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.

Making Meaning Podcast Episode 25 with Mandeep Dhadialla

Mandeep is a printmaker and workshop leader who works under the brand The Laughing Cactus Print Studio. She’s also local to me and we’ve been working together a lot over the last year or so on community projects and sharing thoughts on our respective creative practices. In this conversation we talk about the themes Mandeep is currently exploring around stillness and displacement, about belonging and moving between two countries. We talk about community practice and the impact it has on our work and the benefits of the collaborative work we are currently involved in. 


Mandeep Dhadialla is an artist printmaker living and working in Leicester. Her work revolves around linocut printmaking, including on textiles, and making handprinted and hand-bound books. Spending her formative years as a child in Kenya and migrating to England in her early teens influences her practice. She explores concepts of home, place, safety and comfort within her printmaking practice, experimenting with combined monoprint, linocut and collagraph print techniques – more recently on the idea of Stillness in Displacement, of how landscape provides the constant anchoring between inner emotional displacement and outer physical displacement, a parallel in narrative between migration, the pandemic and landscape.

Mandeep has sixteen years’ experience of teaching with museums and arts organisations. Her own printmaking practice continued to develop exhibiting widely in shows including Society of Women Artists. She achieved the Runner Up award at Sock Gallery and Highly Commended in their recent Summer exhibition. She received an Honourable Mention Award with Circle Foundation for the Arts, Kenya, and achieved Commended in Teesside Print Prize 20. She is a member of Leicester Society of Artists. 

Play here

Other links

Mandeep runs a print club – members receive four original prints a year through the post. 

You can sign up to her mailing list here


Maker Membership

My Maker Membership is now open for all makers wanting to explore their motivations and to build meaning and research into their practice and be part of a supportive creative community. We meet once a month and I share resources, tips and research to help you develop your own work. Find out more 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.

Volunteering events

Take part in a community arts project in Leicestershire celebrating volunteers

Volunteering during lockdown is one of the best things I have ever done. I felt like I was doing something positive and important and I got to meet people and feel connected. I have seen just how hard volunteers worked to keep our communities together during lockdown (and continue to do so now) and I want to celebrate their work through creativity and sharing. I’m working with Voluntary Action Leicestershire to collect stories of local volunteers and to create a collaborative artwork at events co-designed by Laughing Cactus Printmaking Studio.


I’d love to hear your stories if you volunteered and bring you into our events to make commemorative rosettes which will be shown locally then shared out to volunteers to mark their amazing work. We have free events in Leicester on 5th, 7th & 9th June (weekend, weekday & evening) and I would love to see you there. Please pass on to anyone you know who has volunteered and ask them to share their story online or at an event. 

Community Spirit Project Launch

Calling all covid-related volunteers!

Have you volunteered to help others during the pandemic in Leicester, Leicestershire or Rutland?

You’ve done amazing work over the last two years, supporting communities throughout the pandemic. 

I am collecting stories and making an artwork to celebrate the incredible work of local people during the pandemic. The stories will become part of an artwork, also made by volunteers, to be showcased in the autumn. There will also be events during volunteers week in June.

Please share your volunteering story and join in with the artwork (if you want) by visiting ruthsinger.com/community-spirit 

tinyurl.com/communityspiritleicestershire

Chair of Leicester Society of Artists

Over the last couple of years I have been working as a consultant for Creative Leicestershire, researching the future of the role of Made in Leicestershire, a network of local artists. Since this work has now finished, I have decided to try and take some of my recommendations forward through working in partnership with another Leicestershire artist network, The Leicester Society of Artists (LSA). In early October I put myself forward as Chair with the hope of taking some of my learning from Made in Leicestershire into this thriving, well-established group. I picked the busiest time of the year to do this, just before our Annual Exhibition opened in early November. The last few weeks have have been intense, with my focus being on the exhibition judges and prizes, the preview event, working with the museum staff and then some PR and marketing activity while the exhibition is open, as well as future planning with our President Lars Tharp and the LSA Council. The exhibition continues until 7th December and is open seven days a week. I have three pieces in the exhibition too and was awarded one of the prizes as well. But the best part so far has been handing over prizes to other artists, which is a joy – and can result in hilarious photos with Tim Fowler!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Made in Leicestershire consultancy

Earlier this month Creative Leicestershire was awarded a grant from Arts Council England to enable us (me) to do more on my Made in Leicestershire development project. I’ve been working on research and consultation for Made in Leicetershire for about 18 months and this grant has allowed us to extend until the end of September and run some exciting new programmes for Leicestershire and Rutland visual artists and makers.

We are piloting peer mentoring for artists, beginning with training next week and then facilitated meetings over the next month. Those taking part will also have the chance to have a professional photo taken of them with their work and apply for a small professional development bursary. There’s still time to sign up to the peer mentoring programme which takes place on Monday 19th August.

We are also hosting a larger networking event on 24th September, where I’ll be launching a new printed report which will showcase some of the finest creative talent in the city and two counties. There will also be professional development talks and business support 1:1s for new and established artists. Tickets are just £5 and can be booked here.

I love working with artists and it is great to be able to provide development opportunities and work on ways to make the network stronger in the future. It would be great to be able to expand this area of my work into other counties and regions and to work with agencies to create support networks. Hopefully Made in Leicestershire will take flight in the next few years and be the brilliant showcase I want for this creative county.

 

Libraries Live Artist Residency

I’m almost at the end of my two-month library artist residency. For the last few weeks I’ve been in the village library / community hub of Newbold Verdon in rural West Leicestershire. I’ve been talking to volunteers, running workshops for over 50s and getting a feel for why so many people volunteer and why they love it so much. I’ve focussed my sessions around pattern-making; simple, everyday creative activities. We’ve had great time doing village walks collecting patterns through rubbings and photography, cyanotypes in the sunshine, drawing, stamping and simple embroidery, and have visited the local WI and run a session for the Forget Me Not dementia cafe.

Early next year I will be working on a commission for the library to keep, using digital patterns created from the drawings, printing and photos created during the workshops and some other ideas I am working on about volunteering and the sense of community the library creates.

Tacit exhibition

Tacit – Made in Leicestershire contemporary craft exhibition at LCB Depot 17th-29th September.

My first co-curated contemporary craft exhibition is now open! On Friday I installed Tacit – Made in Leicestershire exhibition at LCB Depot in Leicester. I am working for Creative Leicestershire as a consultant on the Made in Leicestershire brand development and putting together this exhibition and events programme is part of that process. It has been a delight to work with so many brilliant Leicestershire makers and to discover new ones selected by co-curator Jo Keogh. The exhibition is only up for a short time until 29th September with a couple of events next week for makers and for visitors to meet the makers.

Exhibition details here along with studio shots of the makers’ work. Late evening preview event is on Facebook. Leicestershire-based professional artists and makers are invited to a Makers Gathering on Thursday 27th Sept hosted by me for Made in Leicestershire.

This show includes my Tracery hanging and my Interlace collaboration work Halo.

I’ve installed two exhibitions in the space of 10 days so my tool box is well-used and I’m all out of cup hooks and glass cleaner. In my previous career I curated and developed museum exhibitions and have worked on a lot of craft exhibitions too over the years. I really enjoy this kind of work, though having help with the ladders, drilling and lifting from LCB staff was great – I’ve had to go up scaffolding to install things before and it wasn’t my favourite thing. Tacit has been an interesting, if very rushed, project to work on. The exhibition concept was developed by LCB Depot in the summer and they asked me to select makers and sort out installation. Jo Keogh (one of the artists) also found a group of emerging makers with new work I didn’t know about so the exhibition is really varied. I really enjoy mixed material exhibitions more than single material – I love to see my work alongside ceramics, glass and metals rather than just textile. It gives all the work a new perspective.

Themed school workshops

I love collaboration; I find it exciting and engaging both creatively and practically. Sharing skills, knowledge and expertise is vital to creating a good outcome and I always find it pushes my own creative boundaries and helps me work better and learn all the time. Whether it is working with schools, community groups or other makers, I always find it invigorating coming up with new ideas to show them as well as seeing how they take my ideas and techniques into new an exciting directions.

The school workshop shown below covered 3D fabric manipulation and appliqué techniques, following the students’ own inspiration and research, including projects as varied as fungus & lichen, decayed building, peacock feathers and jellyfish.

The images below show a session I ran for GCSE students to create weather-inspired samples using shadow trapunto techniques.

I loved this school’s textile classroom with inspiration walls and a great display of dried fruit and vegetable skins.

 

Find out more about workshops for school groups here.