Spending time with Phiona Richards, 61, and 63-year-old Carole Miles is like being bathed in a wave of warmth, humour and creativity. So it’s no wonder that the pair – known as The Eloquent Fold – have brought so much joy to women over 50 in Corby, Northants.
Their latest project, Pebble In My Pocket, is supported by funds raised through The Health Lottery. Every fortnight up to 20 women meet in Corby Library and the Paletto Lounge over the road, where they commandeer a table and many teapots. A sharing of papier mâché, sewing and printmaking are also on the menu.
“Wherever you find us, you’ll find copious amounts of laughter and heaps of conversation,” says Phiona. “When we’re in the library, we see heads popping up over the bookshelves to see what we’re doing, as the atmosphere is very buoyant.”
The duo have worked hard to bring women back together after lockdown as there was an overwhelming feeling in the community that they’d missed having the opportunity to meet socially – leaving many feeling nervous taking their first steps back into the world.
“All our projects are about bringing people together, trying to encourage new people to join the fold. With Pebble In My Pocket, we’re giving them tasters of creativity,” says Phiona.
“We drill down to find out what people really enjoy,” says Carole. “Continuity is really important. You can throw out a million one-day workshops, but what’s lovely about this project is we’re offering something long-term. One of the first things we did was printmaking.
“Everybody printed their own pebble, then we cut them up and I asked the group to imagine they were designing a shirt with a pocket – and in that would be a pebble. Now we’re printing them onto fabric and they’ll be sewing and embellishing them.”
The feedback they’ve had makes it all worthwhile. “You see people change and that’s very powerful,” says Carole. “One woman told us she felt like she’d lost herself, but being with the group and chatting made her feel less lonely and it really has helped her mental health.”
“Another lady who has to really push herself to go out had been under social prescribing [where GPs can recommend activities to boost emotional health and wellbeing] took me to one side and said people had seen a difference in her,” says Phiona.
“Elaine, who’s a regular, comes and gives me a hug and when we’re working I’ll hear her say: ‘Oh the joy!’ Socialising for women who have similar interests is so good for mental health and our group is determined to be seen and heard.”
Taking part in the project helps the participants to do just that – and they bring with them so much life experience to inspire others. They’re also unafraid to rail against stereotypes of older women.
“In some cases our packaging looks a little shop-worn, but inside is this huge wealth of life experience and stories. One of our regulars is a lady with a grey bun, but she was a biker chick who rode all around France,” says Carole.
“Once, when we were working on a different project, a company suggested putting on tea dances. One lady responded by saying: ‘I can’t tell you how offended I am by that! It’s something my grandma would have done.’ We know that these are people who listened to Disco, Metallica, The Beatles and so forth, not Vera Lynn.”
The two-year project is supported by funds raised through The Health Lottery and both members of The Eloquent Fold, along with all their participants, are grateful to everyone who buys a ticket.
“It's huge. You can’t imagine the difference that it makes to people,” says Carole.
“You have something that’s regular and something that’s just for them. We feel like there’s faith in us to do something in the community that’s meaningful. It’s not just ‘Come along and do something nice,’ it’s much bigger than that.
“What we do isn’t coming from on high, it’s grass roots. We’re always encouraged to go back and ask the group what they want to do and if it feels like it belongs to them. And it does.”
“It’s ordinary people investing in ordinary people,” adds Phiona. “We can’t thank you enough.”
Eloquent Fold Factfile
The Eloquent Fold: Pebble In My Pocket
A two-year project in Corby, Northants to deliver creative sessions for women aged 50+ to reduce isolation and improve their well-being
Grant from funds raised through The Health Lottery: £35,610.00
Based at Corby Library
Activities include textile techniques and printmaking