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Hayley Banks goes to the Southwest: part one

The DN blog team is delighted to welcome a different voice to the blog: our hard-working and creative membership manager Hayley Banks, who is about to venture forth to Devon and Cornwall. Read on:

Hello! Hayley here, to talk to you about cluster hubs… and in particular our DN Cornwall & Devon hub.

As Design-Nation’s Membership Manager, a significant proportion of my work over the past year has been focused on our regional hubs, which is one the ways we ensure that members have access to a local support network. Although the introduction of these DN groups pre-dates Covid-19, the pandemic caused us to fast-track our plans to further develop this cluster network.  So we rolled out six new hubs in the spring of 2020, making a total of 14.

There are now clusters across the UK, including Scotland & Northern Ireland, Yorkshire, North West, South West & Wales, East Anglia, London, South Coast and several groups in the Midlands. These groups have been meeting regularly online throughout the past year; they’ve developed projects and exhibition ideas and investigated training opportunities. But most of all they have provided a vital peer support mechanism for creatives, at a time when that was so needed. One DN member described her local hub as a ‘lifeline’, without which she feels that she would’ve given up on her creative practice in 2020.

Today I’m telling you all about DN Cornwall & Devon, one of our newest and most active clusters, who hit the ground running from their very first group meeting in June 2020.

Let’s first rewind the clock. In 2019 Design-Nation had only three members in Cornwall and one in Devon. One of our Cornish members, metalsmith Alex O’Connor, had for some time been singing the praises of Cultivator Cornwall, who are providers of business support for creatives. So in late 2019 we had a conversation with Tonia Lu, Cultivator’s Creative Business Advisor for Visual Art & Craft, and she invited me to present on what Design-Nation does to a group of Cultivator clients in January 2020. So I packed my suitcase and set off on the long journey from Lincolnshire to Truro and Redruth, where I received a wonderfully warm welcome from Tonia and the Cultivator team, and met a selection of super talented, enthusiastic and downright lovely makers! We discussed the formation of a cluster in Cornwall and the opportunities that would bring and I travelled home feeling happy and inspired, and excitedly planning another trip in the Spring to make it all happen. Of course, we all know what happened next….

However, despite the pandemic, lockdown and travel restrictions, our membership in Cornwall grew quickly and we scheduled the first online meeting to bring everyone in the group together just over a year ago. We made the decision to name the group DN Cornwall & Devon to include the (now two) members in Devon, one of whom – ceramicist and sculptor Alison Shelton Brown – volunteered to coordinate the group, alongside her counterpart in Cornwall, Bridget Macklin, also a ceramicist.

Today there are 15 members of the group and they continue to meet on Zoom approximately twice a month. In addition to their group meetings, nine members developed an exhibition project entitled Time-Lapse that documents their experience as creatives during the pandemic. Time-Lapse opened at Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro on 17 May and has received a very positive reception. Some of these exhibitors are taking part in an exclusive event with our new partner Rue Pigalle on 16 July.

And the group hasn’t stopped there! Six of them will be taking part in Craft Festival in Bovey Tracey in September, exhibiting as a group under the name Design-Nation Cornwall & Devon. There are also plans for a Christmas selling show at Devon Guild of Craftsmen’s Riverside Gallery with exhibitors to be announced soon. And it won’t be long before the group’s thoughts and plans turn to 2022 and what they would like to achieve in their second year.

So now that restrictions have eased and I can travel again, I’m about to make the trip back to Cornwall that was postponed in spring 2020 –  and I can’t wait! Partly because it’s the first time I’ll be leaving Lincolnshire since last October and that in itself is making me a bit giddy, but also because I’m looking forward to visiting the exhibition, helping with the plans for Craft Festival and hearing about the Devon Guild show. But mostly it’s to catch up with the fabulous DN members that have given their time and energy and worked tirelessly to ‘make stuff happen’ for the group in the past year. Like most things that we’ve found ourselves dealing with over the past year, it has been a huge learning curve for the coordinators and members of the group. But I’m immensely proud and in awe of all they’ve achieved and there is much to celebrate. My visit coincides with the very first face-to-face meeting of the group which is cause to celebrate in itself! I will resist the urge to hug them all, we are after all still observing social distancing and Covid safety guidelines so that can wait for a future trip.

So my week in Design-Nation world is shaping up in an exciting way! After months of sitting in front of a laptop (sometimes in my pyjamas, I’m prepared to admit), I will be visiting galleries (including a quick visit to Devon Guild) and artists’ studios, seeing beautiful artworks ‘in real life’, conducting meetings in a physical space rather than online, and enjoying a long-awaited return to how my DN life was in previous times.

The past year has taught us an array of amazing new ways to conduct business online, showcase work digitally, deliver training and networking via Zoom, and we know that the resilience and adaptability of DN members has been amazing. There has been so much embracing of new technology and ways to connect with each other. But actually, you can’t beat meeting up with people in the same room (gallery or studio), having a cuppa together and discussing current and new work, exciting plans and crazy goals. Bring it on!

In part two of this blog there will be photographs and insight into my trip – watch this space.


The Cover Portrait of Hayley for this story was taken by Daisy Banks.

Alex O’Connor (silver), Susan Kinley (glass) & Carin Lindberg (jewellery).

Maxine Greer (textiles), Maria Andrews of Mala Jewellery Design & Alison Shelton Brown (ceramics/sculpture).

Lucy Spink (jewellery), Helen Easton (glass) & Bridget Macklin (ceramics). 

All portraits courtesy the artists.

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Liz Cooper


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