requires us to stay at home? The answer for Tina Francis and Suze Carter of Woolly Mammoth Stitch Works CIC is to bring their online community plans forward.

Woolly Mammoth Stitch Works CIC was set up in 2019 by tapestry needlepoint artist Tina Francis and community engagement professional Suze Carter. Tina and Suze have worked together previously on two large scale tapestry stitch projects as part of activity programmes funded through the National Lottery Heritage Fund as stand-alone projects. These were at Stirchley Baths and the Hive, both in Birmingham. They decided to continue their professional collaboration and set up a social enterprise to enable them to play a role in stitching communities together across the City of Birmingham.

Their first project as Woolly Mammoth is called “18 at Heart” a stitch, reminisce and yarn bomb project for the over 50s. Setting up stitch sessions at community centres and cafes along the 18 bus route, participants are encouraged to awaken their inner artistic rebel by stitching hearts that will be hung from trees, lamp posts and put in windows at intervals along a 5.5 mile stretch. The project is funded by Selly Oak Network Neighbourhood Scheme, a scheme which is about encouraging people who are retired, or in the lead up to retirement, to build up their social networks, keep active, and feel more connected in the areas they live. There are Neighbourhood Networks across Birmingham developed by Birmingham City Council neighbourhood Developments Support Unit.

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Launched on 14th February 2020 the project had created 9 Needlepoint stitch workshops where participants would learn different stitches, and 9 Stitch and Share Sessions where participants would be encouraged to share a small life memory of when they were 18, share a cuppa and pick up more stitch supplies. The first two meetings went ahead and then Covid19 happened, and the very people that we wanted to reach were advised to stay home or in many cases staying home to care for those that had to stay home!

Looking at the project aims and also those of Woolly Mammoth Stitch Works we always want to leave a legacy stitch group or friendship group once we physically leave the project. We had discussed ways of doing this and how we would have to fund the community centres for a while. We had toyed with closed Facebook groups, but had not really investigated this. We decided that we wanted to continue the project on the dates that had already been published and so with some trepidation we “went live” on Facebook last week with the full support of our funders.

Very much a trial at the moment – you’ll see from the Facebook page that we are amateurs when it comes to filming (!) – but the benefits have been unexpected. We have managed to reach a total of 6 new participants who would otherwise have not been involved due to work commitments or being a carer for an elder. We have had a wider reach by people being able to tune in to the live event when they have time rather than having to be at a community centre for a specific date.

One of the requirements by the funder is to monitor the well-being of our participants for which we use a bespoke APP. We will be looking at this APP before our next “live” to see where we can amend the responses, and more importantly our questions, to gain the information required.

Our next “live” is on 21st April at 1pm where we will be learning tapestry needlepoint stitching and talking about our memories of being 18.

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Twitter: @Woolly_Works

Insta: @Woolly_Works

Facebook: Woolly Mammoth Stitch Works

Web:  https://woollymammothstitch.works/

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