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Bringing Creativity Home - by Tim Crabtree

building a bench in brazil

Just back from Brazil, Tim Crabtree talks about a project between Schumacher College and the Brazilian Institute of Community Studies and Support (IBEAC), to provide carpentry skills and encourage social enterprise for woman and young people. 

Using the skills of Alice Blogg, a Somerset based designer (pictured left), it is a partnership that is already having an impact on the whole community.

In early November, I flew to Brazil on a Scoping Visit, funded by the British Council’s Developing Creative and Inclusive Economies (DICE) programme. This provides grants to intermediary organisations which support the development of creative and social enterprises.
 
The Fund focuses on supporting enterprises to empower women and girls; foster youth employment; and promote disabled people’s other marginalised groups’ inclusion and economic empowerment.

This was my third visit to Brazil – the two previous trips were funded by the British Council’s Newton Fund. In each case I have been hosted by an amazing Brazilian NGO, IBEAC (http://www.ibeac.org.br), which supports low income communities in Sao Paulo and elsewhere in Brazil.

Given my previous experience creating and managing a social enterprise called Local Food Links Ltd, which developed a range of initiatives including a large scale hot meals service for 25 schools, I was asked to provide advice and technical support to a co-operative of family farmers seeking to add value to their crops.
 

The co-op is located in a peripheral neighbourhood called Parelheiros, a very low income area in the south of Sao Paulo. There are 150,000 residents, spread across 5 neighbourhoods. Income and employment levels are low and in many ways life for the majority of residents is challenging, particularly women and young people.

During my last visit, I learned of proposals being developed by members of the community to create a women’s carpentry and construction co-operative and an associated makerspace. IBEAC has established that there is significant interest in the creation of a social enterprise providing training and employment for women and young people in the area - the focus would be on construction, interior improvements (including for the homes of single mothers), joinery products and artisanal products created from local timber.
      

We felt that this was an ideal project to submit for a DICE grant and so Schumacher and IBEAC submitted a first stage application for a Scoping Visit – this then would allow us to develop the larger second stage Collaboration Grant application.

Having secured the Scoping Visit grant, we then decided that rather than just hold more meetings, it would be ideal if a Dorset designer-maker, Alice Blogg, could also visit Brazil to facilitate a prototype carpentry workshop with women and young people in Parelheiros.

The aim would be to explore facilities and equipment, the sourcing of local materials and ideas for products – drawing on Alice’s knowledge and experience but also working with local community groups and crafts-persons from Parelheiros. This would then provide a platform for a subsequent bid for a larger DICE Grant.

We first flew to Belo Horizonte, a city of 3 million, 600km north of Sao Paulo, to meet with three young women architects who had set up a project called Architecture on the Periphery (www.arquiteturanaperiferia.com.br ).

They work with women in favela (“irregular” settlements on occupied land), empowering them to create or refurbish their own homes. The women learn how to draw up the plans for their houses, and are taught the skills to build walls, lay tiles, install toilets, by other women who are masters in the trade.

They are empowering women to understand the design and architectural process, to calculate their own materials, to build their own home and most importantly to be proud of the place they live in and have created. It was an extremely inspirational visit – seeing the increased confidence and self-esteem which the women had developed as a result of the skills they had learned, as well as the practical improvements they had made to their lives. 
 
Our colleagues from IBEAC, Claudia and Vera, accompanied us and have asked the women from Architecture on the Periphery to come down to Parelheiros to share their experience of developing construction programmes, if the next stage British Council grant is awarded.

After our visit to Belo we flew down to Sao Paulo, and soon found ourselves in Parelheiros, meeting old friends from my previous visits. Women from the community had looked at pictures of Alice’s work on her website, and were particularly struck by the image of a bench she had made for Bridport’s Literary and Scientific Institute.

They asked if they could make something on similar lines, so Alice designed a set of 5 stools that could be put together into a semi-circular bench. This adaptation of designs by British makers is a key element of our proposed UK – Brazil partnership.

The challenge then was finding the wood and a place to work. Just a short time before we arrived, our partners at IBEAC discovered a timber workshop in Parelheiros that was set up by another NGO, the Instituto de Tecnologia Social (ITS), in 2009. It is currently underused due to funding issues, so they were keen to be involved. The co-ordinator, a young local man of 27 called Samuel, also found a supply of old wooden boxes that could be the source of recycled timber.

Alice and Samuel met the day before the workshop to plan everything out, and we left feeling optimistic that the bench could be completed the next day.

We then visited the community centre run by Centro Popular de Cultura e Desenvolvimento (CPCD) in Vargem Grande, one of the neighbourhoods in Parelheiros, to meet with the women and young people who would be taking part in the workshop the next day.

We had lunch made by the women of the Amara Kitchen project, who would also be providing the food at the workshop.
On the day of the workshop there was a mixture of anticipation and concern – there was a great deal of work needed to complete the 5 stools in one day, with women and young people who had no experience.

Luckily, a couple of people from the community volunteered to help, and Samuel was also able to draw on the experience of two assistants. So now we had 5 groups of 3 or 4 people, and after a breakfast snack everyone got down to work.

At the end of the workshop, the participants made up paint made from the local soils, and the “bench” was complete:

It was a really inspiring day – everyone worked incredibly hard and loved the final bench. The decoration using local paints was the perfect finishing touch.

We have called the project that has emerged from the DICE Scoping visit “Bringing Creativity Home”. Of course, there is the potential for new construction and carpentry social enterprises to find customers in more affluent parts of the city, but it is just as important to help women and young people to use their new skills to improve their own homes and neighbourhoods.

It is hoped that this is just the beginning of a programme that can evolve and support our friends in Belo Horizonte and Sao Paulo.

For further information, contact: tim.crabtree@schumachercollege.org.uk