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Debbie Twinn: Meet Chelmsford’s crafting queen

D is for Debbie - flowers combine with craft for a win-win when it comes to wellbeing Credit Siobhan Johns Photography
D is for Debbie - flowers combine with craft for a win-win when it comes to wellbeing Credit Siobhan Johns Photography

The Chelmsford woman who's improving her own life and those of others through colour, creativity and craft

There are ‘radiators’ and ‘drainers’ in life, they say. And one of the most remarkable things about ‘radiators’ is that they still manage to exude kindness, positivity and good sense, even if their own life experiences have sometimes been very draining. That’s certainly the case with Chelmsford’s crafting queen Debbie Twinn. ‘It’s a blessing and a curse:’ she explains: ‘one of the reasons that I’m able to stay positive is because I know how easy it is to slip into a dark place – so I can’t help but be joyful when I’m not in it.’

Debbie’s own mental health challenges began when she was young. ‘These days we’re so fortunate that mental health issues are discussed and explored, but it’s a fairly recent thing. When I was growing up, they weren’t. My late mother was very controlling – it wasn’t her fault: my father was away a lot meaning that, effectively, she was a single parent. She was from Latin America originally, so she must have felt very isolated over here – and her way of dealing with all that was to be very strict.’

Great British Life: Debbie's love of colour pervades every aspect of her life Credit Siobhan Johns PhotographyDebbie's love of colour pervades every aspect of her life Credit Siobhan Johns Photography

Debbie began having therapy to help her cope with anxiety aged 13, and discovered on a practical level that a good way to deal with her issues was to lose herself in craft, particularly jewellery-making. ‘In some ways, it was strange because I was the only person interested in craft in the family, so I was on my own. But I was good at it, it was quick to do - and half an hour just beading up a bracelet was a chance to have space to myself, to get away from everything.’ She was certainly onto something in her belief that craftwork was improving her mental health: research conducted between 2017 and 2022 and published by University College London’s MARCH mental health network reveals that engagement with the arts and art practices such as crafting can alleviate the symptoms of anxiety, depression, loneliness and even dementia (craftscouncil.org.uk/stories/4-reasons-craft-good-your-mental-health).

In young adulthood, Debbie took a degree in textiles and business administration at Brighton university, then went into retail, working for big names including Accesorize and Liberty of London On the corporate treadmill, though, she always felt something was missing. And then in 2016, shortly after the birth of her son, she discovered she had multiple sclerosis. This proved another spur to building a life for herself that was as replenishing as possible. Two years ago, she decided to follow a career that would allow her both to craft and to share her love of crafting with others, setting up Make Space in the process. It offers everything from long courses in jewellery making to one-off woven wall-hanging-making session from her home in Old Moulsham and from Fête restaurant’s event space in Grays Brewery Yard, Chelmsford. Incorporating a sense that crafting is ‘time out’, away from the pressures of everyday life, and as such is a form of self care, has always been a key part of her offering. ‘Initially I’d start with a short, guided meditation so people could ground themselves, decompress and focus’ she says, ‘It was something offered at the start of the mother and baby group I went to when my son was small and I’d found it really helpful – just the chance to breathe freely can be transformative.’ She’d end with a gratitude exercise, ‘Just writing something on a slip of paper to keep – not necessarily about the class, but about something that had gone well in someone’s week. ‘It’s just that opportunity to focus on the good things that have happened that I think is so important for mental wellbeing,’ says Debbie.

These days, Debbie tends instead to focus on building a relationship with class participants, so there’s the chance to explore any issues that arise. And if they don’t, that’s also fine – the crafting space is simply about having the chance to enjoy the benefits of creativity. ‘Just putting your phone to one side, forgetting the ‘to do’ list and concentrating on something else is so beneficial, she says, ‘You can see people start to breathe in a different way.’ Moreover, Debbie is convinced that creativity is innate in all of us. ‘If parents come along with their children to one of my kids crafting classes, so often I’ll point out to them that they’re instinctively joining in under their own steam – they want to make something too – it comes naturally to us. That’s when they’ll go on to join adult classes with me on their own.’

Great British Life: Wallhangings are just one of the things participants can create at Debbie's Make Space Credit Siobhan Johns PhotographyWallhangings are just one of the things participants can create at Debbie's Make Space Credit Siobhan Johns Photography

In addition to the ‘head space’ that crafting offers, though, there is of course the sheer joy of working with beautiful materials and the sense of self-worth that having fun, prioritising yourself and making something lovely in the process can bring. Debbie’s own exuberance is evident in a love of colour that pervades everything she makes, and wears and that extends to the décor of her own home. ‘Colour is life-affirming,’ she says simply.

For Debbie, the therapeutic benefits of creativity through crafting have been so key to her own mental wellbeing, helping her to cope with her ongoing anxiety and MS, that she’s keen to ‘spread the word’ however she can – via a Facebook club in which members can encourage and inspire one another through the exchange of crafting ideas, for instance. ‘I’m always going to have to work at staying well,’ she says, ‘And, for everyone – whether their mental health is good and they’re keen to keep it that way, or they’re working to stay on top of any issues that they might have, it’s never about one single thing but a mix of approaches: talking, medication if necessary and finding the creative outlet that’s right for them. Crafting has saved me - and to be able to use my skills and experience to bring its benefits to others is really rewarding.’

linktr.ee/make.spacechelmsford



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