On a still, crisp Sunday morning, a high-rise building in Brixton is alive with chatter and the clinking of knitting needles. It’s the meeting place of Craft Forward, a group making blankets for the homeless in the local community. They're forming a warm, open community at the same time. We chat crafting, social issues and the importance of chilling out.
Back row left to right: Oliver, Rosy, Alessandro, Hana, Chique, Lamiya
Tobias: I’d say wellbeing through craft. You don’t have to be excellent at it. Everyone can hop on and practice. I would know. I’ve been knitting the same thing for about a year now. That yellow thing you saw over there. But I find it quite relaxing.
Brittany: It reduces anxiety. There are some weeks when I come here and I’m not really in the best headspace. But even just sitting and listening to the conversations people are having and tuning out. I leave feeling much better.
Alessandro: It’s the type of exchange that doesn’t put any pressure on you. I come here and otherwise I would be at home in front of my laptop which is what I do for the rest of my week basically. So it’s nice to hang out with people that doesn’t involve drinking.
Chique: For me, I think it’s wellbeing. I’ve recently started knitting. And I’m diagnosed with ADHD. This is the first time I’ve done something where I stop thinking. Everything else stimulates my brain. And it’s the first time I’ve slept properly in so long. I wake up without thoughts in my head, not in conversation with my own brain. The wellbeing part of it comes with community, with not being isolated.
Oliver: I think for a lot of people it was something they had, and they probably took for granted. And then they lost. Particularly in big cities, it does get quite difficult.
Elza: And lonely.
Olivier: And it’s rare that people live and work in say one area of London. It’s nice to be in a situation like this where you have a consistent group of people you’re seeing.
Elena (Director): With crafts, there’s been a massive spike in popularity, but a lot of people have learnt this in lockdown and continued as a very solitary practice. So a lot of regulars have come here because they didn’t have anyone else to knit or crotchet with.
Hana: It’s definitely ten times easier learning from someone in real life, rather than trying to YouTube it.
Brittany: I don’t quite have a conventional family. For a lot of people, they would be used to sitting down and having a weekly dinner. This is probably the only group I have where I’m coming and sitting with a group of people, and having those conversations.
Lamiya: I think people nowadays are more self-aware about how busy they are and more in touch with their mental well-being. So this desire to create, and take care of yourself, and be around other people, is a lot more prominent right now.
Tobias: I actually think knitting has become quite trendy recently. Maybe because of Tom Daley. And Harry Styles.
Elena: He had that nice cardigan.
Tobias: Everyone loved that thing.
Hana: ‘Grandma’ is like the first word people say. But the more I show people what’s come out of it, like Blankets For Lambeth, it’s more like ‘oh this is really cool’.
Elza: I felt grateful. Privileged in a way that I could do something and make something that people could use. It felt surreal as well.
Lamiya: It reminded me that any little bit that you can do personally can actually go forward to help someone.
Rosy: I started from very, very basic skills but I could contribute with my tiny square. And the amounts of blankets we could do, it was amazing.
Elena: We had 36 adult size blankets, and eight baby blankets. All of these collected and sewn together in three months. And they’re really beautiful and everyone deserves beautiful things.
Tobias: Like the scarf my mum made for me. I think it’s good that someone far less fortunate than us can have that same feeling towards something.
Elena: A lot of people experiencing homelessness say they don’t feel like a person. Because it’s so engrained in society to ignore people particularly if they’re sleeping rough. And that’s not fair. That’s why it’s so important the blankets are homemade and not a sleeping bag.
Britany: I feel full of pride. Even popping upstairs into the office and seeing parcels full of wool, or needles that people have donated, and stacks and stacks of squares to see how many people are engaging with this, whether they’ve come to the workshops face to face or heard of Craft Forward online, I can feel the rise in my chest of seeing the ripple effect of it all. I live in Southwark so it’s nice to engage with the Lambeth community. And build that sense of community after so much overhaul in so many parts of London.
Oliver: When I’m at work I used to go for a 30-minute walk. Which is nice but it’s the same environment. And now I go outside, call someone, and go around and knit. I got a jumper the other day that has pockets at the front where I can put my yarn.
Elza: It’s one of those where you can sit on your own, but in a group. You have this sense of belonging but at the same time you’re with yourself. There is no pressure to be happy. Or chatty. You can just be who you are.
Elena: Some people come here and don’t knit. Which I think is important.
Chique: And so often, human life is all about being productive.
Elza: Fast. And efficient.
Chique: In my world it’s like ‘okay, have you done this? Have you done that?’ This has been so ideal for me as you can just chill. It’s okay to just sit and do something. It seems like that kiddie thing and you grow out of it. And people take that joy away from you. In the workplace, you have these outputs, KPIs. And it’s not just work, even our achievements as people get so tied in with being productive. And this is just using your hands, talking, chilling out. We need it as humans.
Elza: For me I’d make something for the Craft Forward guys. Those are my guys. It’s the biggest privilege. I wouldn’t change it. To find out more, visit Craft Forward's website or follow them on Instagram.