Featured image: A large Weekender Carpet Bag made in Tracey Christie’s Nottingham Workshop
This large travel bag features a twist bag lock, a flat semi solid bag base with feet, riveted hand crafted carry handles with strap end caps, a detachable and adjustable hand crafted shoulder strap, and a spring loaded frame.
Above: from local comp to retail, charity shop guru in training and development to self taught maker (with help from her local bespoke upholsterer maker friends from school), Tracey Christie.
Hooray for local people who want to stay true to their roots and give something back.
People, like Tracey who as a mature maker in business want to find a way to say, for example: I was brought up in Hucknall, know it and was educated at the National Comprehensive.
What people don’t realise when they hear the reviled Toby Young’s free school 21st century version of his father Michael Young’s 20th century campaign for comprehensive education, is that when really wonderful things like sharing knowledge, learning and making are taken away from local communities and repackaged like pharmaceuticals that only create addiction then something goes wrong for our wider culture.
What we don’t often credit (and we really need to), is how valuable the comprehensive school system was in the range of subjects studied, the way the old 11 plus golden ticket grammar and more populist world studies, creative arts and PE (including dance, hockey, netball, tennis, running, hurdles, rowing, canoeing, javelin) creative curricula came together and worked. Everyone had a seat in a view of the world that they could shape.
And comprehensives were just like the world only a little bit safer, more at arm’s length. Every type of person and subject was represented there as was also the lack of access, resources and prejudices of the wider world.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s what we have now: a conscious cutting off of some groups of society to ever connecting, ever contributing, ever becoming independent. They’re prey, really.
It’s when you don’t know what you don’t know and are in a culture where you’re either underprivileged to go bad and wrong and overprivileged to go right and good that we need to reconsider how we teach, learn and reward.
Even though many comprehensives and council estates were under-resourced and under all kinds of pressures, talking to Tracey about leaving school, careers advice and her first jobs in a newsagent then to WHSmith, I realised that she’d really benefitted from being at a comp. She had absorbed a sense of wonder, curiosity and desire to learn that wouldn’t accept rejection because at some deep level, she’d absorbed a sense that she had to find out for herself and she had a right to do that.
We need to bring that back in the kinds of relationships local people have with education, training and learning skills providers. At the moment we have an education, training and skills economy that seems to perpetuate the wide gaps between owners of successful businesses, small, medium and large, the rentier earning sector, professional people and the gig and gang labour economies that are feeding this ‘success’.
We need to understand how looking at the local landscape and micro climate on our own doorstep with different eyes to see what might grow, nurture and develop. Knowledge holders and power brokers need to accept that their position doesn’t depend on pretending that they know everything and everyone but that learning, curiosity and innovation are themselves inclusionary activities.
There are thousands of micro and small businesses in Nottingham that are sometimes visible, (think of the markets, outdoor, indoor), farmers, makers, bakers, creative, craft markets, think of all the invisible businesses: services and get to know them, visualise them, have conversations with them.
At the moment we’re in the habit of accepting the council’s well meaning austerity approach to paying the business rate through using the energy and vibrant enthusiasm of independent businesses as marketing to bring the big corporates and landlords into the city to pay the business rate. We need to challenge that and the way we do that is to humanise everyone. We’re not objects, we’re not transactions. We have great intrinsic worth.
Think of the city, the country as you, your friend, your family, with a right to make a living and think about how we could be nurturing the growth of these businesses.
The intergenerational gap between perpetual yobbish teenager Toby Young and Michael Young, his idealistic father between ‘Free Schools’ and ‘Comprehensive Schools’ is exactly the problem we have in our education, training and skills delivery. Children are dying psychologically, socially and emotionally. But then so are adults.
Universities, schools, colleges and training organisations need to take more account of the skills, experience and histories that are in the local community, the local culture, the local history, the local economies that they’re currently blind to, or only just getting the right specs to be able to see and value.
The uniqueness of personal experience should matter to organisations involved in the production of knowledge and products. We need new kinds of businesses and creative jobs that can be the bridge to help us transition away from exploitative prey dementia capitalism with all its dodgy algorhythms.
Having practical experience isn’t a knowledge deficit, learning and training should be robust enough to cope with learner’s needs and life demands. Often courses and learning can’t respond to the needs of the differences in one family, one work place. The changes we need are in the way we reduce repetitious tick box bureaucracy, compliance and increase trust and openness and new ways of living, thinking, relating and solving problems.
Tracey worked for employers who fast tracked graduates over employees with many years of experience and have then lost those great employees because of the cultural divide between grads and non grads that affects everyone’s motivation and capacity.
I think that the divide can be bridged by enlightened learning opportunities where experienced people can share (and learn) with graduates, professionals and technicians.
Hucknall has a real tradition of self help, improvement and collective responsibility through a history of weaving, agriculture and coal mining. What it always needed, still needs forty years after the mines closed, is capacity building.
Tracey didn’t have great careers advice, had to go to work and worked through thick and thin in retail, (companies like WH Smith and Debenhams, for example) then moved into shop management and training in the charity sector because she wanted to do something worthwhile with that retail knowledge, skills and experience.
In the charity sector the problem of running a highly profitable retail business which accrues property assets while being rate and vat free in many areas and dependant on volunteers and community goodwill is wrong and one which local communities will increasingly confront charities with in the next few years.
Charities have to work to engage with creating new jobs, regeneration and the local economy they’re in, to visibly make themselves and their cause redundant, re-distributing their assets and challenging the need/greed ethos.
If the charity shop window and stock had to include 60 percent local makers, they could share the rate and vat subsidy as co-producers with micro businesses that need to grow.
If the relationship between the makers and the charity could grow meaningfully with great training about products, supply chains, employment and capacity building then you’d have a much more dynamic economic ground locally. It would and could make much more sense and give a sense of local, regional and international purpose.
At the moment charity shops are toxic places that are abused by other subsidised charities and organisations paid to keep people occupied and downtrodden rather than developing their ability to be independent and creative.
Tracey’s story is a really interesting one. She gives credit to everyone who’s helped her:
A Career In A Poem
Hucknall comp girl does creative arts
makes a dress (YUK it’s awful)
Last year at school, careers advice (get a job, retail)
customers, products, colleagues, challenges, learning, training
disconnection between status and shopfloor experience
I can do more (I’m sure)
I want to
Give more/learn more/be more
Retail skills needed charity shop
I can do that
And I did/did/did/did: running the shop/recruiting/training/getting donors/donations….
Nothing tastes like success feels….Yay!
the charity shop is just a place to make money/takes more from the community than it gives…
without the right infrastructure it buckles under the weight
of an increasingly divided society….
I don’t want to be harmed here/I can do more/ I will show you that I can do more
I can sew: can I also ask Andy
from Room Full of Butterflies, local creative inspiration, what can you sell in your shop?
‘You know, Tracey, if you could make carpet bags (tweed satchel cross body), I could sell them….’
Up for a challenge.
Found the amazing Lisa Lam
A bag designer
bought a pattern from her
using a tubular frame
made a bag handle for Andy who said
‘I want a much larger one, a bigger bag’
Tracey took the pattern and ‘graded’ it (sized it up)
The first pattern 12 inch….
….16 inch frame
Made a few samples,
Andy loved them
-found different fabrics
-made them into bags
-taught herself how to put them online
Now pays someone for e-commerce and domain…
and in Andy’s shop…
Steeds UpholsteryTracey’s best friend Kevin and her friend Bob used to work together at Steeds…
Bob set up his own upholstery business Kaya in Long Eaton: bespoke upholstery and helped with fabric offcuts
helped with sourcing fabrics: Abraham Moon
Tracey works brilliant haberdashery company ten minutes from Bags of Elegance in Arnold:
It’s impossible to give credit to everyone but she tries!
She could be teaching in a university, college, school near you soon, who knows?