Ripon's Jennyruth Workshops: The place where dreams come true

There aren’t many organisations that can claim to underpin daily life in Ripon quite as much as Jennyruth Workshops.

By Finola Fitzpatrick
Thursday, 20th June 2019, 4:26 pm
One big family: Jennyruth Workshops. Picture: Gerard Binks.
One big family: Jennyruth Workshops. Picture: Gerard Binks.

The difference that this incredible charity makes to people’s lives is tangible, but you also only just have to walk down the street to spot a beautiful hand-crafted product that has been produced by the Jennyruth Workshops team.

Every momentous occasion that Ripon has celebrated, Jennyruth has been right there at the heart of it playing a pivotal role.

When the city stepped up to do something special to commemorate the centenary of the end of the First World War last year, it was Jennyruth’s invaluable support that helped to make the Remembrance wall at the Fields of Mud, Seeds of Hope exhibition happen.

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Alex Arnall painting a reindeer. Picture: Gerard Binks.

When Ripon welcomed the world to host Yorkshire Day, Jennyruth Workshops was presented with a plaque by The Yorkshire Society, recognising their charity and social enterprise as one that exemplifies dedication to Ripon.

And now, Jennyruth, which empowers adults with learning disabilities to gain confidence, independence and life skills, has been deservingly awarded a top royal honour - the Duke of York’s Community Initiative Award.

There are multiple and countless strands to what the workshops do - tucked away in a unit up at Red House Farm on Boroughbridge Road, the place is a hidden gem, and a bustling hub of activity. ‘Come this way to see the cool stuff,’ one sign reads upon entry.

Volunteers and workers cheerfully greet you straight away, and you step into an immersive world of the brilliant, the wonderful and the fabulously quirky - for the workshops are stacked high with bespoke items, commissions and stunningly decorated collections.

Steve Carrington and Lucy Newell part of the Jennyruth team, busy in the workshop. Picture: Gerard Binks.

From bird feeders and garden ornaments, to children’s toys and wedding gifts, it’s truly an Aladdin’s cave that proudly delivers an ethos of, ‘if you can imagine it, we can make it.’ And it’s a space where dreams come true - everyone who goes there gains work and life skills, friendships, and a sense of pride from making and selling a wide range of everyday products. And any profit made from selling items is ploughed back into building on the success of the workshops for the public good.

Beth Evason, who is a founding member of Jennyruth Workshops, beams with pride as she tells the ‘Gazette that the place is like one big family. Showing us around, she said: “I enjoy being part of the team here, I have made lots of friends by being part of it.”

Beth received the Duke of York’s Community Initiative Award on behalf of everyone at Jennyruth Workshops - a proud moment that she will never forget.

Beth, who has the vital role of doing health and safety inspections at the site, said: “It was an honour and a privilege to be an ambassador for Jennyruth Workshops. It makes me so happy to be here. I like sharing my skills with others.”

Jamie Allen, who also enjoys every second of helping out at Jennyruth, said: “I think people like our products because they are locally made and very eye-catching. We really enjoy what we do.”

For Hannah Rollings, it’s the sense of camaraderie that she values most. Hannah said: “I like that we work hard together as a team, it’s really fun.”

The overarching theme of Jennyruth is to present ability rather than disability - showcasing the outstanding talents and abilities that all of their volunteers and workers possess and contribute.

Their operations manager, Denise Carrigan, said: “We want to show what people can achieve given the right support, everybody here has so much to give and offer.

“I think it makes a huge difference, people love to work with their friends and feel part of a team, doing something meaningful. We have a routine, and a lot of people thrive on routine.

"People love to learn and socialise, and develop their skills, and see their products out in the community. We get such lovely comments about our products - there is a real sense of pride and achievement.”

Speaking about the warm and inclusive atmosphere at the workshops, Denise said: “People love to feel a part of the workshops, people say that it feels like a very happy place. We have fun at work, and that is important - for so many people, life can be stressful, and work can be stressful. We try to make it a friendly and positive place to be.

“It is about everybody being equally valued for what they can contribute. They build that confidence up, being listened to and valued. It gives you a great sense of self-esteem, and a great boost having those roles and routines, and having that practical work experience.”

As well as producing and selling high quality products, Jennyruth Workshops workers are trained in numeracy, literacy, IT and communication skills through a rolling programme of assessment and evaluation.

The charity comprises of an office, paint workshop, sewing room, metal workshop, wood workshops, and many other facilities, including a beautiful garden.

The history of Jennyruth Workshops

Barrie Evason set up the charity and social enterprise with his wife Sue to help adults with learning disabilities gain work and life skills by making and selling handcrafted products.

The not-for-profit project started in their garden shed, when Barrie and Sue wanted to help their son and adopted children with Down’s Syndrome to work and be productive.

Realising that meaningful work opportunities for young adults with learning disabilities were extremely limited at the time, they expanded the project to welcome others with their warm, family-centred approach.

Barrie is proud of the difference that the team at Jennyruth Workshops has made to the lives of the people they have helped over the years, since their premises in Bridge Hewick opened in 2004.

He said: “The skills that people gain here are ones that they can carry over into other parts of their lives. The whole ethos of Jennyruth Workshops is that everybody who comes to us are people first, adults with learning disabilities second. People who come here don’t want sympathy, they want empathy. If they feel that, then they are more likely to be open and respond to you.

“Being part of something that functions as a business gives people a dignity, knowing that they have done something themselves and as part of a team. It is a happy place.”

How you can support Jennyruth Workshops

Visitors to Jennyruth Workshops often refer to the family feel of the place, where everyone is made to feel welcome and valued.

Can you support the charity in some way? Email [email protected] or call 01765 606620 to find out more about their work and the wide range of handcrafted products that are made there.

Jennyruth Workshops’ next big event is their golf day on July 4 at Ripon City Golf Club. There are still places for teams to play in the competition, and Jennyruth are looking for businesses to sponsor holes or donate raffle and tombola prizes.

The event will be a ¾ Handicap Stableford Competition for teams of four. Tee times will be from 10am to 3pm, and there will be a two course meal available all day, included in the entry fee.

If you would like to enter a team, email [email protected] or call 075799 69261. Email [email protected] to share your Ripon news.