Community Houses add that Much-needed Extra Fibre!

knitted fish longbeach place

Today, I returned to Chelsea for another eight weeks of my creative writing class grandly titled: Writing Creatively Towards the Future.  Again I was reminded how lucky I am to be teaching writing in neighbourhood houses, especially Longbeach Place Chelsea.

When I walked into the centre and saw the foyer display I was reminded of Walt Disney’s description of his studio –

Around here we don’t look backwards for very long… We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things because we’re curious… and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.

I’ve written before about Longbeach Place’s involvement in the Storybook Yarn Art Trail and the global phenomena of ‘yarn bombing’. In Chelsea, they prefer the term Urban Yarn Art, and it is happening again in 2015, but like Disney they always look forward and a new strand (or two) has been added!

yarn art trail

Longbeach Place will host a super fun Fibre Play Day,  on Saturday, October 24th.

There will be demonstrations of spinning, dyeing and weaving by some of Melbourne’s most talented natural fibre artisans, plus interactive activities for adults and children. Presenters will also be selling some of their beautiful fibres and yarns alongside displays of last year’s storybook characters.

The garden at the neighbourhood house will be “alive” with knitted Elves and Fairies. This iconic Australian book of verse and illustrations written 99 years ago. The world of elves and fairies imagined by Ida Rentoul Outhwaite (also known as Ida Sherbourne) in collaboration with her sister Annie who contributed a story and selection of verses to the book.


How beautiful to see 5 Primary schools, the Girl Guides and 3 Uniting Churches participating in the 2015 Storybook Trail, giving new or another life to classic stories and even to books not necessarily well-known. We are all indebted to the Longbeach Place community for celebrating the written word and reviving crafts not so widely practised today.

Please mark your diaries now to increase healthy fibre and enjoy the Fibre Play Day on October 24th, and make sure you have explored the Storybook Yarn Art Trail before November 1st! You will be in for a delightful meander  while being introduced to characters and scenes from:

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The traditional story of Noah’s Ark from the Bible will come alive as well as Charlotte and the Ants, a classic Girl Guide Story. How wonderful the children and adults used their craft skills to reimagine these stories after reading the books.

Surrounded by all this colourful, creative craft it wasn’t difficult to spend the afternoon writing creatively with my students. Imagine the result when walking the trail, pen in hand?

Autumn Leaves
Mairi Neil

Colourful autumn leaves are fallingimg-thing
they carpet my lawn so green
the fairies have been at play again
silent and unseen.
They’ve climbed or flown into the trees
and selected a leaf for transport,
on their magic carpets, they’ve raced around
’til too exhausted to cavort.
When gentle moonlight politely gives way
to the brightness of dawning sun
the leafy vehicles are discarded…
until darkness permits more fun.

Have you visited your local community house lately? Be curious and check out the amazing activities they offer – lifelong learning at an affordable price and friendship and belonging thrown in for free!


Crafting Community at Longbeach Place Chelsea


I attended the Annual General Meeting of Longbeach Place Inc on Thursday. As one of the tutors, I presented my report for the Memories to Manuscript and Life Stories classes I teach, which have been repackaged this year as Writing Creatively Towards Your Future to encompass new technology.


The meeting small considering the reach of the community, but not surprising – in my experience, AGMs are deemed perfunctory –  either ignored or suffered unless there are problems to be solved, people to be ousted, or financial mismanagement to be challenged! However, at Chelsea, it was a lovely surprise to experience a great AGM. To hear from other tutors about their courses and to see a fabulous presentation about the craft craze Yarn Bombing. (Renamed Urban Yarn Art in deference to connotations in a world consumed by the ‘war on terror’.) The delicious refreshments afterwards and friendly chatter provided networking opportunities to meet and greet locals, the new ALP member, Tim Richardson MP, and Kingston Council representatives.  The comfortable environment added to the enjoyment of the afternoon.

Yarn bombing, yarnbombing, yarn storming, guerrilla knitting, kniffiti, urban knitting or graffiti knitting is a type of graffiti or street art that employs colourful displays of knitted or crocheted yarn or fibre rather than paint or chalk.


I learned that the old Drop in Craft workshops are now transformed into Create, Make and Take sessions incorporating skills as diverse as pattern making, sewing, weaving, spinning, knitting, crochet and the Storybook Yarn Art Trail, an amazing community project involving several local schools and churches. My sister, Cate is the crafty person in the family and I’ve recently celebrated her talent in a post about the Australasian Quilters Convention, but when my children attended a local school with a Steiner stream, craft skills were an enjoyable part of our home life. I see craft as a very important art as well as being perhaps the most useful artistic skill. (Apart from writing of course, but then I’m biased.) The guest speaker, Elizabeth Alexandreou, the mover and shaker behind the resurgence of craft at Chelsea talked us through the Urban Yarn Art project, the Storybook Yarn Art Trail and explained the importance of passing skills onto future generations. This project inspiring young people to learn craft skills, adapt them into creative projects, connect with different generations and have fun while learning. Last year the trail included a Retirement Village/Nursing home – a wonderful way of ensuring people still feel valued in the community and helping to break down barriers between the old and young.

Each organisation participating in the project chose one of several books to illustrate with urban yarn art – Alice in Wonderland and The Very Hungry Caterpillar were popular, and The Lorax by Dr Seuss. A local church chose to acknowledge that Jesus was a refugee and used their creativity to make a plea for compassion in the current climate of political intransigence. Yarn Art is international and through a participant Longbeach Place Inc shared art with Ireland and at the AGM a lovely wall hanging was displayed that had been posted from Ireland. It is hoped in the future international and national links will expand. In a world of instant communication, but where many people lament the lack of person to person communication, this project is a gift. I photographed Elizabeth and Longbeach Manager Lorna Stevenson with the wall hanging from Ireland and an amazing butterfly created for last year’s display. This butterfly involved collaboration with a member of the Men and Women’s Shed group – a further extension of community connections and sharing of expertise.

The aim of the crafters is to visually enrich the local environment by celebrating what can be achieved in a culture of community and collaboration. Craft is a fantastic activity to bring generations together and to have fun. Although criticism has been made of wasting materials (wool does degrade overtime exposed to all weathers) to me this is churlish and denies the benefit of art and what creative expression is all about. There are many instances of art projects being fleeting or ephemeral just like so much of the beauty of nature (Mother Earth’s art) is transitory!

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Of course, writing and craft are not the only courses or programs at Longbeach Place and while Computers For Beginners tapped, we were invited to walk through the garden and admire the herbs and other plants cultivated by the ESL, Literacy and Volunteer Classes in their Herbs for All project.

As the Association of Neighbourhood Houses states:

Neighbourhood Houses bring people together to connect, learn and contribute in their local community through social, educational, recreational and support activities, using a unique community development approach. Community development enables communities to identify and address their own needs. It starts from the assumption that communities have existing strengths and assets that make them part of the solution. Neighbourhood Houses welcome people from all walks of life. This inclusive approach creates opportunities for individuals and groups to enrich their lives through connections they might not otherwise make, strengthening networks and building social capital.


My involvement in neighbourhood houses through learning programs and teaching has enriched my life.  Another thread that has enabled me to continue to do what I love – write, socialise, teach. It has helped me stay physically, emotionally and psychologically healthy by encouraging and nurturing a feeling of belonging. I consider myself blessed and encourage others to take a walk to their nearest community centre and become involved – you can learn, you can teach, you can volunteer – you are community.