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Rag Tag ‘n’ Textile 

Rag Tag ‘n’ Textile is a social enterprise and charity that works with vulnerable adults, teaching traditional textile skills in a therapeutic and supportive environment.  The project specialises in creating recycled innovative products from donated fabrics. 

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What are the aims and objectives?

Rag Tag ‘n’ Textile aims to provide an environment that supports and encourages the personal growth and development of vulnerable adults through training and support and ultimately through employment whenever possible. The project also aims to use environmentally sound methods and resources to help deliver training and to produce high quality textile items which can be sold to generate income. 

Why was the project set up? Has the approach changed over time?

Rag Tag ‘n’ Textile began in 2002 as a small craft group linked to TAG Highland, an NHS mental health project. The first members of Rag Tag ‘n’ Textile were people who were attending TAG and had no real outlet for their creative skills or who were on the waiting list for this project. The craft group originally ran one day per week and was user led from the very beginning. 

At the outset the craft group had very little funding which led to a focus on recycling. A committee was formed and the group began to sell their crafts at local fairs. The proceeds allowed for a paid tutor and for good quality packaging and labelling of the goods. The project quickly developed a reputation as a well respected voluntary organisation that was breaking down barriers.

By April 2007 the craft group was officially named Rag Tag ‘n’ Textile, had a Board, had secured charitable status, moved to new premises and applied for funding to employ staff. The Rag Tag ‘n’ Textile shop opened in 2011. The project now has two workshops, a shop and an online shop. 

Who are the participants and the partners?

Based in Skye and Wester Ross in the Highlands, the project works with vulnerable adults who live local to the project base in Balmacara, near Kyle of Lochalsh. The project largely works with adults who are living with mental ill health, ME or have learning disabilities. The project currently has eight members of staff (three full time and five part time) and up to sixty volunteers, around 50% of whom have additional support needs.

“Everything we make is as individual as each participant.”

The project works in partnership with a number of organisations including TAG Highland, Skills Development Scotland, The SHIRLIE Project, Health and Happiness and Ross-shire Women’s Aid. To promote the Rag Tag ‘n’ Textile shop and workshop more widely, a series of events are planned for 2012 in partnership with the National Trust for Scotland, Skye and Lochalsh Environmental Forum, and a number of local businesses. Rag Tag ‘n’ Textile is currently funded by The Scottish Community Foundation, Comic Relief and Highland Council and from income generated from the project’s business activities. Referrals to the project come from a number of different sources including local GPs, social work, community nurses, employability schemes and self referral.

The project is set up as a social firm and charity, which means that it must generate income in order to maintain its charitable status and also ensure that at least 25% of the staff team is from the project’s target audience.

What does the project do?

The project specialises in creating recycled innovative products from donated fabrics and offers a wide range of high quality textile items including gifts, accessories, and cards and retro and designer clothing. Quality control is very important to the project and everything sold by the project is made in the Highlands by the project volunteers, other local craft people and by crafts people who have been supported to set up a small craft businesses by Rag Tag ‘n’ Textile.

The project is based on the recovery model: those engaged in the project are encouraged to participate in their own recovery which helps people to become more able and less ill. The work of the project is person centred and person led with the involvement of each individual volunteer tailored to their own circumstances and interests. The project provides a creative atmosphere in which people teach and share traditional skills. Volunteers are included in the design process from start to finish which helps to develop their own appreciation of design ideas. Participants become well through diversionary activities, beginning to plan for tomorrow and looking to the future. Illness is not the focus at Rag Tag ‘n’ Textile. 

“Our approach is person centred.  We work with each individual on what suits them best.”

The project also runs workshops for the general public and for local schools. Training and workshops are delivered in felt making, rag-rugging, jewellery making, bookbinding, creative knitting and crochet, sewing, dressmaking and fashion design, pattern making, weaving, spinning, and card making. The project also delivers in-house training on literacy and numeracy skills, business development and administration, basic information technology, retail skills, workshop management and tutoring. A series of training manuals which can be used with groups of learners have been developed and the project delivers ‘train the trainer’ workshops. Training is delivered from the project base in Balmacara, and also from the project workshop in Broadford and at the workshop the project shares with TAG Highland in Portree.

The project has received a number of awards including a Highland Diversity Award 2010, Scottish Business Diversity Award 2010 and the 2010 SURF award for best practice in community regeneration in the ‘people’ category.

In what way is the approach ‘asset based’? 

The project invests in participants as active citizens and encourages them to support their local community and be involved. Rag Tag ‘n’ Textile promotes a holistic view of mental illness focusing on the person rather than their symptoms. It supports everyone who comes to the project on a journey towards enhanced wellbeing, and encourages them to gain skills and confidence along the way. Furthermore, the project strives to reduce stigma and to challenge people’s expectations and attitudes towards mental illness. Each participant is known as a person, not a condition.

The project supports the recovery of individuals through inclusion, where everyone involved with Rag Tag ‘n’ Textile contributes to the success and sustainability of the organisation and  ‘everyone is valuable’ and has a contribution to make. The project acknowledges that recovery is not a linear process and that there may be set backs along the way, but that they will still be there when an individual feels well enough to join again.

“Nobody feels that anyone is any better than them here – we’re all just the same.”  

Rag Tag ‘n’ Textile works to empower individuals by supporting them to build confidence and to develop new skills and assets. Furthermore, the project supports people to make sense of their environment and take control of their life by enhancing their skills for resilience, relationships, knowledge and self esteem, through building mutually supportive networks and friendships.

How has success been measured?

Ongoing monitoring, assessment and review of volunteers is carried out during their time with the project. Each volunteer discusses and agrees what progress would look like for them and an individually tailored personal development plan is put in place. Personal development plans record the activities and training undertaken, achievements and short and long term goals for the future.

The project is currently undertaking a social return on investment analysis to assess and communicate the wider social and environmental impact of the work of the project.

What are the strengths and challenges? 

Rag Tag ‘n’ Textile adopts innovative, creative and different ways of working with vulnerable adults through traditional arts and crafts with a modern twist. People gain confidence and learn new skills in a supportive environment which they find to be of great benefit to them and often their experience helps them to return to employment after illness.

In the last three and a half years, 110 people have been directly involved with the organisation, of which 22 have gone on to employment, four have gone on to further education and four are in the process of developing their own small craft businesses. The project has also helped deliver community education classes for 98 adults and have recycled more than eight tonnes of textiles, equating to over 13 tonnes of carbon offset. The project has shown positive effects on mental health improvement and general health and wellbeing. 

“It’s not fair to call these soft outcomes because to the people experiencing them they mean everything.”

The project provides a responsive community environment to volunteers which is flexible to their own individual requirements and provides a friendly, non-judgemental and welcoming environment to new volunteers. The projects supports trainees, volunteers and supported volunteers, from level one (minimal support required) to level six (need constant support), to learn and develop their creative skills, make their own creations which can be sold to support the project, and gain a sense of achievement.

The project provides a range of accredited training opportunities with the support of partner organisations, delivers a wide range of ‘train the trainer’ workshops and provides a number of work experience placements to young people and evening classes open to everyone.

Funding was identified as an ongoing challenge for the project. The short term nature of funding and the changing focus of funding streams were raised as particular issues. The working relationship between statutory organisations and voluntary associations was also acknowledged as a barrier to ongoing delivery of the project, especially in relation to the restructuring of council departments and the development of contracts.

At a personal level, staff expressed passion for the work they do and pleasure in being part of the ‘journey’ that participants take while they are with the project and in seeing people become well again. The creative nature of the project was highlighted as a unique setting for people to help each other through an informal network of support.

Volunteers expressed the enjoyment they gained from their involvement in the project and the sense of pride they get from supporting others and seeing them get better.

Relevant links to other parts of the Understanding Glasgow site:  social capital, mindset, lifestyle, health, environment