If there was ever an example of what people-power can achieve it's in this guest blog by Niki Cardwell, who helped to organise and network with thousands of crafters across the UK to make items needed by wildlife rescues in Australia that were inundated with sick and injured wildlife following the horrific bushfires.
It all started on Saturday 4th January. I logged onto Facebook and saw a post on one of the crafting groups that I’m part of. It was a link to the ARC Craft Guild with a post calling for crafters to help produce bespoke knitted, crocheted and stitched items to help treat the animals which had survived the Australian bushfires. I joined the group, and had a look at the patterns for the kind of things they needed. I was pretty sure that I could make quite a few of them so I posted on the page asking if we in the UK could do anything, if there was anywhere we could send direct donations to and generally what was needed most.
Within minutes, there were hundreds of replies, lots of them from people here wanting to help too. Among the responses was a link to a post saying there was a UK collection point with an address. I tracked down contact information for the collection point and messaged them to check that they genuinely were a collection point and to make sure it was ok to share the information. I then went back onto Facebook and suggested setting up a UK page to coordinate what people were doing here. I thought we might get a couple of hundred crafters and we could chat about what we were doing, and I would eventually drive up to the drop off point with a few things I’d made and collect a couple of other bits en route from anyone else who lived near me. Job done. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I set up the page at 10pm on that Saturday night and it just exploded. Within minutes there were dozens of requests to join the page. It was utterly overwhelming. Luckily a couple of people instantly offered to help admin the page and we started to get organised. We decided to limit membership to just British crafters – we were there to facilitate British crafters getting the things they made to Australia and nothing more. By midnight, we had two thousand members and it became clear that the response was going to be huge and that the one drop off point wasn’t going to be enough.
Over the next couple of days we got organised. We increased the team of admins and started putting together a list of hubs and drop off points all over the country. At this stage, we didn’t know how were going to get everything to Australia. I knew that the size of the response was so huge that we could probably become quite a force if we galvanised our members on social media and lobbied the airlines to help. I set up a twitter account under the name UK Crafters United and started tweeting everyone and anyone and promoted it on the Facebook page. We started to get members suggesting companies who might help, and some who were travelling to Australia offered us suitcase spaces to take stuff over. Our first flyers started taking makes out within days. It was the start of a steady stream of travellers helping us.
It didn’t take long before the social media campaign on Twitter and Instagram started to work. Virgin were the first airline to offer to help, quickly followed by BA. We were also approached by Bentley who said their racing team wanted to do something. We’d also attracted the attention of the media both locally and nationally. We encouraged members to do interviews, organised get togethers and events and generally talk about what they were doing as much as possible. I figured that the more publicity we got, the easier it would be to lobby companies to help.
Seven days after we launched the page, we decided to temporarily close to new members to give everyone a break. We had more than 20-thousand members, and we were all exhausted. However, no matter how hard it had been for us, the Australian side of things was finding it even harder. They were totally overwhelmed by the international response and were getting concerned that they wouldn’t be able to keep track of what was being sent. So in consultation with the ARC Craft Guild and all the associated groups, we announced a stocktake. It gave crafters a couple of weeks to finish what they were making and get it to their local hub by the 25th January. Then we would have a count up. The Australians were doing the same, and it gave them chance to see what they already had and assess what was needed and where.
Over the next couple of weeks, crafters all over the country made thousands of nests, pouches, liners and bags, and started getting them to their local hubs and drop offs. Our flyers took as much as they could with them, some taking extra bags and suitcases; as did the Bentley drivers and the Great Britain Hockey teams when they flew out. A team of vets from Longleat Safari Park who were going to help on Kangaroo Island, also took out several boxes of makes for us.
By the time the hubs had closed, the situation in Australia had become clearer and we had identified quite a few areas where the items we had made were needed. Two days later, our first major export of twenty 20kg boxes went to Heathrow Airport and was flown out to Melbourne where it was collected by two ARC volunteers who delivered each box to the animal charities who had requested them.
We also found that there were a few items that we did not have enough of anywhere in the country, so a couple of groups were asked to produce more in preparation for the next two big flights. Over the next two weeks, we started moving stock from all the hubs to a couple of places so that we could box everything up according to the orders. First of all there was another thirty boxes again flying with Virgin to Sydney, but this time would be split up and flown on to Perth, Adeleide and Townsville. Then there was our biggest load. BA had offered us an entire freight container. At the time I hadn’t thought we would fill it, but in the end we came pretty close. Eighty five boxes, stuffed with handmade items from all over the country. In total, we have sent more than three tonnes of items made by British crafters to animal charities all over Australia. That’s a lot of fabric and wool.
This was a real team effort. Lots of people were involved at every level and at every stage of the process and without all of them, none of this would have been possible. I have never seen anything like this before; I’ve certainly never been part of anything like it. As a journalist (I’m a BBC newsreader) you tend to see too much of the bad things that happen in this world, but this was an illustration of the good things the human beings can achieve.
I didn’t get to do any crafting at all for this project, but I kind of figured that my efforts were better spent organising, negotiating, lobbying and overseeing. However, I know that every one of the thousands and thousands of items that passed through my hands as it was boxed up for Australia was crafted with love, care and great skill.
As crafters, too often we are dismissed as a bunch of grannies sitting in the corner making things that are slightly naff. Our work is undervalued at craft fayres and nobody appreciates how much time and effort goes into making things. But this project disproved every single one of those hideous stereotypes. We’re not a bunch of grannies – Ellie who ran our instagram account is 18 and countless young people went out of their way to learn to knit or crochet so they could contribute. We also had old and young male knitters and sewing machinists, and a contribution from inmates at a men's jail.
The one question I get asked more than anything is why did this appeal get such a big response (we had 25-thousand members at one point)? Nobody thinks of their ability to stitch or knit as a superpower, but it really is. There aren’t that many people that can do what we can do. This campaign was like a clarion call. Somebody said – we need you, we need your skills, we need something that only you can make. And when you put it that way, why would anyone not want to be involved?
Images: kangaroo rushing past a burning house- courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/brucedetorres/49352689768/; koala image courtesy of dayamay from Pixabay. All other images are taken from the UK Crafters United twitter stream.
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