The personal impact of volunteering

How volunteering at a foodbank changed my perspective on life

Volunteering during the pandemic changed my life. Helping at the foodbank gave me purpose during the height of the pandemic. I have been so impressed by the care and community-mindedness of the formal and informal volunteers I have met over the last two years. I wanted to commemorate their amazing work.

What people said about volunteering

I created Community Spirit to do just that. It’s an arts project I created that focusses on the volunteers themselves. I really felt that volunteering needed to be celebrated and recognised not only for the positive benefits it brings to those we help, but also to those who volunteer.

I worked with Mandeep Dhadialla for this project. Here’s a clip of us talking about why volunteering is so rewarding and empowering. You can find the whole video here.

I wouldn’t have created this project if I hadn’t volunteered during the pandemic. When I first volunteered it was definitely a feeling of altruism, of wanting to help, being useful. As time went on and I became really heavily involved in the development, funding and running of Woodgate Community Food, volunteering became a major part of my life. Not only was I able to make a difference, a real, very tangible difference, I felt so much more in control. At the height of the pandemic I was able to use my fundraising, marketing, admin and design skills for something really positive. I met amazing people and I saw desperate grinding poverty first hand. It’s very eye-opening, and I was acutely conscious of my privilege. I worked probably 2-3 days a week on the foodbank project during 2020, alongside keeping my own business and creative practice afloat and I learned so much about myself and my life that I’ve made some changes as a result. I reasserted my determination to make my creative practice really aligned with my values in social justice. I made artworks in response to my experience of running the foodbank and I created projects to further support foodbank customers beyond their basic needs with my Woodgate Wellbeing project. And then came this one, Community Spirit, which I am really delighted to be taking back to Woodgate on 30th Sept / 1st October to share it with the volunteers there who are still keeping it going and supporting over 100 households per week.

I actually moved away from Woodgate in 2021 so I no longer volunteer on a regular basis but help with things I can do from home or partnership events I can be part of. I had a manic hour handing out free picnic bags for the Jubilee party in June and I recently designed a recipe booklet to go in special food packs. And Woodgate Community Food will always be part of my heart, my creative practice and my future volunteering choices.

This project has been a joy to run and now it’s great to see it out in the world, being appreciated by the volunteers who it celebrates. You can find the showcase at the following venues and I will be alongside the display at Woodgate if you would like a chat!

Market Harborough Library 24th-28th September. Fri, Tues, Weds 10-6, Sat 10-4

Woodgate Community Food Leicester Friday 30th Sept & Saturday 1st October. 10am-1pm both days

John Storer House Loughborough 3rd – 14th October Mon-Fri 10am-5pm. Sat 10am-2pm

Lutterworth Library 20-22nd October. Hours vary, please check with the library.

Do you volunteer? I’d love to hear what it means to you.

Community Spirit of Leicestershire launch

My project celebrating the Stories of pandemic volunteering in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland is going on tour

I’ve been working on this project most of the year and even longer in the planning and development. It’s finally almost out in the world! Back in 2020 when volunteering to help run a local foodbank, I realised just how important volunteering was to me and other volunteers. We felt useful and engaged and were making a real difference. I wanted to capture that energy and celebrate it and make sure that volunteers got a proper thank you for their incredible work.

Eventually I turned this into a funding application and created Community Spirit of Leicestershire with support from Arts Council England and Leicester city community funds.

From 5th September the resulting work, created by volunteers, will be shown in libraries and community centres as well as the foodbank where it all started for me. And you can also see the project film here.

There’s details of the tour venues here and a press release here.

I’ve worked with Mandeep Dhadialla as associate artist while I’ve been both lead artist and project producer (plus marketing, admin, funding, workshop-leader!). It’s been a real joy to see this come together and to be able to use a creative project to say THANK YOU to all volunteers for your amazing work.


Creative Producer

Projects around making things happen and bringing together people, places and stories

I love working with people to explore places and stories. I create and deliver projects inspired by my three sources of joy: textiles, artists and heritage. I add in research, partnerships and funding to produce experiences around People, Places and Stories

The experiences I create might be for artists, for textile-lovers, around heritage and stories, by, with and for communities.

Find out more about my Creative Producer work here.

Sanctuary Stories and Research Resonance

A couple of weeks ago Mandeep Dhadialla and I concluded our summer community project called Sanctuary Stories. I wrote a little about the project development here. The work made is now on show at Leicester Central Library until 31st August. Sanctuary Stories was part of the city-wide Journeys Festival run by ArtReach and we worked with participants from Roots Group who are all Leicester-based but from sanctuary-seeking backgrounds.

Mandeep created the project concept and ran most of the workshops while I worked on the behind-the-scenes project producer work. But delightfully, she also invited me to be part of the creative workshop side. The project focussed on print and book making exploring stories of nature, wellbeing and belonging. My part was to introduce slow stitch on the papers and books with the idea of a meditative stitch practice.

The previous week the group made collograph-style collages which Mandeep blind embossed onto heavy white paper to create beautiful textured, simple pieces. We stitched into these pieces and Mandeep later made them in to folded forms.

I created my samples around a theme I’m working on for myself on borders, boundaries, paths and journeys. The stitches represent a border, a path, containment and freedom. That’s where the research resonance of the title comes in – making the samples for this workshop created all kinds of connections with my own work. Talking to Mandeep about her work and the meanings behind this workshop programme also sparked ideas for both of us. She and I will be talking more about this in a podcast due out in mid-September. It was a real pleasure to work with this group and to collaborate with Mandeep on this project and the results are so lovely. I hope plenty of you will be able to see them in Leicester Library in the next week.


Creative Producer

Projects around making things happen and bringing together people, places and stories

I love working with people to explore places and stories. I create and deliver projects inspired by my three sources of joy: textiles, artists and heritage. I add in research, partnerships and funding to produce experiences around People, Places and Stories

The experiences I create might be for artists, for textile-lovers, around heritage and stories, by, with and for communities.

Find out more about my Creative Producer work here.

Sanctuary Stories Community Project

I’m working on a new community project this summer in collaboration with Mandeep Dhadialla / Laughing Cactus Print Studio. Mandeep is doing most of the workshops including leading this one using print making and book construction, and I’m adding in some textile elements and stitch in future sessions.

Sanctuary Stories is a project for ArtReach, working with their Roots group for people from sanctuary-seeking backgrounds. Their work will be shown in Leicester Library as part of Journeys Festival in August.

 The Roots group are local participants from around the world, who come together to learn new skills and engage in cultural activities throughout the year. The project, Sanctuary Stories, is all about inspiring conversations around stories of individuals from sanctuary seeking backgrounds, and their connection to community, home and environment. 

Mandeep Dhadialla

In this project I’m more behind the scenes while Mandeep does most of the workshop side. The project concept was developed by her with project planning and support from me and I’m really enjoying this way of working. I’ve got a couple of decades of experience in running arts projects, exhibitions and engagement activities so it’s great to be able to collaborate and share with someone else. Mandeep is also working with me on Community Spirit project. I’m keen to do more of this kind of project management where I get to be creative and not just admin, and work with great groups on meaningful projects. I also worked for ArtReach a very long time ago on a great museum project so it’s good to be involved with one of their projects again.

I’d love to work on more community projects around my on practice and the themes that inspire me with local and regional groups. Please get in touch if you think this might work for your organisation. You can find out more about the kind of things I love to do here.

Criminal Quilts out on show

My Criminal Quilts Prison Dress and Prison Portraits collaboration with Tim Fowler are on show in Leicester during May 2022

I was invited to show new work in this year’s Craft Month at LCB Depot in Leicester and chose to display this joint work with Tim Fowler who is also based in Leicester. We met when we both worked in Makers Yard studios, part of the LCB business premises group.

You can find out more about the paintings and the prison dress here. Criminal Quilts is an arts and heritage project created by Ruth Singer exploring the stories of women held in Stafford Prison 1877-1916.

The work is is on show at LCB Depot, Rutland St, Leicester until 1st June. Monday to Friday 9am-5pm. It’s free to visit. The main body of work is just inside the main entrance with one piece out in the courtyard. There’s a few other pieces and groups of craft work around the building, along with a student exhibition in the main gallery.

Find out more about Criminal Quilts

The Criminal Quilts exhibition tour has now concluded although I will continue to show individual pieces in group exhibitions. The final part of the project is an online conference called Making Meaning Live which takes place in July 2022 and is free to attend.

I’ve made a series of pre-recorded talks about different aspects of the Criminal Quilts project which you can stream and watch now.

And finally, my book of the project is available now, and can be sent anywhere in the world.

Woodgate Wellbeing

Creating art projects with and for communities is a huge part of my creative business. For years I’ve worked on projects to support creativity and wellbeing for those with limited access to the arts for various reasons. Recently I’ve been creating projects myself rather than just working for other people and one of those is the Woodgate Wellbeing project I’ve developed for the users of the foodbank I helped establish in 2020. I’ve brought together a group of local artists and practitioners to create activities and events that are creative, accessible and relaxing and which also link to the local area of the city. To make the activities as accessible as possible, I’ve put together this magazine with loads of activities and an accompanying materials box to go with it. Workshop activities start later this month too. I’m so excited about this getting this project launched and hopefully supporting people to have a bit more creativity and wellbeing in their lives. 

The cover of Woodgate Wellbeing magazine is one of my Foodbank Stories embroideries. I created this project concept in early 2021 and applied for two different funds through the foodbank. The second was successful (Places Called Home fund from The National Lottery & IKEA). I have created the concept, commissioned the content and designed the magazine and kits. I’ve been supported in this project by Mandeep Dhadialla. She is also delivering one of the workshops for the project. Mandeep is also associate artist with my Community Spirit project.

I’d love to keep this project going and replicate it elsewhere. If you are interested in supporting creativity and wellbeing for underserved communities in a similar way, please get in touch.

Words about Women co-creation artwork

Would you like to stitch part of a collaborative artwork for my Criminal Quilts project? Throughout the years I’ve research women in Stafford Prison, I’ve noticed the words used to label women. The nature of the prison documents means the words are quite judgemental and absolute.

With this project I want to reflect on the words used to describe and label women then and now. The artwork will be made of stitched words, both positive and negative, created by women participants through community workshops and women working on them at home. Being part of a collective project about women’s lives and the perception of women is really powerful. I’d love to hear your voice in this work. Find out more and how to contribute your stitched words on my website here.

I’ll be running free drop-in sessions at Llantarnam Grange on International’s Women’s Day 8th March, stitching words for the artwork. You can book yourself a space here.

Criminal Quilts final exhibition 2022

My Criminal Quilts exhibition has been touring since 2018 and after some pandemic cancellations and rescheduling, the last hurrah is coming up in February 2022. The exhibition will be on show at Llantarnam Grange 5th February – 2nd April.

I will be hosting an an online preview event accessible to all on Friday 4th February time TBC.

The exhibition will include lots of new work made in the last couple of years which you can see here as well as other pieces still in progress plus new collaborative community work.

There will be events in the gallery and online during the spring including a collaborative project inviting contributions from around the world.

After the exhibition, I’m creating an online live gathering event with other artists to share stories about making craft with powerful social and historical narratives. If you are interested in sharing your work at this event please contact me.

Isolated Moments

I have created an embroidery project for Fermynwoods Contemporary Art, inspired by my time in lockdown (which I am still in!). The project is based around negative space embroidery and using leaf-shapes to create the design. It reflects the isolation of lockdown and the connection with local nature which so many people have experienced this year. You can find the activity here.

Textiles In Lockdown

I am delighted to be working with Gawthorpe Textiles Collection to create a Textiles In Lockdown commission. 

Graphic showing Gawthorpe Textiles Collection logo. The text is Textiles in Lockdown. Share your experiences of textile in making during lockdown for Gawthorpe Textiles Collection. Arts Council Logo

We are living through a significant moment in history which has seen a huge resurgence in craft activity with groups and individuals coming together to support the creation of PPE for the health and care services. Others have taken the opportunity to learn new skills or rediscover old ones, to pass the time in lockdown, to support home schooling, to make do and mend while shops have been closed and to support personal wellbeing.  

As a museum of textiles, Gawthorpe Textiles Collection feel that it is important to capture and record the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on textile craft at this important time and explore what legacy there may be. 

As part of a grant received from the Arts Council England Covid-19 Emergency Response Fund Ruth will gather stories to create a digital archive of activity as well as create a digital publication and podcast. 

We will be seeking out stories from Lancashire and the North West as well as a broader perspective from the wider UK and the world. More details will be released over the coming days of how you can get involved in sharing your story. 

Find out more here