Alec Charles is Manager of the Cattle Market Makers Project in Liskeard, Cornwall. Here he describes the exciting strides being made to transform the former cattle market site, support the local creative and maker communities and raise the profile of Liskeard as a destination on the region’s creative map.
Handcrafted in Cornwall
In recent years the words ‘handcrafted in Cornwall’ have become synonymous with fairly priced, high-quality products. The arts and crafts of England’s most south-westerly county have a well-deserved reputation for their extraordinary character, reflective of the beautiful and unspoilt landscapes and seascapes which nature has gifted the region, a great culture of place, honed by its unique geography and by its centuries of proud heritage.
“Liskeard suffered a blow when, after a long period of decline, the cattle market closed in 2017 … but, today, an energy is returning!”
The lovely little market town of Liskeard in the south-east of the county is home to some of Cornwall’s finest arts and crafts talents. Though Liskeard has perhaps lacked the immediate glamour of coastal resorts such as St Ives, the town has for many years enjoyed a lively community of independent retailers and hospitality venues. Located right at the heart of the town and the wider rural community, Liskeard cattle market had been a cornerstone of the local economy since at least as far back as the thirteenth century. But Liskeard suffered a blow when, after a long period of decline, the cattle market closed in 2017. Much of the site – apart from a few small businesses – has lain empty since the closure.
Energy is returning
But, today, an energy is returning to the old cattle market site, under the aegis of a regeneration masterplan driven and developed by Cornwall Council, with the support of internationally renowned placemaking consultants JTP who ran wide-reaching community engagement , including a co-design Charrette, in Spring 2019.
In line with the priorities identified by local people, the site will include a major new building (currently under construction) to be called “Workshed” providing workspaces for creative and digital businesses, a new covered market/events area and enhanced community facilities.
The site will also feature a complex of studio spaces with tenancies open to local artists and craftspeople, as well as a hi-tech fabrication laboratory to be equipped with the support of Plymouth College of Art (based on the model of their own highly successful ‘Fab Lab’), and a ‘messy space’ to provide a hireable studio for local makers in such media as paint and ceramics.
This new facility, which is due to open towards the end of summer 2022, will also be the home of a major local project called Market Makers, launched in November 2021, and designed to deploy engagement in the arts to promote social inclusion and social mobility for individuals and to support the economic and cultural regeneration for the town.
The Market Makers Project is managed by Liskeard Town Council and supported by Cornwall Council, Community Led Local Development and the European Structural and Investment Fund.
“Our project is simply working to help Liskeard gain its well-deserved place as a go-to destination on the region’s creative map.”
Through 2022, Covid rules permitting, we will be delivering a series of after-school sessions in arts and crafts skills for children and parents/carers at two local primary schools. Starting in early 2022, we will also be providing courses in arts and crafts for local residents currently not in work. These courses – in such areas as woodcrafting, print-making, fabric work and watercolours – are designed to enhance participants’ wellbeing, confidence, skills and prospects in employment and education. It is envisaged that some participants will continue in education and training; some will have developed the confidence and transferable skills to enter or re-enter the world of work; and some will want to establish their own small arts and crafts businesses as creative entrepreneurs.
Our project team will work to mentor and support the development of these new entrepreneurs; and we hope that some of these fledgling businesses will eventually move into our new studio facility on the former Cattle Market site. We will also be mentoring and promoting more established local arts businesses. We’ve already started working with a range of brilliant local artists, craftspeople and creative enterprises, supporting their business development, establishing a network of mutual support, and promoting their work more widely as part of Liskeard’s Market Makers community. We’re talking with local enterprises about such concerns as pricing, marketing and promotion; about online content creation, retail opportunities and sales strategies; and about their longer-term business development and growth plans.
Such brilliant local makers as textile artist Adam Halls (of Circle Contemporary), ceramicist Raymond Toms, decorative artist Bibi Wilson, printmaker Sian Bush, multimedia artist Karen Burden, watercolourist Shari Hills, woodcrafter Philip Harwin, fabric crafter Jane Chidlow, doll-maker Faye Gray, puppet-maker Kellyann Horsburgh (@ItWasTheVoices), oil painter Ruth Marriott (aka Cornish-Art-with-Ruth), jewellery-maker Rachael Richardson (aka Rach Richardson Jewellery), soft furnishings expert Joanne Ballinger (aka Vardo Upholstery), upholsterer Debbie Mynott (aka the Cornish Pedlar) and designers Andy and Madeline Hall (aka Design Punch) are amongst those who have stepped forward to lend their support to our initiative to create a local business network for such creative talents.
We’re also very pleased to be engaged in exciting conversations about potential collaborations with the highly regarded Sterts Theatre and Liskeard Museum, and are working in cooperation with a range of other organisations and initiatives serving the local communities, including a number of adult day care facilities, Liskeard’s Lighthouse Centre and Food Bank, the Job Centre, the Salvation Army and the Methodist Church, the Liskerrett Community Centre, Adult Education Services, the Real Ideas Organisation, Pluss Health Works, the veterans charity Battling On, the social project Liskeard Together and Arts Well, the regional partnership of social prescribers – as well as with the friendly support of many local businesses. We’ve also of course been very grateful for the support of local media, in particular the Cornish Times and BBC Radio Cornwall.
In addition to the traditional media, and our use of social media channels (Facebook/Instagram: @cattlemarketmakers; Twitter: @CMMproject), we have also reached out to our core audiences by leafletting thousands of households in our target areas. We strongly recommend this strategy as it may be the only way to make contact with some constituents. It’s also an excellent way to learn more about the parts of your own neighbourhood you might not know so well.
In early December 2021, we announced the first two enterprises which have formally signed up to our mentoring scheme. Both are small family businesses based in Liskeard’s eclectic Old Brewery complex.
Our first new enterprise partner was Pot Stars Studio (potstarsstudio.co.uk), run by husband-and-wife team Marlon and Tiffany Biddle. When Marlon was laid off during the first lockdown, the couple decided this was the right time to start their own independent venture. Their business makes ceramic painting kits for children. They sell these across the country from their own website, and also run pottery painting sessions for families from their facility in the Old Brewery (including for Christmas 2021 guest appearances from Santa Claus himself). “At the start of the first lockdown, our kids were constantly playing on their digital devices. We wanted to bring back some of those traditional craft activities for local families stuck at home to enjoy,” says Marlon. “Last Christmas, families sent us pictures of them all sat together, all around the country, painting their decorations from our kits,” adds Tiffany. “It felt so rewarding. That’s exactly what we’d hoped for when we started the business.”
Our second new partner DAK Art (https://www.facebook.com/dee.anna.knight.workshop/) produces a range of decorative glassware and resin and acrylic work – from high-end glass art inspired by the scenery of the Cornish coast to fun and affordable Christmas decorations, alongside a series of decorative gnomes which are, they say, “so cute they should be illegal”.
The business is run by mother and daughter Dee and Abi Knight. Dee was born in Poland and first came to the UK as a teenager to study and develop her skills in multimedia art. She has since made Britain her home, and moved to Cornwall a few years ago, in order to create work that reflects the county’s awe-inspiring landscapes. Dee’s daughter Abi has studied design at university and is now learning glass skills and helping to manage the business. “I love the beauty of Cornwall,” said Dee. “It’s so inspiring. You can sit and stare at the sea every day or look into the changing skies, and they’re always different. It just makes you want to create.”
Tip of the iceberg
These two growing businesses are just the tip of the iceberg. Our little town has a brilliant and ambitious arts and crafts community – and our project is simply working to help Liskeard gain its well-deserved place as a go-to destination on the region’s creative map – with the invaluable support, ideas and inspiration generously provided by the creativity, energy and enthusiasm of our wonderful local makers.