It’s been over 20 years since I’ve attempted any sort of creative endeavour, so I have to admit it’s with a little trepidation that I find myself approaching the screen printing equipment at Islington Mill in Salford.
Apron on, fabric in hand, I set about working on my very own print and before long I’m in my own world.
I might not know what I’m doing, but under the guidance of artist and maker Sally Gilford, I’m having a lovely time pressing paint through the screens and playing with shapes and colours.
It’s extremely relaxing as the focus is purely on what’s in front of you, not the to-do list that’s typically churning through my mind. The finished result might not be a masterpiece, but that’s not really the point.
“There’s no pressure, you can just be experimental, and often what goes wrong is what works best. The outcome’s always unexpected,” says Sally, who co-founded screen print specialists One69A after graduating from Manchester Metropolitan University just over a decade ago.
“It’s rare people will sit down and just do something for themselves for three hours, it’s not until you do it that you realise engaging in a creative activity makes you feel good. That’s at the core of what we do. We know how beneficial it is and we want to share that with people.”
Last year Sally founded Salford Makers, a community of artists, educators and makers based at the workshop at Islington Mill “with this idea of being able to work collaboratively”.
“A lot of us had been working as practitioners for between 5 and 10 years each, and I wanted to formalise that and do something where we’re all working together. It’s just a really nice environment,” explains Sally.
The artists work individually and together on commissions and design projects, as well as host public workshops for beginners through to experts at the fully operating studio.
Now they get to showcase their work, including textiles, lighting, ceramics, jewellery, clothing and accessories, at a new pop-up shop called SHOP they’ve opened just around the corner from the Mill.
“If you’ve never been to the Mill before you might not realise what’s here and that was a bit of a challenge,” says Sally.
“We wanted people to know a bit more about who we are and to connect with local people so to have this space has enabled us to do that, as well as showcase our artwork and products.”
For the next six months they’re occupying what was the sales office for The English Cities Fund’s residential development.
“Salford is a vibrant and exciting and we want to help its thriving community of artists and makers meet Salford residents who perhaps weren’t previously aware of Islington Mill or its tenants,” says Vicky May, Senior sales and marketing co-ordinator at The English Cities Fund.
“Rather than leave our sales office sitting dormant while we prepare for our next development to launch, we thought it was the perfect opportunity to provide the Salford Makers with a space to sell their wares from.”
Location was always going to be key and Sally describes the SHOP’s Chapel Street address “as perfect”.
“One of our main challenges as a collective is being able to connect and reach out to the local and wider community, the development of this new space will help us to overcome that hurdle.
“We want it to be inclusive, to have a cup of tea with locals and find out what people think of the mill, and what their perception of it is. It’s just a great way to have a direct link to the community.”
The timing couldn’t be better either given it’s the run-up to Christmas.
“The work we make is one-off, you won’t find it anywhere else. They’re really well-made, design-led, high quality products that aren’t mass produced. And it’s affordable too,” says Sally.
“Me and Julia (of jewellery brand Wonderhaus) were unpacking everything that people had made for the shop and it felt like Christmas Day. We’re surrounded by really creative, talented people.”
Following the workshops and courses, and the shop opening, the next step for the Salford Makers is to develop a social enterprise project in the new year.
“We want to encourage the development of new skills and skill-sharing to support wellness and positivity, and work closing with the local community and partners,” says Sally.
“We’re at the centre of what’s going to be a huge development and we want to retain that hub of creativity, somewhere that people can engage with creativity and connect with each other.”
SHOP’s located at 311-313 Chapel Street and is open Wednesday to Friday 11am-7pm; Saturday 11am-6pm and Sunday 11am-5pm.