Crafting has kept Welsh people going through the pandemic, but providers are worried about how accessible it may be in the future
When the first lockdown hit, many people in Wales were left without a sense of purpose. Gemma Forde, who runs craft workshops in Roath, struggled to figure out how to keep going when her business was forced to shut. “I needed an excuse to get up in the morning,” she recounted.
Gemma found her reason to keep going in craft. She started running workshops on Facebook three mornings a week to create a sense of routine amid the uncertainty the pandemic brought for her business, Lark Design Make. At first, things started out slow, but as interest and her following grew, she adapted these videos into paid Zoom workshops and kits.
While the pandemic has proven to be a turbulent time for businesses across Wales, the craft industry has boomed. According to Business News Wales, online craft supplier, Lovecrafts.com, has seen a 434% increase in product revenue compared to 2019, with the biggest surge coming from beginner crafts.
It is no coincidence the industry has found success during the pandemic, with many people in the UK turning to craft for its long-established mental health benefits, but unfortunately not everyone in Wales is able to access it.
According to the Mental Health Foundation, engaging with the arts can protect your mental health, help manage existing mental health conditions, and aid recovery. In a time where mental illness is a pandemic in itself, craft is more important than ever.
Learn more about the mental health benefits of craft:
The customers of Gemma’s beginner crochet class, one of her most in-demand offerings, have told her that taking up craft has improved their mental health by keeping them off their smartphones.
“We all know that looking at our phones too long there is always ultimately something there that you don’t want to see or something that winds you up or makes you feel sad so reducing that time can never be a bad thing,” said Gemma.
As well as reducing screen time, Gemma believes the unique opportunity craft gives you to learn something new is good for your mental health, as it creates a sense of achievement and pride.
Crafting in communities
Not content with improving the mental health of its customers, Lark Design Make hopes to raise £500 for Mind UK, a national mental health charity, through an annual Crafternoon.
Mind has been supporting many community mental health projects through their Covid-19 fund, including the Happy Dayz mental health and wellbeing support group in the Llanharan Drop-in Centre.
This group used its funding to hire a community arts worker to provide relaxation, support and mindfulness for its members, and to remove barriers to people attending the Drop-in Centre.
They have found the arts and crafts sessions have had a big impact on their members’ mental health. “We have seen a change in service users who are very anxious,” said Jane Hawkshaw, a trustee of the Llanharan Drop-in Centre, “They soon relax and can focus on the task they are working on.”
Although it has been challenging to provide these sessions during the lockdowns, the group have benefitted from having the opportunity to craft. “Making something tangible and working on a craft for a few weeks has provided a huge sense of achievement and belonging,” said Jane.
A member of the group says it has been a crucial part of his lockdown experience. “I suffered from a stroke a few years back and I lost a lot mentally. With the craft group I am able to leave the house and feel I’m in a safe place. I’m not Picasso but I feel great creating,” he said.
Despite the unquestionable benefits that crafting has for Welsh communities, funding is still a barrier to people accessing these activities.
The Happy Dayz Group has been able to provide its vital sessions due to charity grants for local mental health support during the pandemic, but it is concerned for the future. The Drop-in Centre used to run adult community education classes provided by a local further education college, but funding cuts meant that these courses were drawn to a halt in September 2019.
The group’s funding stops in March, and Jane is nervous about whether they may be able to find more support for their vital mental health work in the community.
“It is essential for long term funding to be provided for informal community services for all ages so people can have a focus and purpose, develop their skills and talents, and support their wellbeing with a sense of community and belonging,” said Jane. A member of the group added, “Arts and crafts are a therapy everyone should have open access to.”
Similarly, Gemma wishes there was more funding for craft activities to support mental health so she could reach the wider community in Cardiff.
Financial difficulties brought on by the pandemic are currently preventing many customers from taking part. “I’ve got loads of customers who come to me and they openly say it’s the thing that gets them through the week so it’s quite hard knowing that I can’t reach them at the moment,” said Gemma.
For Welsh people the simple act of crafting has provided a sense of purpose when the pandemic brought uncertainty into many lives. As the mental health impact of Covid-19 continues to be revealed, it is more important than ever than funding is provided so that everyone can access the powerful benefits of craft.
Arts and crafts made by the Happy Dayz Mental Health Support Group
The mental health impact of Covid-19
The pandemic had led many people to struggle with their mental health. According to Mind UK, lockdown made most people’s pre-existing mental health conditions worse, especially for frontline workers, disadvantaged groups and women.
Many people also experienced poor mental health for the first time due to the unprecedented circumstances that Covid-19 has brought. Worryingly, a third of people did not reach out for support with their mental health during the first lockdown because they did not feel that they deserved it.
How to get help
Call the Samaritans on 116 123 for 24-hour confidential support