'Weaving' nature, heritage skills, and mental health for Inspiring Textiles project

Newtownards based social enterprise Inspiring Yarns has been awarded a £99,927 grant by The National Lottery Heritage Fund to implement a project called Inspiring Textiles at WWT Castle Espie.

Inspiring Textiles at WWT Castle Espie will significantly focus on promoting heritage yarn and textile skills to secure their future, whilst ensuring all projects are accessible and inclusive to people with mental health conditions or physical disabilities. Through learning and developing these skills, the project will help alleviate symptoms, reduce stigma and encourage openness around mental health and isolation.

The project will also focus on supporting improvements in mental health and wellbeing, provide an appreciation and promotion of local arts and heritage, and through the partnership with WWT Castle Espie, reveal how nature and mental health are connected, whilst exploring current environmental themes and challenges to our conservation work.

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Helping to announce to 18 month project, from left: Shamara Press Inspiring Yarns, Mukesh Sharma Chair of The National Lottery Heritage Fund in Northern Ireland, Paul Stewart WWT Castle Espie and Claire Anketell Inspiring Yarns.

This exciting heritage project, made possible by money raised by National Lottery players, will take place over 18 months and deliver three free courses a week. Classes will be available in Ards and Portaferry, with regular trips to WWT Castle Espie, teaching a wide range of heritage skills, such as knitting, crochet, weaving, spinning, Dorset button making, embroidery and felting. These skills will be used to contribute to the creation of a large piece of textile art, and nine themed embroidery panels, through which participants will discover the important wildlife, landscape and work of WWT Castle Espie as well as improving their mental health and wellbeing.

The project was inspired by Inspiring Yarns Directors Janice Moore and Claire Anketell interest in Whooper swan activity in Newtownards. Keen to learn more about migratory birds in the area they contacted WWT Castle Espie where they discovered a natural link between the two organisations: supporting mental health and wellbeing, local arts and heritage, and environmental sustainability. Throughout the project, Inspiring Textiles will provide a range of workshops at WWT Castle Espie offering participants the opportunity to engage with and understand the importance of wildlife and wetlands to the area, as well as benefit from time spent in nature and appreciate the site throughout the changing seasons.

Whooper swan
Whooper swan at WWT Castle Espie. Credit: Lesley Barker.

When completed, the large textile piece and nine individual embroidery panels will be gifted to WWT Castle Espie to be placed on display in the visitor centre. The pieces will be made from sustainable, natural fibres which are ethically sourced as well as through Inspiring Yarns community yarn fund which accepts donations of unwanted yarns. The piece will feature the rich heritage, history and stunning landscapes of Strangford Lough whilst also reflecting important environmental messages and observations about migration patterns of birds in the area.

Inspiring Yarns is calling on anyone interested in taking part in the project to attend an information day on Sunday 28th January from 11am – 4pm at WWT Castle Espie. The event is open to the public and will provide opportunities to explore the work of local textile artists and sample weaving, spinning, Dorset button making, felting and embroidery. The Inspiring Yarns team will be on hand to provide more information about the project and how to get involved.

Paul Stewart, Centre Manager at WWT Castle Espie, said:

WWT Castle Espie is delighted to support Inspiring Yarns with their project Inspiring Textiles. People are connecting with nature in new, interesting and creative ways and realising how vital it is for their mental health and wellbeing. Projects such as Inspiring Textiles are an important way to do that and especially to show the importance of protecting our local wildlife and wetlands.

Commenting on the award Claire Anketell from Inspiring Yarns commented:

We would like to thank National Lottery players for their support with Inspiring Textiles at WWT Castle Espie. The project will enable us to provide opportunities for people in the community to be creative, learn new skills, improve their mental health whilst discovering the importance of the environmental work by the team and volunteers at WWT Castle Espie.

Mukesh Sharma, Chair of The National Lottery Heritage Fund in Northern Ireland, added:

We are so pleased to support Inspiring Textiles - an innovative project bringing a creative response to the natural heritage and wildlife of Strangford Lough. The free to attend activities provide an opportunity to bring people together to learn new skills through the expert-led workshops but also to spend time in nature which can be so positive for our wellbeing. We would encourage anyone interested in taking part to call into the Information Day at WWT Castle Espie or reach out to the team at Inspiring Yarns.

To get involved to learn new skills and help Inspiring Yarns complete these art pieces contact hello@inspiringyarns.co.uk or visit www.inspiringyarns.co.uk/events to book spaces on the free courses.

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