The Central Scotland School of Craft - a community engagement project with DJCAD roots
Published on 30 August 2021
Have you ever wanted some hands-on crafts training without the need to attend a full-time education institution? Alumna Rebecca Wilson has got you covered!
Dunblane local creative and DJCAD graduate, Rebecca Wilson, has seen her new creative community venture blossom through the 2020 lockdown. A ceramist who dabbles in ‘deliciously irreverent jewellery’, Rebecca has enjoyed a successful international exhibiting career for over a decade. She has taken the issue of the accessibility of craft and design courses in Scotland into her own hands. She sat down with Alumni Engagement Coordinator, Craig Reoch, to discuss all things community engagement and discussed her journey from her ceramics studio at DJCAD to her new School of Craft.
Growing up near Glasgow, Rebecca always knew she was heading to art school, but she first had to decide the University for her.
“I started off on a portfolio course in Glasgow where we were strongly encouraged to apply to Glasgow and Edinburgh art schools, but Dundee was always my first choice. At that time Dundee had a good reputation for its design courses specifically and I knew that was the avenue I wanted to go down. On the foundation course I was briefly seduced by the sculpture department, and when I discovered the ceramics department I knew I had found the course for me.”
Rebecca loved her time in Dundee and shared how she felt about studying at DJCAD:
“I liked the smaller town feeling, it felt like a community you could get involved in. I had a very good time here – especially in the Students’ Union! As I did Ceramics, I was on a really small course and there were only around eight of us. We were right up at the back of the art school where no one could find us so we had this tiny, insular Ceramics community up there. It was a good gang and we had a lot of fun!
Rebecca Wilson's Mega-Ring ceramic jewellery piece
“It was slightly bittersweet as I was actually in the last cohort of Ceramics graduates. When I came into first year there were three years of students ahead of us in the department, so as we then moved up through second, third and fourth year there was nobody coming in behind us.”
Rebecca believes strongly in keeping opportunities to get involved in this type of artisan craft work going. Through to the present day, she has continued to emphasise the importance of their widespread availability. This has led to her establishing a new learning centre in her community of Dunblane.
“Hands-on craft courses are becoming more and more elusive across the UK, not just Scotland. A lot of these courses are being run-down as they are expensive to upkeep, but without them it is getting harder and harder to gain that specific hands-on education you need to learn these important craft skills”.
After graduating from DJCAD, Rebecca completed a Master’s course in Cardiff before returning to Scotland and relocating to Edinburgh. Some friends were setting up a studio and allowed her some studio space to move into. Over the next 15 years, Rebecca continued to grow and develop her prowess as a specialist in jewellery and ceramics and landed a role with ‘Visual Arts Scotland’.
“They are an arts membership organisation and I was their administrator for fourteen years. I did that alongside my ceramics practise – it provided not just a steady wage but access to a network of artists and other creative professionals.
Rebecca Wilson Dip Dab Necklace in sherbet (Photo by Susan Castillo)
“I have always had two tandem careers on the go. I’ve always kept up my making practise in a studio, but I’ve also had something else to supplement that as well – always something related though. I managed to develop relationships with Visual Arts Scotland when I was still young and quite early out of art school.”
Her time working with the organisation allowed her not only to grow as a maker but also develop a vast creative network.
“They have around five hundred practising artist members, probably more, and are linked to a lot of organisations and individuals who support the arts. I was the central hub for communications with all those people in my role, organising exhibitions and more. Through that, I gained the logistical experience of running an arts organisation but also built up this fantastic network of creatives that I am calling on heavily these days to come and run workshops!”
These workshops are part of a fantastic community engagement project Rebecca has been working on recently and stem from that early-rooted desire to make hands-on design and craft work more accessible to the general population.
After many years with Visual Arts Scotland, Rebecca decided to take the plunge and become a closer to ‘full-time’ maker, while continuing her freelance admin work on the side to allow her more time to work on her ceramics.
“This allowed me to pick and choose projects, and balance the two streams of my practise, which was working well. Then, out of the blue, I was surfing property websites (as you do when you’re not even looking to move!) and I found a property in Dunblane with an extensive outbuilding that used to be a children’s nursery.”
“We came to view it on a whim with no sort of plan for what we would do with an extra house in the garden... Then, we bought it on a whim with still no plan of what we were going to with it!”
Needless to say, a large renovation project was exactly what Rebecca needed to embark on a new creative venture – one which aims to provide lasting benefit to the local community. She has embarked on this venture with Jo Pudelko, who also has links to DJCAD and is a visiting lecturer in the Jewellery department.
“A good friend, Jo, runs a very successful jewellery school up here in Dunblane, and she planted a seed when she said that the community needed a craft school to act as a sister school to this one. And then the pandemic hit…”
Covid-19 was not, however, a block for Rebecca’s plans, it was the perfect opportunity to get her idea off the ground:
“Before the pandemic I was still juggling a lot of admin projects and my studio practise, and I didn’t know where I would find the time to fit in this other potential venture. But then the world shut down and, as it turned out, there was suddenly all the time in the world!
“All the exhibitions and awards I was coordinating were postponed, exhibitions I was participating in were closed down and galleries were all shut so I suddenly had space for another project. I began to fundraise like crazy throughout 2020”.
Rebecca and her colleagues crowdfunded £8,500 with the help of the RBS 'Back Her Business' scheme supporting female entrepreneurs embarking on new business ventures. She also partnered with the Inches Carr Trust (who promote the development and continuation of essential craft skills), Creative Scotland and Scene Stirling, who have supported the implementation of a bursary scheme for locals. This allowed the outbuilding at the property to be renovated and for the business to reach a position where it was ready to go as a functioning craft school in May 2021.
The first workshop, held in May, was led by local mosaic artist Rachel Davies. Rebecca and the team have a full year programme of workshops planned for the project, several which are already sold out with ever-building waiting lists.
“Everyone took up crafts during the pandemic! The creative community have responded really well with online workshops, so now that everyone has had a taste of that they are ready to craft in real life. Employment in our rural setting is so important, as is access to creative learning – that sort of thing tends to be more urban-centric. We are creating both employment and learning opportunities so that people don’t have to travel to the cities to access craft activities and opportunities.”
Building up this community is already proving very successful and it is great to see some more connections to the University of Dundee. Louise Forbes, another DJCAD alumna (who also works as an Architecture Support Specialist at the University), is running a spoon-carving workshop. Rebecca and her colleagues are fully booked until November 2021 with different craft workshops!
“We got some funding from the Inches Carr Trust to give subsidised places to students on creative courses to give them opportunities and fill the gap in practical learning which has arisen from the loss of practical craft courses.”
It’s clear that this new creative community venture is going to have a real, lasting benefit on those who attend the workshops, and it is wonderful to see a member of our alumni community going above and beyond to provide employment and craft skill development opportunities on a growing scale. Rebecca attributes a lot of her success to her time spent at the University of Dundee, and still looks back on her student days very fondly, even the less ‘cultural’ aspects:
“Does the all-night bakery still sell ‘Scooby Snacks’? That’s such a Dundee thing!”
Check out Rebecca’s new Central Scotland School of Craft and her own ceramic jewellery practise for yourself:
Do you have an interesting alumni story to tell, or have you recently embarked on a new venture we can share with our University and alumni communities? Get in touch at email@example.com – we look forward to hearing your journey.
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