Sometimes the stars align


Rachel Ashcroft is one of our Emerge Bursary recipients for 2023, and has written a bit about how it's going so far. 

Under the moniker ‘Woman of the Woods’ Rachel designs, makes and sells items for the home from local hardwoods and found driftwood, such as spoons, boards, bowls and coffee tables. Rachel designs all of her products with a modern aesthetic, taking care to highlight the beauty and grain of each piece.

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I moved to Galloway about seven years ago to live in a tiny cabin in a woodland near Dalbeattie. I knew the region a little bit from visiting a good friend who lives here, but I had no clear path to follow in terms of income or employment. It’s a beautiful place and I’d sort of come here on a hunch.

So, when I was in the cafe at Loch Arthur and found out they might need somebody to manage their wood workshop, I jumped on the idea and eventually I was hired.

This job was a huge learning curve for me, it was both exciting and exhausting finding out how the community works, getting to know the space, the people and how to manage a community workshop: designing and making saleable products which could be made by people of all abilities.

After a few years, I began making my own craft items around my working hours under the name ‘Woman of the Woods’ – a hark back to my woodland life.

Fast forward six years and here I am now - the proud recipient of Upland’s Emerge bursary. When I found out I’d been successful I couldn’t believe it, the stars had aligned!

When I applied for Emerge, I’d literally just found a workshop space of my own after over a year of searching. I was beginning to populate it thanks to the generous support of my dad, with the tools and machinery necessary to make my work. I’d also taken a step back from the running of the community workshop to give myself more time to focus on my small creative self-employed business.

I knew that with the financial support and practical mentoring sessions, the Emerge bursary was going to be the springboard into the next phase of my career as an artist/maker.

So far along the process I have only had a couple of mentoring sessions, but they’ve been hugely beneficial.

Firstly, with Langholm based furniture maker - Daniel Lacey - an incredibly talented craftsman, who’s eye for detail and precision is clear to see from his work. With his skill and experience, anything Daniel could help me with was going to be great from my perspective.

I had brought a couple of pieces of burred oak with me to his workshop - with the premise that they would be the doors on a small cabinet I was hoping to make. He just so happened to have the perfect timber for the body of the cabinet lying around.

Over the course of our first two mentoring sessions together and my ‘homework’ I am now making something completely new to me and learning invaluable cabinetry skills.

The finished article will be on display during the Spring Fling weekend in my workshop and I’m really excited about showing off my new achievements.

My second mentoring session was with the brilliant artist and printmaker Sarah Stewart who’s based in Wigtown – (I have managed to find two furthest mentors in opposite directions of the region from Kirkgunzeon!)
When Sarah’s not making her beautiful work, she’s running Craigard Gallery on the main street in the town.
I chose her to help me with the side of being a small creative business that I struggle with the most and possibly a lot of creative businesses do – the actual ‘business’ side of things, such as: marketing, managing time, online content, and branding.

We had a good look through my website, which I knew needed lots of work. Having the support of a mentor with a fresh pair of professional eyes, it’s helped me really to understand what I need to change and improve. Now my homework is to implement Sarah’s suggestions and update my website to make it look and perform better.

Our next session is going to be based around creating my first mail out - I’ll admit it here… I’ve had a mailing list for nearly a year and never learnt how to send an update out - so definitely time to learn how to do that!

It’s certainly a full time for me right now with my first ever Spring Fling looming, whilst simultaneously processing and practicing all the new things I’m learning with my mentors... It’s busy, but I’m making the most of every minute of it.