In September 2023, applications for a new funding scheme, aimed at projects in the Somer Valley providing local residents with opportunities to boost wellbeing, opened for community groups and organisations.

The Willson Grant is providing a total of £115,000 in shared funding to support initiatives which encourage active travel or support good mental health through the use of arts, culture or green activities.

One of the beneficiaries of The Willson Grant is Rockaway Park - a former scrapyard turned creative utopia priding itself on offering a safe space for women to showcase their creativity. This whimsical wonderland is home to a host of resident makers, including talented sculptors, screen printers, jewellery makers, graffiti and stained glass artists, to name just a few.

Some of these talented creatives will be lending a hand to provide free tutoring for twelve young women in the upcoming ‘Creative RevolutionHERies’ workshops, which £7,000 of funding from the Willson Grant will be going towards. Rockaway Park will match funding a portion of the grant as well to ensure that women from disadvantaged backgrounds can learn new skills in woodworking, metalworking and welding in a collaborative environment. Two different groups of six women will work together in a supportive environment, one day a week for six weeks, to create planters and benches which will later be dotted around the Somer Valley. Participants will gain experience in all three fabrication classes and courses are expected to start in March.

Explaining further about the upcoming workshops, Michelle Diwell, Rockaway Park’s Business Development Project Manager, said, “These women will get to experience a variety of skills and have a chance to meet new people. We hope for this to evolve into a supportive network between them as they all will be coming in with no prior experience. It’s a chance to make new friendships and support each other through the learning process”.

The funding for the courses will largely be going towards paying for the practitioner’s time, kit, and materials. Lunch and PPE will also be provided to those attending.

Michelle added, “Nobody has to worry about spending any money, they can just come and enjoy the workshops and it’s rare to be able to offer that.”

“Traditionally, these skills have not been advertised or offered to women as something they can do. It’s important to break down those gender boundaries and let people do what they are interested in. We have often had visitors ask us in the past if we are doing any handiwork classes specifically for women, so it’s amazing to be able to offer those places, fully funded.”

“The main takeaway will be the experience, the skills these women will learn and the collaboration element. These women are going to be coming together and creating planters and benches for the community to share.”

The Willson Grant will kickstart a vision that Rockaway Park is excited to provide, and already the team are looking forward to what could be in the future.

Michelle said, “This is just the beginning of the project, if it goes well, potentially we could continue doing things like this and creating assets for the surrounding area. We are trying to build an arts trail in our Community Forest Garden and it would be amazing if we could link that up with other sites in the Somer Valley in the future. That would be a huge step forward in encouraging people out into our greenways.

“If you have an art trail to follow as well as the beauty of nature around you, I think that would be an incentive to get people out there, so that’s something that we want to build on with these workshops”.