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Make Yourself at Home with... Sheffield’s Makers & Crafters

In spite of significant challenges, our city’s creators continue to do what they do best - and their work has offered a glimmer of hope to many Sheffielders during a very difficult time.

The need to create, to experiment and explore, to showcase and refine is a huge part of what draws many people to Sheffield – and keeps them here. The space we give to makers is one of Sheffield’s unique selling points and our reputation for unusual and original creations brings us international attention.

The coronavirus pandemic might have slowed our creative people down in some areas, but in others it has provided oxygen, headspace and a renewed ambition to get new work out into the world. Barriers to in-person engagement are a significant challenge and will remain so for a while, but on the flip side online reach and resulting sales have increased greatly since March.

Speaking to a range of makers and crafters for this piece and the associated video, it’s clear that in the face of these challenges, the creators of our city have proven themselves innovative and adaptable to change - and that their creations have offered a glimmer of hope to many Sheffielders during a very difficult time.

Karen Sherwood is the owner of Cupola Gallery in Hillsborough, which has shown all kinds of creative work across four exhibition spaces and its sculpture garden since 1991, including glasswork, jewellery and textiles. Karen re-opened the space on 1 June, by appointment only and exclusively for people who were shielding.

“The phone didn’t stop ringing. It was extraordinary how many people were desperate to see things in real life.”

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Kate Cooper of Sheffield Makers, a collaboratively-run emporium shop in Hunters Bar, told us that lockdown prompted them to launch a new website, and that customers started using their range of products to communicate with loved ones and keep spirits high with gifts when they were unable to leave the house.

“We were hand-delivering a lot of them and handwriting the notes - seeing people send get well cards, or birthday cards, or seeing little romances blossom as we sent presents to different houses.”

Sheffield City Council hosts the annual Art in the Gardens at the Botanical Gardens, which went ahead in September this year with Covid safety measures in place. Gary Clifton, part of the Major Events team at the Council, believes the number of makers and crafters in Sheffield, and the strong appetite from audiences and buyers, is “good for the ecology of the city”.

He said the organising team were initially unsure how popular a large in-person event featuring more than 120 stalls would be following national lockdown, but that they were “amazed” by the uptake from stallholders and members of the public.

Graham Northing of Northern Potters, a stallholder at Art in the Gardens 2020, noted that visibility is “meat and drink” for anyone who creates, and that public events satisfy a large part of this need for less mainstream forms of making. “It’s vital for small crafters... It exposes us to so many people who wouldn’t see our work.”

Liah at Artcade, located in the Forum Arcade, said that while lockdown “pushed footfall down to an all-time low” on Devonshire Street and ended up delaying the gallery’s opening date, support from the University of Sheffield had helped them secure the space for the near future.

Run by the team behind Sidney & Matilda, Artcade will host Covid-safe physical exhibitions from 12 artists over 12 months, with the next one showcasing the work of local illustrator Jim McElvaney.

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As with almost every aspect of our everyday lives, many things have changed about the act of making and showing new work, whether that’s done professionally or simply as a fulfilling hobby.

Traditional routes to selling work have been restricted, but new ones have emerged. Home and family life has been shaken up, but people are also re-evaluating what is most important and clearing more time to do what they love as a result. Those members of the public who can afford it have found nourishment in purchasing new work which supports our city’s creators.

We are in a different place to where we were in March, with a much greater understanding of Covid safety, and we can expect this to translate into more opportunities for the makers and crafters of Sheffield to get their work seen by local people in the coming months.

Through it all, one thing is certain - making is in our city’s DNA, and that’s not changing any time soon.

Learn more

Make Yourself At Home is a collaborative campaign, which means groups, companies and organisations in Sheffield are encouraged to use its assets and messaging as part of a collective recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

The Reopening High Streets Safely (RHSS) project is receiving up to £500,000 of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (and in London the intermediate body Greater London Authority) is the Managing Authority for European Regional Development Fund. Established by the European Union, the European Regional Development Fund helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, create jobs and local community regenerations. For more information visit https://www.gov.uk/european-growth-funding.

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