In early February Little Ilford Baptist Church won a Coronavirus Community Support Grant to run zoom embroidery and knitting classes for people in Newham during lockdown. Alongside this ran an oral history project interviewing people again over zoom about their textile lives. It involved about 20 people and made over a hundred pieces of knitted clothing, (mostly clothes and blankets for babies and young children) for the Manor Park Food Bank. For the users of the food bank there was great delight at the unexpected offer of home-crafted knitwear being given away for free. Users were offered the chance of joining in with the making of the project with gifts of knitting wool and needles and for non-knitters drawing paper, pencils paints and crayons were given out.
For the knitters it was a way that mostly isolated older women, at high risk of severe illness through Covid, could participate in the many ways communities made life better for those experiencing difficulties during the pandemic. Through knitting they became active members of society society, reclaiming a purpose in their lives.
The embroidery zoom group was a way of keeping alive the ongoing work of East London Textile Arts in partnership with Little Ilford Baptist Church and providing adults with learning disabilities a weekly activity, creating a little structure in their lives.
All of this was run by Sonia Tuttiett, who communicated with participants through Whatsapp, zoom, telephone and email. Deliveries were usually by bicycle, allowing her to discuss work from the pavement while participants stood safely away in their doorways –a tiny bit of human contact in otherwise very solitary pandemic-era lives.
The oral history project offered talking about past lives on zoom as another way of communicating and making use of the spare time enforced isolation made available to reflect on former times in a positive way, thinking how their childhoods and early lives had enabled women to take up creative textile making in later life.
This lockdown project leaves a legacy. Technology was a key element in the success, especially Whatsapp and Zoom. Knitting has not stopped and neither has the oral history.
The Food bank is now considering inviting donations of clothing as part of its offer as there has been a proven need for free second hand clothing due to the success of this project and following requests from the families and individuals with no recourse to public funds who regularly use the Food bank and have benefitted from this short project.
It provided a way of involving people who do not regularly leave their homes, for whatever reason, a way to contribute to society that they did not have before. We have shown that this kind of remote working will have a permanent role in our communities and supplement the long term teaching of both L
ittle Ilford Baptist Church and East London Textile Arts.