Jae Fowler explains how an afternoon of craft activities with a handful of people blossomed into 'Canterbury Christ Church Creatives', a creative group in Kent enjoyed by hundreds of university staff and students.

About the group

"Canterbury Christ Church Creatives is a group for staff and students of Canterbury Christ Church University. It brings people together to craft and make art for enjoyment and wellbeing, to teach and to learn skills, and to work on particular projects for those who wish to get involved. All crafts and arts and all levels of crafting and art-making skills are embraced."

Getting started

"I had learnt through personal experience the value of crafting for wellbeing and the potential for social connection and felt that there was a need for these things within the Canterbury Christ Church University community. An opportunity came during staff wellbeing week in June 2018 to run a crafternoon event supported by some seedcorn funding from Human Resources and Organisational Development for materials.

From the event and reaching out through colleagues, a handful of interested people came together and connected through a Facebook group and twice-monthly in-person lunchtime socials."

Spreading the word

"The group grew initially through word-of-mouth but started drawing others in once there began to be workshops, events and activities open to the wider University community via student induction and in collaboration with networks of staff, and projects that gave the group visibility within the campus network. By our first anniversary, we numbered 100 people.

During our second year, I established an email mailing list to keep in touch with people not on Facebook, created an Instagram presence to showcase our completed projects, increased the frequency of articles about our activities in the staff e-newsletter, and directly promoted activity in student social media channels.

In consultation with members, one of the socials was moved into the evening which led to an increase in attendees, and with the advent of the pandemic, this was moved onto a virtual platform, became weekly and the time was extended to allow those with caring responsibilities to attend. At the end of our second year, membership was at 175."

Adapting and growing

"We saw massive growth in numbers in our third year, due in no small part to Covid and an increase in interest in creative activity and in electronic means of social connection. I started to make sure there was a daily post in the Facebook group at the same time each day, and that new members were individually welcomed. 

Our group projects were ones that people could engage with at home, we began to be featured at the thrice-yearly staff induction and virtual workshops were introduced."

Funding the group

"There is no subscription fee to join the group and most of the activities are self-funding, although I do personally subsidize some of the group costs, members occasionally donate materials, and we come within the University’s insurance arrangements. 

Where a professional crafter delivers a workshop, participants pay individually for the kit and instruction. Where activities are led by members of the group (giving their time voluntarily), the funding works in one of three ways; participants buy their own materials, kits are provided to participants for a small charge to cover costs, or the University provides funding. All these things have built engagement and participation. By June 2021, there were 325 people involved."

Into the future

"I sense our fourth year is going to be about consolidation and establishing a new normal. In-person socials and activities have begun again but alongside a continued virtual offering. The rate of growth has slowed but more individual members are engaging and there’s a real buzz and sense of community in the group, which now has 360 members.

Our biggest project to date is just about to launch, we won the Outstanding Contribution to Staff Experience Award in 2020/21, and we’re getting the attention and support of the University.

I hope in time this may lead to formalised resourcing and enable me to lead the group within a paid role (rather than voluntarily), so I am really excited for our future and can’t wait to see where we go from here." 

Making connections with other universities

"I’d really like to connect with anyone leading similar groups, especially any in Higher Education settings. Please get in touch via [email protected]"