A journey as a basket weaver 

I started basket making in 2002, when my best friend Lian gave me a birthday present, it was a two day workshop at the botanic gardens here in Cambridge with Mary Butcher - what an unusual present, so I went along with a very open mind. 

Well, I made an oval shopper with the wonderful material that had been gathered from the gardens, it was great fun and the beginning of something big in my life.  In the weeks that followed I was out and about gathering my own stuff from the hedges and industrial estates and superstore car parks nearby.  I would get mostly dogwoods and hazel and spent many hours working with these materials.

Shortly afterwards I saw that Sandra Barker was doing some workshops at Denny Abbey and at home in Ashwell,  so off I went to learn some more and make new things. In the following months I used all the dogwoods to make 15 or so fruit bowl sized baskets, and everyone got one for Christmas, in fact that year I didn’t buy a single present.

It’s now September 2003 and I am off to Bolt Court, Fleet Street, London and the City Lit to start a City and Guilds in creative basketry. Over the next two years I made many new friends in the basket makers’ world and after many journeys on the train with half-finished  baskets and bundles of  wet willow wrapped in towels and bin liners, I emerged with my certificate and a much greater knowledge of the skills needed to create some wonderful baskets, for which I would like to thank everyone  involved. 

So what to do with my new found knowledge? I started running my own willow workshops, Women’s’ Institute, L.E.A. and the Suffolk Smallholders are just some of the people that made baskets with me.

I joined Hertfordshire Basketry Group shortly after it was formed and enjoyed seeing my old college friends again and meeting new ones.  The group is very active with visiting tutors providing workshops, as well as member led activities and visits to exciting places and exhibitions.

For the next chapter of my story I was demonstrating the craft of basket making at Wimpole Hall, a National Trust property in Cambridgeshire.

I enjoyed this very much and was in the public eye and made some good contacts and sold many of my baskets there. It was hard work and many cold and windy Sundays were spent in the draughty stable block with my lapboard and Vanessa for company, Vanessa is a spinner and uses the fleeces from the rare breed sheep that live on the farm, to make wonderful items of knitwear.

I stumbled upon an advertisement in the local newspaper. WinterComfort, a local homeless charity were looking for a basket maker/ tutor for a new social enterprise, WinterWillow. Wow! This sounded too good to be true, and I went along to the interview and met Cathy Hembry, Director of WinterComfort .

After a few day workshops, I was employed full time, to work with the homeless and vulnerably housed at Overstream House. In November 2009 Winter Willow was launched, we make willow coffins and garden obelisks, with all the profits going back into the charity to help and improve the lives of our service users. 

From this experience and with the support of WinterComfort I have now started my own studio...you are welcome to visit.

Best wishes,

Roger

Donate to WinterComfort

You can support the homeless by donating to the work of WinterComfort. 

Use the Just Giving page here.

Why not make a regular donation to provide help to others in need? 

If you are able to help this important local charity, thank you!

Roger, making a coffin

Winter Willow - a developmental story 

How new, local, craft enterprises are emerging from charitable activity and social business funding in Cambridge, UK.

A new social enterprise was successful in raising funds to transform some spaces of WinterComfort, a Cambridge UK based charity supporting the homeless, into workshops.

The development of these spaces was planned to enable a social enterprise to spring to life - offering opportunities to cultivate, manage and sustain willow stocks - which were then designed, crafted and delivered as woven products - such as baskets, garden structures and woven willow coffins.

The social enterprise was supported by a number of organisations in and around in Cambridge.

A cohort of Cambridge Students in Free Enterprise were able to helped craft the business plan. A group of MBA students from the Cambridge Judge Business School supported the original market research by helping to explore the UK funeral and green burial markets. 

A successful entry into the Spark Challenge meant that the project was able to benefit from coaching and mentoring from Eastside Consultancy. As winners of the Spark Challenge for 2009 it was able  to carry its social enterprise plans through to fruition.

Roger Fowle, as weaving tutor, then became busy organising production of willow coffins and seasonal goods for the Christmas trade.

Now, WinterWillow has sent out craftsmen into the world to develop studios and social businesses, based in a variety of communities, to create sustainable enterprise.

About the charity WinterComfort

WinterComfort supports those who are homeless or at risk of losing their homes by offering them basic amenities, opportunities for educational development and recreation, and a range of services designed to help them achieve greater autonomy.” Services include...

Centre Forward

Offers a wide ranging program of activities, information, advice and guidance to support personal development in social, leisure, occupational, volunteering, educational, training and employment sectors, focusing on peoples skills and aspirations.

Food4Food 

Delivers a comprehensive training program to people with experience of homelessness in food & nutrition, budget management/best value, stock control, food hygiene, catering and hospitality. Food4Food offers you a home cooked catering service. 

Comfort Zone 

Breakfast & Refreshments, Shower & Bathing facilities, Access to Laundry & Clothing store, Support with Housing & Access to Health Care Services.

The Big Issue 

Wintercomfort hosts the Big Issue in Cambridge.The Big Issue exists to offer homeless and vulnerably housed people the opportunity to earn a legitimate income.