WCD Rural Development Programme
Westmeath Crafters break into the UK market with the support of LEADER
From jewellery to jigsaws, soaps and scarves, the midlands are fast becoming the crafty capital of the country. A great success story is the ‘Made in Westmeath’ Craft Group, supported by Westmeath Community Development, under the Rural Development Programme/ LEADER, Facilitated by Aileen Duffy who provides support and advice as Craft Development Specialist, the group meets to share valuable knowledge and support. Through a series of training sessions with world-class trainers they have grown in confidence, motivation and have set themselves ambitious targets.
Spreading their Wings
In April 2012, five members of the group got the opportunity to display their creations at the Harrogate British Craft Fair. Wendy Clinton of Grain of Wood; Helen Conneely, Celtic Roots; Anne Marie Griffin, Anne Marie Griffin Knitwear; Deirdre Brady, Abbey Soaps and Jane Walsh of Button Studio all made their way across the water and to their great satisfaction secured sales in the UK market during the trade show and made important contacts in the industry. Locally, the group were directly involved in a very popular retail project called ‘The Craft Pop-up Shop’ which was originally piloted in Mullingar town in November 2011. Such was its success, some of the members have continued with this project.
Ballinahown Craft Village
This isn’t the first time that Westmeath has made a name for itself in the craft sector. It all began with Ballinahown Craft Village, a community initiative, supported by Westmeath Community Development under the LEADER Programme. This Tidy Towns award winning village is only minutes off the motorway at Athlone and is well worth a visit. Within the village is another project - CORE Crafted Design which provides a platform and dedicated retail space for local crafts people to work in a collective group, marketing and selling their products. Its a real treasure trove with its quaint tea rooms upstairs and Celtic Roots studio just across the road. In addition, the craft workers work there every day so you get the chance to meet the makers.
From Celtic Roots...
Creative Helen Conneely of the Celtic Roots Studio and Meso Jewellery, based in Ballinahown is a member of the Westmeath craft network. She says she sees the benefits of the network for all the makers who participate and share their experiences. “When we travelled to Harrogate to start on an export drive, you could feel the synergy and benefit of working together right through to the logistics of setting up our stand and sharing knowledge on potential and existing customers. This is what co-operation and shared expertise is about, this is what LEADER is about... creating excellent opportunities for small enterprises to rise and meet the challenges of the market. Westmeath Community Development through LEADER helps us move from being craft makers to skilled entrepreneurs.”
A Simple Grain of Wood
Wendy Clinton lives and works in the beautiful country side, and has done so nearly all her life, inspired by a genuine love of nature and the outdoor life. In November 2011, she started her business ‘Grain of Wood’ near Delvin in Co. Westmeath making unique handcrafted natural wooden gifts - handcrafted slimline pens, fountain pens, perfume atomisers, corkscrews and bottle stoppers. “I was lucky enough to find ‘Made in Westmeath’ shortly after I started my business. It was a fantastic way of developing and improving both my business techniques and my products. Exhibiting at The British Craft Trade Fair was one of the highlights of my first year.”