Quilt Tales 2 Values Volunteers.

Messy Fun! Emily helps Kenny glue his textured, fabric initials for the Quilt.
Messy Fun! Emily helps Kenny glue his textured, fabric initials for the Quilt.

Volunteers Voice Viewpoint

We are very fortunate to have brilliant assistance on Quilt Tales 2 in the form of Polly & Emily. Community Outreach Projects are so important and make such a positive impact on those they touch. As I recently discovered, the positive and rewarding impact is not only for the intended target group; those who help run the projects are getting a lot out of the experience too! The generous people who volunteer their time to help run them are nothing short of miracle workers, unsung heroes and projects under pressure to achieve aims and surpass goals can sometimes forget to say thank you as much as they should.  This oldblog post celebrates those who come out and help and get gluey and covered in thread in the name of  creativity, and slowly but surely, get whimsically caught up in the idea of the project and its wider goals. Projects are seldom told from their viewpoint but this post intends to give voice to the volunteers!

Our volunteers go the extra mile providing patient commitment to our textile  projects.They are the extra hands needed to have the proper peer support, maker to maker ratio. Volunteers are not on the side lines helping but are fully integrated members of the group and makers in their own right, adding their own ideas and leaving their own trace on our quilting projects. In our textile groups the assisting team are not ‘other’ they are ‘another’ member / maker.

Emily is our newest volunteer,  recruited to our current Quilt Tales Two project which is a London Borough of Hounslow funded Community Quilting Project. Here are her thoughts on the project so far, what she is getting from the sessions and reasons she decided to get involved in the first place.

‘Quilt Tales 2 serves as a fantastically creative escape for everyone involved, be it as a volunteer dodging the dullness of 9-5 office life (guilty!), or as one of our makers seeking a break from a samey routine. The sessions offer the opportunity to develop new skills and revisit old ones in a calming, sociable environment where tea is drunk, stories are shared and friends are made. I am so pleasantly surprised by the personal impact that these sessions have had on me, leaving each one filled with positivity and optimism, and even more blown away by the undoubtable influence of the sessions on our makers – there is no better feeling than watching inhibitions diminish and confidence flourish!


Initially only supposed to be with us for the first 5 weeks of this 12 weeks project, Emily is getting so much from the project she has decided to stay on and see the project through to completion, which will be in mid December. Emily is a valued asset to the team. Always punctual, and courteous, she has excellent people skills and a calm approach, which serve her well when dealing with difficult or unfamiliar situations. She has been willing to be flexible and, ‘go the extra mile’, for the project, contributing to excursions, project documentation in the form of oldblog posts and helped with feedback on workshops and participation for final project evaluation. Emily is keen to return to university to further her studies in the field of linguistics and speech therapy, and we wish her all the very best in her future endeavours.

Here are some shots of Emily in action…

Polly is now somewhat of a Sense textile project veteran. Polly jumped aboard our quilting train when we worked with our fabulously international group who made the Material Memories Quilt at The Islington Museum at the beginning of 2015,  and is still onboard!

Polly popped into volunteer a helping hand and tell us all about her Golden Syrup Tin collection, ( as you do) and then again to get tangled up with finger knitting… the rest, as they say, is history. A natural with people, Polly puts out of practice or inexperienced makers at their ease and always has the right thing to say, normally with a cheeky after thought to boot! Polly joined the textiles team as a Project Assistant for the first of our two part Hounslow Based Project, Quilt Tales One at The Paul Robeson Theatre.  Unflappable, she has returned to continue the quilting fun on phase two of this Hounslow project; Quilt Tales Two at Edward Pauling House and is living proof of Senses’ commitment to investing in the artists who facilitate creative projects on behalf of the Sense Arts & Wellbeing Team.

Polly explains her reasons for getting involved and her first hand observations on how the textiles programme impacts on our elderly makers;

‘I got involved with Quilt Tales initially through curiosity.  Previously I had only worked with young children in a craft-based situation, not with elderly adults and certainly never with the deaf-blind.  I was soon aware that communication is critical, for instance touching a blind persons hand when saying “Good Morning” and simply being aware of how you explain yourself or demonstrate a point.  As in any group, individual makers work at different paces.  I have learnt to use encouragement with those that are slower or reluctant, or are lacking in confidence.  This latter point comes up repeatedly.  The elderly (in these workshops) seem to lose their confidence in ‘speaking in front of strangers, or in attempting to perform something which is new.  Through Quilt Tales I have seen the participants grow in stature as they see what they are capable of.  With growing confidence, their relationship skills spring into action and they begin to chat to one another.   As a group we reminisce on topics such as childhood, school days and music and try to prompt happy memories which we share with one another.  It is a sad fact that many of the elderly sit quietly for hours at a time doing nothing day after day.  Quilt Tales enables them to have a change of environment from their usual routine.  By joining in our textile sessions and making a panel each week (for the resulting quilt), they grow hugely proud of what they achieve.’

We are constantly reminded that we are an ageing population. We are living longer and the need to invest in the care of the elderly has never been more poignant. In old age diminished eyesight and or hearing is to be expected, but does that mean creative endeavours and the joy they bring need to stop? I would argue not. Recently Polly brought her teenage son, Bertie, along to join in and get some valuable work experience. Hopefully, by opening up a dialogue and raising awareness with the  next generation, and by extension, the wider community about the positive impact Sense Arts & Wellbeing Projects have on elderly people living with sensory impairment we will be able to have further reach.

Bertie lends a helping had to Joyce as she cuts wool for her work.
Bertie lends a helping had to Joyce.

Recently our volunteer base has been student focused in order to continue the conversation with younger people about the need for creative outlets for the elderly and to consider how the future will unfold for future generations of makers.

Volunteering is a great way of giving something back to the community, supporting intergenerational relations and investing in the future growth of creative projects for older people whilst gaining valuable work experience and sparkling references for future careers.

Heartfelt thanks to you all our volunteers, past and present, and to those reading this with a view to volunteering on future textile projects.

Author: Alex McEwan

Alex is an artist who specialises in inclusive and accessible community arts projects, such as Sense's TEXTtile and Quilt Tales.

2 thoughts on “Quilt Tales 2 Values Volunteers.”

  1. We are SO grateful for the volunteers who join our projects and offer so much – we know they make a huge difference and that the benefits are wide. Thanks to Alex for being a hands-on volunteer coordinator in this project and to the many many people who have given their precious time to have fun, make a new friend and flex creative muscles on our Arts and Wellbeing outreach projects reaching a huge and worthy group of older people living with sight and hearing loss. Here’s a big *applause* for you all!

  2. Quilt Tales continues to be a hugely rewarding exercise. We know the makers look forward to it very much, and as a volunteer I am very proud of what we have achieved. Our team leader, Alex, is unfailingly enthusiastic and her energy gives the group the boost needed to keep the project full of fun. This is not always easy or straight forward as there have been a few unexpected complications along the way. Alex is the first to step in and resolve situations and smooth over any bumps. Her extraordinarily thorough lesson plans ensure all the volunteers know exactly what to expect and her SITREPS (“situation reports” for those that aren’t married to someone in HM Forces) after each session allow both the volunteers and the makers to give honest feedback. All this helps to design the best possible workshops for future Sense projects.

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