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Community matters thrive; Hannah Davies discovers a group of women heralding the return of the proggy mat and an end to rural isolation.

ANNE Otley hit the nail on the head when it came to the village where she lives. "There is not that much to do around Lucker," she says.

Near Seahouses, the biggest village around, Lucker has just 12 houses. Anne, 51, who had moved from the comparative metropolis of Durham, found the lack of activities difficult to adjust to.

"For someone who was used to all the book clubs and different groups there are in Durham coming to Lucker was a bit of a culture shock," she laughs. Anne and husband Stuart, who teaches humanities at Thomas Percy School and Berwickshire Christian Youth Trust, are originally from Newcastle. But family tree research discovered Anne's family were actually from around the corner to where they live now in Lucker.

Anne says: "Relatives lived here in the 1850s, we live next to a church where some of them are buried.

"Originally they were farmer and shepherds."

Anne, a teacher at Brunton First School, moved from Durham, where Stuart, 53, was a humanities teacher at the Chorister School, a decade ago.

They have four children: Joseph, 20, Patrick, 22, Christopher, 25 and Georgina, 14.

They had found their rural idyll in Lucker but Anne, a sociable person, was a bit taken aback by being so far away from other people.

"There were no groups around, nothing to do, aside from the church and pub, not even a women's institute," she says. But Anne found companionship through pursuing a latent passion.

"I decided I wanted to make rugs in the traditional way, it is something I have always wanted to do. I've aunts who used to take part in it.

"Now rug-making is done out of enjoyment but in the past it was essential. Making rugs was about making do.

"I have got my husband's grandmother's rug and all of her tools, they were made out of old ship nails. Some of the women around here have tools which were made from animal bones. People used whatever they had handy."

This desire to create came together as Anne, who had campaigned to renovate Lucker's village hall, realised that if she brought a teacher in to do a workshop it would teach her more about rug making and give the women around Lucker the opportunity to get together.

With the village hall renovated, Anne looked into grants for a rug-making workshop.

The Community Foundation and a group called Up The Arts gave pounds 400, which meant Anne could get in a rug-making teacher, Ali Kind, to come and give a workshop.

Anne says: "She was a real treat and we had about 16 women come to that and had a wonderful time - all years from my daughter who is 14 to women in their 70s."

More workshops followed, including regulars with renowned rug-maker Margaret Clayton, who lives in Alston.

Anne knew there was enough interest in the workshops to justify a regular get-together and so Lucker Matters came into existence. They now meet once a month at Lucker village hall for workshops, classes and just to chat to each other and offer advice and support.

Anne says: "I had intended Lucker Matters just for Lucker but people have come from down the Borders to Belford and villages around to farms and small-holdings further out.

And the group gives the women who attend a real opportunity not only to learn but to meet new people and make friends in a supportive and creative environment.

Anne adds: "Some of the people who come to the group live in really isolated places in the hills. One woman gets snowed in every year for five weeks of the year.

"I think there's a tendency for country people not to treat themselves very well. They don't indulge themselves and they don't spend a lot of money on themselves.

"Lucker Matters is a way of having something for them alone."

Those who have been going regularly have advanced their skills to degrees their great-grandmothers would have been proud of.

Anne says: "The thing about rug-making is everyone enjoyed it, no matter what their background is, and it releases your creativity.

"Not one of them would consider themselves as artists but rug making releases this creativity in them. All of them are very aware of colour and they have developed that awareness tremendously."

And each woman creates their craft in their own way.

"There's one woman at the group who won't make anything which isn't from recycled materials," Anne says. "So she uses anything - including plastic bags! But that's excellent - mat-making was all about recycling originally."

"Some of the women come and they just enjoy talking and creating their mats. Other women are thinking about selling, setting up on their own and to come and sell because there are no other opportunities for them to have an occupation.

"There are women who like coming because it is an all-woman group and we are very friendly and supportive."

The past rug-making evokes in people has been surprising Anne says. Both pleasant and unpleasant.

"Some of the group have memories as a child of actually making rugs, but it is not just the women. People will often drop in to the hall on a Saturday to see what we are doing.

"When we got the Community Foundation grant we were asked to go into the Metro Centre for a show.

"We had people coming in all day with stories. People remember they had to make rugs every year some were very moving.

"One man chatted to Anne for a good while on his memories of proggy mat and hooky mat making.

"He spoke about family life and how rug making was central to that, and said it had suffered since.

"The gentleman said 'that's how we learnt our manners' and he felt that the children now were missing out."

Anne pauses and adds: "But other people had just bad memories associated with the rug making. Memories of a hard time and poverty. You have to respect every person's own experiences. Some people have said 'I don't want to remember this'.

"But it is part of our heritage and I very much want to continue it."


PILING ON THE COLOUR Anne Otley, front, organiser of the Lucker Matters group, is hard at work with other members of the circle creating startling new designs in traditional ways. Picture: Simon Hobson ref: 01143246; PILING IN The Lucker Matters group, from left, Hazel Wilson, Olivia Sharpley with her mum Julia, Maddie Fletcher, Georgia and Anne Otley.; SAT ON A MAT One of the Lucker Matters group's creations.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Aug 23, 2008
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