My name is Sian Hill, and I am the founder and Chief Executive of Ways with Willow. I am very excited about the work we are doing, and what we are trying to achieve. I love willow, and live, breathe and sleep it! When I’m not weaving, I’m either teaching others how to make their own willow creations, or thinking about designs, new projects or sourcing different coloured varieties. My house is covered in bundles of different types and sizes of willow.
Working with willow helped me to rebuild my life after a very difficult time and seeing others smile after learning to make their own sculpture is more fulfilling and satisfying than any other job I have ever had. Many people ask why started this project and why I am passionate about what we are doing. Originally from South Wales, I moved to Cornwall with my children in December 2010 to flee an abusive relationship. After the move, I was vulnerable and isolated. Living in a new area, with no friends or family for support, my self confidence and self esteem were at an all time low.
A farmer’s daughter, I grew up in a small village surrounded by a large family; my cousin Milly, who was a lot older than me, was blind. Milly went to a day centre once a week where they learnt basketry and chair caning, and I was fascinated at how perfect their creations were, despite their lack of sight. Thinking it looked really easy (after all they made it look that way!) I fancied having a go. My first basket was a very odd shape and nowhere near functional; being a perfectionist, was determined to get better! Quite a few courses later, I had been bitten by the willow weaving bug.
I hadn’t made a basket for years, but a couple of months after moving to Cornwall, I started weaving again. Beginning with baskets, I then designed other things – with little money, and few household items, making other functional items from willow was the only way we could afford anything. After a while, my self-confidence was improving, and I was feeling optimistic again for the first time in years. Working with willow is very relaxing and therapeutic, but I hadn’t understood the emotional benefits of this traditional craft.
I began to wonder if I could use willow to help others, so I attended a business start-up course with Outset Cornwall and my confidence rocketed; the more I developed ideas the stronger I became. I discovered that opportunities to work with willow were not available locally to people who could benefit from its therapeutic value – I wanted to create a project which would allow vulnerable and disadvantaged people to improve their emotional and physical well being.
At the same time, my son was diagnosed with epilepsy and autism. I looked ahead to the possibilities for his future and wondered what opportunities, if any, would be available to him. Lack of funding means that people attending day centres within adult social care do not have the creative options that they used to years ago. This motivated me to expand my initial plans, and provide a service which would be accessible to all, provide opportunities, promote social inclusion and help to improve people’s lives.
Ways with Willow was launched in April 2012. Every time I work with a disadvantaged or vulnerable group, it makes me even more determined to expand the project, and develop a facility which will create opportunities for employment for people who would normally have limited options. I now also have the support of Cornwall School for Social Entrepreneurs, having graduated from their programme in October 2013 and their help has proved invaluable in growing the business into a sustainable social enterprise.