Crafting Ripples of Change: Female victims of trauma empowered through jewellery making
At the SilverHub Studios in Leith, Edinburgh, a dragon is born from copper sheet metal and the deft strokes of a hammer. It hangs at the end of a fine chain, one detailed wing flared dramatically, craters on its serpentine body catching the light.
“For me, the dragon has always been something magical,” explains the pendant’s creator - a female jewellery student whose name and age we cannot divulge. “It’s my fiery companion - it provides me with protection, strength and courage. The different depths of hammered texture represent deep lessons and the impact they’ve had on my life.”
It’s not unusual for jewellers to convey messages or even tell stories through their choice of techniques, materials or symbols. For the women enrolled on the Flourish and Glow Programmes at SilverHub Studios, however, the creation of a piece is, in itself, fraught with meaning. It’s an exercise in healing, an act of empowerment and creative self-exploration that the Programme’s founders, jewellers Lisa Arnott and Jessica Howarth, hope will aid participants with recovery from past traumas; be that addiction to alcohol, drugs, or a history of homelessness or domestic abuse. “It’s an opportunity to think beyond just survival, to realise that education can be accomplished - and that’s really important,” Jessica explains.
This seems to be true for the creator of the dragon pendant, whose own history of trauma imbues the creative process with personal significance. "For me, the dragon is wrapped up in the human behaviour of flight or fight. In my life, I’ve been in a lot of situations when I’ve been in that mindset of, ‘what do I do?’ and I just close up and panic, and the dragon embodies that perfectly for me.”
For me, the dragon has always been something magical. It’s my fiery companion - it provides me with protection, strength and courage.
The Flourish Jewellery Project. Project Participant 2021 Photographer Shannon Tofts
Lisa Arnott founded the SilverHub in 2008, after recognising the need for a shared base for independent jewellers in Edinburgh - somewhere that would provide professional workshop space, training and support.
When independent jewellery designer Jessica joined the SilverHub as a tutor in 2015, the pair found instant common ground; both women’s careers are notable for their convergence of two key passions - jewellery making and community outreach. Lisa, also a professional jeweller, has been embroiled in arts-related community projects since graduating from Edinburgh College of Arts in 1992, whilst Jessica gained a Masters Degree in Adult Education Community Development and Youth Work at the University of Glasgow in 2019. Both Jessica and Lisa also suffer from dyslexia, something they each feel helped them empathise with groups facing challenges in accessing education.
It’s an opportunity to think beyond just survival, to realise that education can be accomplished - and that’s really important.
Silverhub Studios founders Lisa Arnott and Jessica Howarth
Whilst the SilverHub regularly provides jewellery short courses for adult learners of varying skill sets, and a one-year foundation course designed as a gateway to higher education, under the leadership of the two community-minded women, the jewellery school increasingly began to offer one-off training aimed at marginalised groups. “We started running workshops with a whole range of organisations - Young Careers, Veterans First, Women’s Zone, North Edinburgh Arts,” ventures Lisa.
When the pandemic hit in 2020 however, plunging the UK into the first of a steady succession of national lockdowns, community outreach was crystallised as a major priority for the Hub. Whilst few were left untouched by Covid-19, its effects were not uniform across society. For those already victim to domestic abuse, social deprivation, disability, addiction, or mental illness, the pandemic amplified the existing struggles of everyday life. Once relied upon public services vanished overnight, and vulnerable people were confined to their homes - safe from the virus, but at the mercy of isolation, poverty and violence. Between the months of April and June 2020, the Office for National Statistics reported a 65% increase in calls to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline.
Lisa and Jessica were acutely aware of this. “The pandemic threw everything up in the air, and conversations developed about how to creatively respond to the situation. Because we'd worked with lots of women's groups, we were very aware of the increase in domestic abuse and of traditional barriers being exacerbated through COVID. So, we decided to put in a funding application for a programme that would provide a lifeline to women in those situations."
You can speak with other people, which is sometimes hard for a second language person, and you make friendships here.
The Flourish Jewellery Project. Project Participant 2021 Photographer Shannon Tofts
The Glow Programme followed in February 2022, with significant funding provided by the Goldsmiths’ Company Charity in the form of an £11,600 grant. Facilitated by the Goldsmiths’ Centre, this contribution was made in recognition of the SilverHub’s remarkable success in breaking down barriers, providing once disenfranchised groups with access to craft, and changing lives in the process.
“I’m completely honoured that Goldsmiths’ are supporting the Glow Programme, it’s a badge of honour and I got quite emotional about it,” said Lisa of the funding.
That funding arrived in September 2020 in the form of £20,000 from the Creative Scotland Open Project Fund, and the Flourish Jewellery project was born. Twelve vulnerable women were referred by partner organisations North Edinburgh Arts, WomensZone and Four Square for an introduction to sawing, texturing, soldering, hammering and piercing out, with childcare and transportation also provided.
The programme culminated in an exhibition of the women’s work at Customs House, managed by the Scottish Buildings Trust. Among the pieces on display were the dragon pendant; an earrings and pendant set based on forget-me-not flowers, in memoriam of one student’s late grandmother, and a leaf pendant with gentle, rounded curves to represent the “curvy road” of life.
"With Flourish, rather than us doing little bits of community work, we were actually able to do it in a really concentrated manner, and funded a whole project for a whole year. Because we had existing relationships with those communities, and with the organisations, this project was the next stepping stone.”
It's changed my life, because I learned something just for me, and that's made me feel absolutely amazing.
The Flourish Jewellery Project, Project Participant 2021 Photographer Shannon Tofts
The Company’s sizable grant was subsequently matched by an anonymous donor, and supplemented with a further £5,000 from luxury jewellers Hamilton and Inches. This injection of funds enabled the Programme to accommodate an additional two students, bringing the total to 8 for this 32-week course, which is divided into four teaching blocks of ring and stone setting, etching, fly pressing and enamelling, and will result in an exhibition in 2023.
Once again, the project is aimed at women who have fallen victim to domestic abuse, homelessness or addiction, accommodating Flourish Programme alumni who showed a particular aptitude for jewellery-making.
At a time when they were most at risk, the Glow and Flourish Programmes have provided women with a means to explore their personal trauma, to realise their own creativity and skill, and perhaps most importantly of all, to connect with one another. The power of that cannot be overstated.
“It's changed my life, because I learned something just for me, and that's made me feel absolutely amazing. You come in here and you relax. You don't get stressed, you calm down and just enjoy your time. You can speak with other people, which is sometimes hard for a second language person, and you make friendships here.”
The Goldsmiths’ Centre is the UK’s leading charity for the professional training of goldsmiths. We support jewellers, silversmiths and the wider precious metal industry to improve skills and shape careers.
Thank you to all members of the Goldsmiths’ Company whose donations, via the Goldsmiths’ Company Charity 1327 Fund, have helped to contribute to many of the Goldsmiths' Centre's community engagement and new initiatives. This article first appeared in the Goldsmiths' Company's Annual Review.