Norwood launches jewellery social enterprise

In what has become a Tuesday routine at Norwood's Stanmore premises, Susan Evans is sorting through a tub of beads as she strives to finish a bracelet she has been working on within the next hour.

The Hendon resident is one of several adults with learning disabilities who attend weekly jewellery-making sessions at Norwood and at Ravenswood village in Berkshire. The classes are popular, not just for the therapeutic nature of arts and crafts, but also as the basis of the charity's first social enterprise project.

Necklaces and bracelets are made for sale, at fairs, events and on a dedicated website.

An online shop has received thousands of hits since opening two months ago and nearly 50 pieces have been sold, ranging from simple charms to a multi-coloured necklace made from recycled beads and spare buttons.

When Norwood began looking at recreational activities which could be turned into a business, jewellery seemed a natural opportunity.

"We knew lots of people liked making it," explained Michelle Smith, acting manager of day opportunities.

"So we thought it would work as a social enterprise."

Project development officer Pauline Kelly said the aim was to build up to a profitable business run by the charity's users. "Norwood is passionate about everybody having the opportunity to work if they want to."

There are currently four jewellery-making sessions a week, but the plan is to train more people and expand the operation. "We've had a positive reaction and we want as many people as possible to join in."

The jewellery enterprise is something of a guinea pig.

There are plans to open a car wash later in the year and as Ms Kelly points out: "The more success we have with social enterprise the bigger we can grow it."

Sarah Bradley, who runs the jewellery-making sessions, said that "once people get into the stride of it, they can become quite independent. And it's nice to give people their own signature piece which they can become expert in.

"This is accessible to everyone whatever their skill level. People do tasks that are appropriate to them, even if it's just sorting beads out for others."

Having picked up the techniques quickly, Susan Evans has already made 30 pieces, which are sold under her name. "I'm very proud of myself," she said, adding that she enjoyed seeing her pieces displayed in a box for sale.

Ms Bradley added that the workforce often arrived wearing their self-made jewellery.

"There's a purpose to it and they are pleased to do it," she said.

"They see what they have produced at the end and feel a real sense of satisfaction."

    Last updated: 2:03pm, February 10 2011