A SHARED passion for yarn has inspired three women to create a social enterprise that is helping hundreds of people across the north to improve their mental health and wellbeing.
Inspiring Yarns (www.inspiringyarns.co.uk), based at Ards Business Hub, was formed nearly three years ago by Claire Anketell, Tracey Whitehead and Janice Moore, who noticed the beneficial impact of knitting and crocheting with others.
“The pandemic really showed us the devastating impact of social isolation. As soon as the lockdowns were over, we wanted to come together to create something and be together with people,” Claire said.
Their shared desire to help others with mental health conditions comes from their own lived experiences. All three have experienced a mental health condition and know first-hand the positive impacts knitting and crochet had for them.
“I had been working in an incredibly stressful job and was feeling totally overwhelmed. I developed general anxiety disorder and I felt that if I could do something that helped even one person in a similar situation, it would be worth it,” Claire added.
The personal experiences of the partners led them to start the Yarn Together series of free workshops across Northern Ireland geared to three different groups - carers, people with mental health issues and those going through the menopause.
“This is a softer approach, not a medical intervention. We want people to walk out of the workshops feeling better than when they came in,” she added.
Claire explains that knitting and crocheting skills can have a meditative effect for some people.
“Working with your hands to create something is relaxing but on top of that, you also need to focus, whether that’s counting stitches or creating a pattern or getting absorbed in the colour scheme. Your mind is less likely to wander and you can’t ruminate on other things so the intrusive thoughts are drowned out.”
Yarn for Mental Health, supported by the Public Health Agency through the Clear Project, is for anyone experiencing symptoms of anxiety, depression or stress and would like to learn to crochet or knit.
One of the first participants on the initial programme run by Inspiring Yarns in 2021 was Valerie Robinson, who joined the course after battling with her mental health.
She explained that her condition had been getting worse for several years and things had become quite serious, preventing her from leaving the house for an entire year prior to joining the group.
It took courage for her to take those first steps to attending the Yarn for Mental Health group but it has now changed her life.
She said: “I was frightened when I first went but everyone was so welcoming and the atmosphere is relaxed. There’s no pressure so you can talk if you want to. The teacher allows you to work at your own pace as well. I had never crocheted before and I love this new skill. It’s a tool that helps me relax.”
Valerie is now on the social enterprise’s steering committee and will help them develop and plan new projects.
Inspiring Yarns runs a number of other courses as well for carers and for people going through the menopause.
Self-Care for Carers, a pilot project funded by the Community Foundation NI, delivers in-person yarn craft groups across Northern Ireland with additional Zoom support sessions for participants to include support on developing self-advocacy, mindfulness practices to support mental health and well-being, and online yarn craft and chat. There are guest speakers on benefits and local supports.
The self-care and menopause groups include in-person crochet and knitting workshops along with online mental health sessions led by Becky Andrews of Serenity and Sage who went through an early menopause and talks about positive ways to approach life changes.
Both projects are funded by Public Health Agency through Elevate and the Clear Project and also by Bank of Ireland/Business for Arts through the Arts Together Fund.
“There’s still a stigma around menopause and this allows women to meet others in a really understanding, open space. Becky also shares her own experience with the women and looks at ways to thrive during this time,” Claire added.
Inspiring Yarns also holds twice weekly get togethers in their Ards Business Hub base for a small fee. People can bring a yarn project of whatever type – crocheting, knitting, spinning etc - and have a chance to meet others, share skills, or just relax and enjoy time working on a project over a cup of tea.
Nichola Lockhart, chief executive of Ards Business Hub, said it was wonderful to have workshops like this on the business park.
She said: “Ards Business Hub is also a social enterprise so are delighted that Inspiring Yarns chose to locate in Strangford Park. They reinvest all their profits from sales in the shop back into the work they are doing in the community.”