Clervaux Trust, farewell to the Army Families?

26 Jun


How would you feel if your husband or wife worked away from home for many months at a time? What’s it like having Dad (usually Dad) only available on Skype or at the end of a phone thousands of miles away? Or, if he is at home, his work might take him and you to the other end of the country, having to start all over again making new friends, settling into a new school? It would be difficult enough if it were a normal job: Now add to the stress the worry that your loved one is a soldier out on patrol in Afghanistan and you might begin to get just some idea of what it is like for the army families left behind.

It is this which led the Army Welfare Services at Catterick Camp and Clervaux to work together to run a seventeen month programme of craft workshops; felt making, pottery, green woodwork, soap making and catering.

In fair weather and foul (sometimes very foul), a loyal group of families came on the third Saturday of each month. They would usually begin by going round with Aviel, the farmer, to feed the animals and collect eggs before going off to the workshops of their choice. Having initially tried everything, preferences emerged. Some would not leave textiles, others loved baking or pottery.

Now that the scheme is coming to the end of its time, we had an exhibition of work in February to show off to friends, family and the wider military and civilian community what had been achieved. The results were impressive. One lady displayed the knitting she was doing on needles she had turned in woodwork. Another had impressed the house rules into a pottery dish. There was lots of colourful felt and a three-legged stool. One lady, so inspired by a jewellery-making session with a local artist, had a table of her own with pieces she had made for sale, the makings of a small business.



But the objects were just the physical manifestation of what had been achieved. What was written in the comments book showed something deeper and more personal.

“We get to have quality family time.”

“The boys are a lot more confident at going up and talking to new people.”

 “I was amazed my sons tried food that they normally wouldn’t.”

 “The food policy at Clervaux encouraged home-grown veg.”

 “It gave me the confidence to speak to others about my worries about my children.”


felt collage

 Above: Some brilliant felt pieces from Lone Helliwell, Textile Tutor at Clervaux Trust

Lone, the textile tutor at Clervaux and the project co-ordinator, said, “I am so proud of the effort everyone has put in. I do hope something can continue from this.” For now, however, the funding for this project is at an end. But such is the enthusiasm this has generated, people are coming up with all sorts of ideas. So it may be not so much “Farewell to the army families” but “See you again soon”. Let’s hope so.

Chris Helliwell, green woodwork tutor




The Art of the Give-away at Ruskin Mill College

26 Jun


Elisabeth Johnson delighted at the new gift made by Ed (right) and Grant (left) with tutor David Flower, in the college’s reception at Horsley Mill


David Flower explains some of the finer points of Green Woodwork

Green Woodwork employs many physical activities, including both sides of the brain, both hands as well as using the feet and all at the same time. We also use a number of tools including axes, hammers, draw knives and sharp chisels on the pole lathes, so we have to be very safety aware too.

But the real breakthrough comes when students are able to start to work without thinking about the processes and are then able to live into a more creative and meditational state. Most of us have a considerable amount of internal dialogue going on all the time, so engaging in craft does offer an opportunity to silence thoughts and live into the activity.

As we see with the work they produce, students benefit enormously from knowing that they are good at something and can stand back and reflect on something they have made and which they will then give away. So part of this project to make a bench for our college reception is the fact that they will now give their work away willingly and happily. They have also stepped up to the plate and done everything asked of them and now they can be proud of what they have done, knowing that it will be a useful and beautiful item in the college for many years to come.

Ed , 2nd-year, loving it!


Above: Ed with a recently finished project that also included some iron work.

Below: Detail of Ed’s forging work for the bench.


For the bench project, I made the metal supports for the back and Garrick (tutor) made the arms in the forge workshop. I made the supports over three weeks, which meant getting the forge fire going, getting the metal really hot and beating it into shape. I made five supports and painted them black with a special metal paint. I’ve worked in the forge since my first year and I love it. I am currently making a gas bottle log burner. I am going to use it at home.

I’ve been working in Green Woodwork since I came to Ruskin Mill College. I found side axing hard to start with and still do find it slightly hard. Learning to use a pole lathe was hard for a week, but then I found it quite easy. The lathe is powered by peddling it with your foot. In Green Woodwork I have made a TV unit, which is now at home, a coffee table and a small table which mum uses. David Flower, tutor, decided to make a bench for the college which is to go in the reception for visitors and guests to the college. David thought that as I had used a lot of wood in my projects, I should give something back. Grant, David and I designed the bench. I turned the legs and the stretches which support the whole bench.

We have made the longest stretcher at the college, which involved making a new tool rest. We used beech wood that we extracted from our woodlands. I finished with a clear wax after it had been sanded down nice and smooth. I am very pleased with the bench because it is one of the best things I’ve ever made. It was a big challenge to make the long stretcher.

Grant, 3rd-year, good at side axing

I did green woodwork in my first year and did a BTEC. I like making things. I did the side axing for this project. Side axing is about taking a log and cutting the sides down until it is roughly round and ready to go up onto a pole lathe. I am good at side axing. I also like using the pole lathe. I’ve made a rugby ball-shaped table with rugby ball-shaped legs. I love rugby and play three times a week, two days training and a match day at weekends. I play for Minchinhampton during term time and for a team in Bristol where I live.

Natural Wool Dyeing Exhibition at Freeman College

26 Jun




Fleece and Natural Dyes is an exhibition of work by Sybille van de Voort, made with Freeman College students during Sybille’s residency at Freeman College.   This exhibition shows many vibrant colours all achieved with dyes made from natural materials. These colours have been made with  the plant and insect materials displayed in the cabinets. The one exception on display as dyed wool is carrot tops which are only available when the carrots are harvested.

Most indigenous plants can be collected in spring and summer and dried, but the best colours come from fresh plants. Natural colours have a special quality, which means that they never clash. This is most important when working with students because all colour combinations create an aesthetic product.

The wools and fleece in this exhibition come from a breed of sheep known as Hampshire Down. These native sheep are farmed at Clervaux, also part of Ruskin Mill Trust. The colour of the wool from Hampshire Downs is white, of medium length, with a close, fine texture. It is predominantly used in the production of hosiery, hand knitted wools, flannels and felts.

When processing the wool, the fleece is first washed. It is then dyed, carded and spun, though this order can alter with spinning taking place before dyeing. The washed fleece is first boiled with the mordant for 1 hour. The fleece is placed into the warm water dye bath and boiled for another hour. There are many different recipes for pigment dyeing just as there are in cooking food.


Some of this wool has been hand or machine spun before dyeing. This means that natural dyes can be used on commercially produced white balls of wool.


Above: Hayley, 1st-year, with her knitted baby shoes made under the instruction of Sybille and part of the exhibition. Hayley said, ‘ I am going to give them to Emily, who has just had a baby’.


Above: Alex, 3rd-year, with his weaving made with tutor, Jane Huws, from hand-dyed wool. Alex said, ‘It took nearly a term to make. I made this weaving on a table loom’.

Bronze Casting at Glasshouse College

26 Jun


Bronze is roughly 90% copper and 10% tin and has been recognised for qualities that has made it both more effective than (and superior to) iron due to its copper content. Bronze is supposed to be best for garden tools as they don’t rust, are strong and hard-wearing, antimicrobial and non-magnetic, and slice into the soil and come out clean. Also copper gardening tools enrich the soils with coppertrace elements which provide plants with essential nutrients. At Glasshouse College, the art of bronze casting is not just maintained for historical continuity but provides part of the unique educational and life skills opportunities for which the college is renowned for.

Tutor, Mejdi Mabrouk, outlines some of the skills acquired

There have been casting foundries in the area for many years. I used to do farming estate work and was papermaking tutor over at our farm. The college wanted to reopen the bronze casting foundry, so I was asked if I could run it. I recieved training with the previous tutors Tim Parkes and Paul Gittins and then I started with students. Up until now I am still enjoying learning more about this craft alongside my students.

Bronze casting fits very well into the therapeutic method of the Trust. It involves lots of skills, such as the gross motor skills, physical tasks like shovelling, riddling and ramming, and also fine motor skills, e.g. moulding the pattern, making runners and risers. The work has to be done in a specific way to get a good result. For example to have a successful casting the bronze has to be heated to about 11000 C to melt properly and this needs to be handled responsibly. Students learn through failure and work to get it right next time, so poor moulding requires more work afterwards to clean the cast item up. This helps to teach us to take responsibility for our actions.

 This session is a good opportunity for students to work in teams and they develop this working together very quickly. The job requires consistency and patience, some tasks can be very challenging for some students such as filing or sawing the excess bronze as it takes a while to achieve a good result. They can then acknowledge their work with their finished items and know that they can work hard in a task that involves a long process to make something beautiful and useful. We make sure that they make something they can use and some students like to keep it and some give it away.

Mejdi: We do a BTEC accredited course called ‘Developing Self in Bronze Casting’ where we talk about our strengths and areas for improvement. We work together to develop a personal skill or behaviour while we are doing our daily bronze casting work. At the end of term we review our progress.

Bradley (B) and John (J) took a few moments to explain some of their tasks.

B: We have instructions on the wall. When we meet in the morning, we talk about the work we are going to do that day.

J: We discussed what project we are working on. Then get some scoops of sand, rake it into a square on the floor, water and sieve it. I’ve just made a hoe which was the best project because I was pleased with the results.

 B: I am casting a small trowel today.

 J: We work in a team to prepare for casting because one person can’t do it alone. I shovelled into a sieve and Bradley sieved it to get any bits out of it. Then we spread water onto it to make it moist, so that he sand can keep its shape for casting.

 B: We get two scoops of sand and we ram it into the mould box, then scrape off the excess so it’s level with the top of the mould box. We then press the pattern into the sand for casting.

 J: I’ve always enjoyed bronze casting and it is one of the best things because you get to make things and I enjoy it.

 B: I enjoy the lessons; it’s brilliant! I like to do casting and I’ll put the tools I make into the end-of-year student exhibition.






Abov: John, Bradley and Medji at the end of a session



Activities at Brantwood Specialist School

26 Jun

Brantwood – Transforming Lives

Sarah came to Brantwood Specialist School towards the end of 2013. She had been out of school for over a year and had not left the house for a long time but when her parents persuaded her to visit Brantwood for her assessment, she liked it so much it inspired her to want to come here.

At first she would be dropped off and collected by family members in their car, but she is now walking to the bus stop and catching the bus. Initially, travelling was a big issue and she only felt comfortable in familiar cars and needed to know the route she would be taking. Brantwood staff worked closely with Sarah and gradually introduced her to travelling on outings in staff cars. They would take her to show her the route before the outing so it would be familiar to her and built up her confidence by starting with short journeys and gradually extending the travel time. Over time, she was then able to travel in taxis and trains and go longer distances. Her family are now able to consider going on holiday with Sarah, which would have been impossible before.

Sarah is blossoming at Brantwood and is constantly reaching new targets which are set either by herself or jointly with her teachers and her key worker. She is now feeling very positive about her future and is making plans and with the encouragement of Brantwood she will no doubt continue to successfully reach and exceed her goals.

Below, Sarah gives her own view of how Brantwood has had a positive influence on her and helped her to grow in confidence.

Before I came to Brantwood I never left the house, never ever thought beyond going outside into the garden. The tribunal said I couldn’t go to Brantwood because I wasn’t going out, which gave me the determination to try walking and that eventually led to being brave enough to get back in a car which was one of my biggest fears. I had even jumped out of a car before because I was so scared. Ever since being at Brantwood, not only has my confidence in travelling improved, going from driving in a designated car to not being bothered whose car I’m going in, my confidence in myself has also grown. Nothing is impossible. I can now travel to school on the bus and even went on a school trip to York on a train.”

Below centre, Sarah waiting for a train to York with other Brantwood students at Sheffield Railway Station.

transforming lives

Brantwood − ‘Inside My Mind’ with student Jules


Brantwood student Jules, pictured below, is definitely one of our most creative students. Jules is always happy to express himself and enjoys the creative possibilities provided by Brantwood’s practical hands-on curriculum. Jules is able to express these artistic abilities through a variety of mediums such as art, drama, music, woodwork and textiles.

Inside my mind

Pictured above is a piece of art work by Jules which would not look out of place hanging in the National Gallery alongside a piece by Salvador Dali. Created for a project he is working on in class, the picture helps to visualise the cacophony of thoughts and feelings going on in his head at any one time.

Many of the students who attend Brantwood find it difficult to express their themselves verbally, and use art and crafts as a method of communication. Jules is also very creative in terms of how you can use your body in movement and there are opportunities to explore this further in Eurythmy and Occupational Therapy sessions.

Brantwood − ‘Life’ in Textiles

A very short term is coming to a close where Brantwood students have been exploring the theme of Life. In textiles lessons, this began with an exploration of plants, trees and flowers. Students have gathered inspiration from the beautiful gardens surrounding the school, taking pictures outside of the new spring blossoms. Vincent van Gogh’s sunflower paintings were also used as a source of inspiration for students’ design ideas before they created their own artworks in a variety of mediums. Students have learnt new skills in needle and wet felting, as well as fabric painting.

One student enjoyed the work in class so much that he decided to extend the skills he had learnt in wet-felting to an independent project. Reminiscent of an abstract expressionist painting, the work was impressive in size and demonstrated a clear eye for colour.


Students are now working on natural forms based on the paper cut-out art of Henri Matisse, which will be developed further in the next half term.


Brantwood’s Dandelion Marmalade

Can you make marmalade on a campfire? At our outdoor site at Eyam? We proved that you can!

 It all started with a foraging course that I had been on. We learned how to identify edible plants and make delicious food with them; including cow parsley soup, won-tons with nettle and knot-weed crumble and marmalade with dandelion flowers that we had collected.

 I thought the opportunity was too good to miss so set my students a challenge: can we find enough dandelions to make us all some marmalade to take home? I set them off with their brilliant teaching assistant, Kim to fill a carrier bag while I got the fire going. We washed our hands, the flower heads, pots and pans and shaved the bark from a stick to use as a stirrer.


The students practiced their numeracy skills by measuring the ingredients, reading the recipe out step by step. I peeled and chopped the apples which provide the Pectin, to make the final mixture into a jelly. We removed the stalks from two thirds of the Dandelions and added them to the bubbling pan. It smelt delicious already. After the apples turned mushy we sieved the mixture and put the appley/flowery goo on the compost heap.

 The golden liquid had the sugar and lemon juice stirred into it and we boiled it furiously, while the students squeezed and picked the yellow flowers from the remaining stalks to add to the brew. This is where the pectin from the apples comes in. As the water boils away the mixture starts to solidify. The stirring stick is checked for any signs of marmalade-type jelly as it cools. When the end of the stick has golden stickiness on it, the mixture is poured into sterilised pots to cool. This is to stop the marmalade going mouldy, although all mixtures I have made have not had chance because they get eaten so quickly!

 So the students headed home with their pots of marmalade held proudly in their hands. The golden liquid with suspended dandelion petals glowing from within.

 Gareth Hills, Wilderness Teacher


Ruskin Mill College student unveils stained glass in Nailsworth

10 Feb

Third-year student, Tim, unveiled new work by artist Johannes Steuck having worked on the project for over a year. The stained glass window was commissioned locally and made at the Nailsworth Subscription Rooms. The 7ft tall window will now welcome visitors to the ground floor of the Bath Road building, which is managed by Nailsworth Youth Community Enterprise (NYCE) and is home to Nailsworth Community Workshop.

It represents the creativity and fine traditional craftsmanship that the organisation fosters amongst more than 80 people who attend its workshop sessions each week. The solid oak frame supporting the window was also made in the Workshop by tutor Phil Walters and Tim also helped with the frame.  Cirencester businessman Ian Carling and Crown Aluminium of Stroud helped fund the project. Johannes is very pleased with the finished piece and said that ‘Tim was the mainstay of the project and was always here, immensely positive, quite skilled and socially aware. He has a sense of other people’s needs’.



Tim’s story:

“I started a year ago working with Johannes on Friday afternoons.  I had a part in the design and we were able to add our own ideas and we went through a lengthy process using carbon paper and templates to work out the larger pieces of glass first and then the smaller pieces.  The larger pieces were painted and fired in a kiln and then worked on the coloured glass.  The three layers were glued together to get the final effect.  The glass was laid out and leaded and soldered.  We started with a small team.  I’ve worked on the frame made of oak with Philip so there has been a lot of teamwork as well as dealing with their witty humour.”


Market Stall: The Story

28 Jan

We are Jason, Alex, Stephen and Natasha from Ruskin Mill College, and we are studying for our BTEC module in ‘Running a Business Enterprise’. We have decided to run a market stall every two weeks in the Shambles, Stroud market starting on 31st January.

We are excited about running a business because it will give us new skills, like sales ability, planning skills and the opportunity to see if we can make money for the college alongside teaching us about the value of both money and the things that we make. It is a great challenge because we have not done anything like this before, everything is new.

We have decided to do a market stall because Ruskin Mill College is unique in the amount of different crafts it teaches and the amount of expert crafts people it employs. We can sell wooden items, iron work, pottery, flow forms, paper and printed items, soaps, basketry, candles and leatherwork; we believe that no other college has this diversity of craft available to sell.

‘Local’ is a very important word to shoppers these days, Stroud market is local to us and all of the things we make are made from local materials by us and tutors. This means that we are also ethical; this means that no puppies were hurt in the production of the things we sell. The market stall also advertises what the college does and lets everyone know how good we are at doing it!