It’s quite a long time still to Christmas it seems to me. In the world of retail however, November is always keen to hi-jack December in the Christmas Shopping race, getting off the starting blocks early to compete for the festive pound. Allendale Forge are keen that way, and have their Christmas fair nice and early in November. Allendale Forge is a small co-operative group of volunteers, producers, artists and makers promoting small businesses in Northumberland at the Allendale Forge Studios Art and Craft Centre. It was formerly a 17th Century Blacksmith’s Forge and is now an example of how small scale enterprise can keep rural communities viable in our recession hit doom and gloom country. Local crafts people get the chance to display their wares and demonstrate with fun workshops the heritage of crafting skills from felt making and glass work, to hooky and proggy mat making, photography and design.
A hungry cyclist stops by
The Forge is situated in Allendale in the Allen Valley, Northumberland, an area rich in history. Hadrian’s Wall is just around the corner There are twelve working studios, a small thriving café, art gallery and shop. It’s real heart to a small rural village in our least populated county and the annual Christmas Craft fair was in full swing when I turned up having driven through the stunning countryside with leaves turning red and gold and the occasional rainbow to add just a little bit of magic to a beautiful English Autumn Day.
Afternoon art tea
Chatting with some of the local craftspeople exhibiting, I was curious to know what brought them here. Will Dawes is a local wildlife photographer who wanted to make something different with his beautiful images. His day job is actually as a Development Manager for Tommy Tippee where he comes up with design ideas for baby bottles and breast pumps. An unusual role. His wares today however show off his stunning photographs of birds and wildlife off by featuring them on pretty tea light holders, cards and pictures. Two Puffin pictures were his first sale at his first ever craft fair.
Reindeer lighting solutions
Olivers is a new venture for Tony Armstrong who has been running his business making high quality hand crafted wooden products for just six months. Using Elm, Beech, Sycamore and other woods, Tony – who was previously a Newcastle builder- makes chopping boards, platters, tea light holders, coat racks and also takes commissions. ‘Why Oliver’s?’ I asked expecting a meaningful explanation ‘Well it sounds better!’ he replied ‘Tony’s sounds like an ice cream man.’ Fair point. He even had crafted a Baguette board which is new one to me, but apparently that was just because that was the shape of the piece of wood that was left. I loved his stripey multi- wood chopping board but it did seem a bit too nice just for chopping your onions on.
Tony (aka Oliver)
Sarah Harper just loves making cakes and it shows in her enthusiasm. Recently moving back to Allendale as she wants her kids to grow up here, like many of the crafts folk, Sarah’s business started off as something she did for friends and family and grew into something she could do for a living. Facebook, she said, gave her the opportunity to show off her cakes for free. The Internet and social media has made a big difference to small operators trying to promote their wares. Sarah operates on the philosophy that absolutely anything is possible and loves the challenge that comes with making her quirky creations. Let them eat cake.
Barbara Anderson is a painter and illustrator with a love of vintage and the 1950’s. A big fan of fashion icons Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe, they appear in much of her work combined with her love
of vintage maps. Audrey Hepburn’s dress features a map of Allendale, or you can have a Geordie Audrey featuring a map of Newcastle. Chatting to the crafts people they explained that there was a lot more competition now in the market place than say five or ten years ago so you really have to love what you are doing. ‘You have to be prepared to take a risk and go without money!’ said one lady. ‘It’s better to work for yourself if you can – it’s more of a life.’
In between buying your Christmas presents and having your lunch you could also have your future told by Tarot cards, £10 for ten minutes or £20 for twenty minutes. I’m not sure this quite qualifies as a local craft or whether you get twice the fortune for twice the money, but it was certainly proving popular with a constant stream of customers wanting to know what was in store for them next while out for this particular Sunday outing. Northumberland is one of the least visited and yet most beautiful places in England. If you’re anywhere near the A69, pop in to the Forge, you’ll be made very welcome.