Smile!!

Like the summer (we hope), things are hotting up at Blythe…

Smile – we’re on Amazon!

Like all voluntary projects, Blythe Centre is always in need of funds, so, recently, we set ourselves up as a registered Amazon-Smile charity.
This means that if you select us to be your chosen charity, every time you shop with Amazon (and, let’s face it, who doesn’t?), Amazon donates a small amount to us. Small maybe, but it all counts – and at no cost or effort to you!

To find out more about how Amazon-Smile works, just click here.
To set it all up, click here, and then select ‘The Care and Fun Club’ (which is our official charity name). Thank you!

One thing essential to remember is that you need to start each Amazon shopping session at smile.amazon.co.uk in order for Amazon to activate the donation process.

Jubilee fun

The end of May and the beginning of June are going to be incredibly busy at the centre. Enthusiasm for the Jubilee celebrations is sky-rocketing… Have a look at our Events page to see everything on offer here! There really is something for everybody.

We are especially looking forward to our ‘Royal Garden Party Event’, here on Saturday 28th May (11.30am-2pm). The fun includes a special performance by the local young people of the Forsbrook Drama Group, who are enacting the Queen’s life & reign. This short performance starts at 1.45pm and closes the event. No booking required – just turn up and enjoy.

Pub quiz – in a library

We’ve found that people love a quiz, so we’re very happy that local quiz-buff Shelagh Wood is going to be hosting one every Thursday evening at the centre from now on. Shelagh used to run the very popular pub-quiz at The Greyhound (in nearby Saverley Green) before that closed two months ago.
It’s all for charity and just a bit of fun, so the questions are not super-hard. Teams can consist of up to six people, and it’s £2 per person to enter, You can even bring your own alcohol to lubricate the grey matter…
Book your team/table by phoning or texting 0781 8610 248.

Historians’ delight

Local-history enthusiasts will be very pleased to learn that the Staffordshire Libraries Service has recently acquired a subscription to the British Newspaper Archive. This archive is, slowly but surely, digitising nearly all British newspapers, going as far back as the 1700s. Its collection includes local papers of the past such as the Staffordshire Advertiser and the Staffordshire Chronicle.

The BNA has online versions of newspapers from all over the country

However, although it’s free to use, this archive can only be accessed from library computers, not from home. So, if you want to check it out locally, you will need to book one of the computers here in our centre. These are very popular, so please plan ahead – and please bring your library card with you.
For details of all the library’s online subscriptions, including the old newspapers archive, click on Library Services’ Free-Online-Resources.

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Enjoy some colours!

The warmer weather is here at last; it’s good not to feel so cold any more. Yes, times are hard at the moment, but at least we can enjoy the outdoors. And, a good book makes such a difference too…

Colours

It’s lovely to welcome back the Blythe Colours (Cresswell) History Group, who have an exhibition all through April at the centre; readers will perhaps remember their last exhibition, a few years ago.

‘Blythe Colours’ was the big factory complex in nearby Cresswell, where colour-chemicals were made for the international pottery industry. The factory had a long history and only shut down finally in the 1990s. Thousands of local people worked for them down the years.

Blythe Colours Exhibition poster

In this current exhibition, we can see the results of the group’s recent researches.
Jill Crowther (who is also one of the volunteers here) has been looking into the collaboration between the company and the American army during World War Two; and recordings, made some time ago by people who worked there, of their memories, are now also available. What’s more, a fascinating display of old photos means you can easily spend quite some time here, just browsing!
Ivan Wozniak and his team have done a great job.

But, if you’re only able to come one time, make it Saturday April 30th between 10am-1pm. Ivan and Jill will be on hand; former employees are urged to turn up and make themselves known. A nice touch is that a demonstration of porcelain painting by talented local artists will complement the exhibition on the day.

This exhibition has been funded by a grant from Johnson Matthey, previously the parent company to Blythe Colours.
More details can be found on the Discovery Group Facebook page.

Grants

Some good news for the centre is that we’ve had some significant donations to help underwrite our community sessions.
Our local councillors, Keith Flunder and Ian Herdman, stepped in with £200 from their ‘Community Fund’ to help secure activities for our Blythe Centre Arts and Crafts Group (see Events page for details of their meetings). Thank you to them.
Support-Staffordshire also came along, with a £1000 grant to help our Crafts4All group (see Events page for details of their meetings).

The centre in 2022

Funding such as the above is proving a lifeline for us, to be honest.
We at the Blythe Bridge Library Centre have been affected quite considerably by the two years of the pandemic. Whilst we have kept going all that time (with services tailored to government guidelines, of course), the current situation is a real worry.

Pre-pandemic, in 2019, our monthly footfall ranged from 2800-4000 visits. But, for the last few months, that figure is vastly reduced – to around 400 per month.
We know that, of course, things are not yet back to normal – the amount of specific events we can put on is much lower for instance – but, still, it is concerning.
It’s not just a matter of funding: without considerable public support, a community hub like this feels very lonely…
Do you have thoughts about how the centre can grow again? Either email us with your thoughts, or drop in on the days we are open and have a chat.
We welcome ideas!
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Spring is here!

Almost two years to the day, we feel we are finally beyond the pandemic: person-to-person classes are back at the centre and public events have returned (see our Events page)…
But we are also aware Covid is not a spent force yet; we remain vigilant!
Please also remember that we still have Covid-testing packs to distribute – please do come in and get one if you want one.

Jubilee time

The first meeting of the Friends of Blythe Centre (on Monday March 28th at 6pm) will be taken up with discussions on what the community could do for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Celebrations this June.
Do you have ideas? This is a brainstorm meeting, so please come along and say your piece, even if your ideas are still in the formative stage. All are welcome!!

Staffordshire pictures

Another big event coming up is Staffordshire Day, the time when we celebrate all things to do with the county.
This year the theme is the county’s ‘great outdoors’, and the organisers want your pictures, sketches or paintings – in watercolour or crayon or whatever medium you choose.

Find a Staffordshire outdoors location – then draw or paint it…. !! Photo by David Shaun Wright-Khan

Have you got a favourite Staffordshire outdoor location (especially one around our area of Blythe Bridge, Stallington, Forsbrook, Draycott)? Depict it!

Once your piece is finished, please drop it in at the library, where it will be passed on to the organisers, and could well be used in Staffordshire Day displays.
The deadline for submissions is 31st March, so get cracking… Click here for full details.

Storytime

Although we have story-reading as part of our own parents & toddler group sessions at the centre, the county library service as a whole also provides ‘at-home’ story-telling and DIY crafts guides through its YouTube channel.

Above is an example – Kerry reading Kerry the tale of The Cat and Mouse in Partnership by the Brother’s Grimm. Enjoy!

Colours

We’re proud to say that, across all of April, the centre will host an exhibition all about the people, products and times of the ‘Blythe Colours’ factory in Cresswell.
Though it closed in the 1990s, the works employed thousands of people in its heyday, and was world famous for its products – the chemical dyes used in the pottery-making process.
The centre has a particular closeness to the old Colours works. We house the works’ archives here – and enthusiasts have been busy cataloguing all the items. Also, some of our volunteers used to work at the factory all those years ago.
This will be the second time we’ve hosted an exhibition about the works, and we’re told this one will be even bigger & better!
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Sessions returning…

Without ever wanting to be complacent, we do feel at last that we can look to the future. Covid will always be with us in some way, but maybe the full nightmare is behind us – we hope.
So we have launched a survey, to get YOUR views about what we now need to be doing in the next months & years.
Would you please fill it in? It’s very straightforward, and takes only five minutes to do. The results will be a real help!
Please click here to access the survey.

Welcome back
It’s good to see the return of our Warhammer fans. The gaming phenomenon sessions take place once again on Tuesday evenings (from 6.30, small fee). If you want more detail, please email us.

And, ‘socialising’ returns to the centre – in the form of our chess & backgammon afternoon (Tuesdays 1.30pm-3.30pm). It’s an unsupervised, drop-in session, in which we leave the boards out for anyone to come in and use.
Hopefully, enthusiasts will turn up and find someone to play, but please feel free to arrange games in advance with friends too.

Read, read, read
It’s lovely to see book-borrowers coming back in more numbers too.
We hope that we at the centre played our part in keeping readers supplied with books even during the pandemic, but there’s nothing like browsing the shelves is there?

With that in mind, we’ve rearranged the shelves slightly – we now have the ‘Light Classics’ display in the centre of the floor – and are trying to exhibit prominently our new stock as it comes in. We also have a ‘Winter Reads’ section (see pic above) all ready for you to look through – some terrific books there.

Reading, of all sorts, has proven over the last two years to be important, for both mental health and for self-understanding. Keeping up the habit is vital…

Parking
Finally, parking. While we were shut a year ago, naturally people started using the parking spaces in front of the library. However this row of parking spaces is actually leased to the library, and is for library users only.
So we’re reminding the wider community to be mindful of the library customers and please respect the spaces.

Parking can be difficult in Blythe Bridge we know, but we would remind people that the nearest free public car-park is only 300 yards away (just past the Nisa store).
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Amazing artwork – in detail

The new artwork at Blythe Bridge Library (see pic right) tells so many stories that it’s difficult to recount them all!

Most of us have now seen it, but if you haven’t, the work comes in the guise of a variety of light-shades, with each of nearly 300 panels within them representing memories of this place where we live.
(For the full story of how it came about, who made it, and how it was made, click here).
So, it can be difficult, even if you gaze for an hour, to see the details of each & every panel and work out what they are about. And, unless you can get on a ladder and look close, it’s also hard to see the meticulous stitching and handiwork that went into the creation of each piece.

So on this webpage, we’ve picked out just a few of the most popular panels for you to get a closer look at. Each panel is made of vellum, with images printed on to it, and then stitched by individuals who took part in the project. (See examples below)

We’ve listed three of the subjects’ information sheets. For each subject, click on the download link to see the image.

Blythe House was a Victorian mansion, pulled down in 1939; the Library stands on the exact same site. The panel features lovely old photos of it.

Ernest Egerton, the local man who won the Victoria Cross medal in World War One for his courage. The panel is a fascinating montage of documents and photos

The Sutherland Brothers, the 1970s rock duo who attended Blythe Bridge High School. This panel is another very original montage, showing the texts of their lyrics

These are just the most popular of the 300 panels. As time goes by, we’ll create a digital database so that you will eventually be able to see detailed photos of each and every one.

Books
Another lasting legacy is in the two books which came out of this ‘Crafting in the Communities’ project.

The first book is the ‘Stitchionary’ booklet. This is an A-Z of some well-known, but also some very old, stitching techniques. The artist who led the project, Jennifer Collier, has long been collecting forgotten heritage stitches, and some of those can be found in this booklet. If you want a chance to extend your sewing skills, this is for you!
All the members of the Blythe Crafting Community Hub Groups received copies of the booklet, but some have been made available to the public. If you’re lucky, a few will still be on the desk at the library.

The second book is a unique item, made by Debbi Silcock, our long-time artist-in-residence here. In her booklet ‘Handmade Bound’, she tells the story of the whole project, with comments from participants (see pics below).

It is a unique piece in being completely home-made, and an art-work in its own right – which is why it’s a one-off! Next time you’re in the centre, ask to take a look at it. It’s really fascinating.

And indeed, while you’re visiting, why not check out the accompanying display (see pic below) – which tells the story of the project beginning to end…

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An amazing artwork

Well, it was quite a day! Just this week, the new community artwork was unveiled in the centre, and it looks absolutely beautiful: three main lampshade pendants, each with thirty smaller pendants hanging from them, and the whole array containing a staggering three hundred individual panels within them.

Made out of translucent vellum to give the best possible effect, they are best seen when the light is right. When the sunlight hit them in the morning, they shone; and when they were lit up in the gathering dusk, they made a special effect indeed.
Thanks to everybody who turned up on the day and to everybody who helped out… and for all the great feedback!

‘Crafting Communities’

The artwork is the culmination of a three-month project here called ‘Crafting Communities’. Led by Jennifer Collier, a renowned paper & stitch artist, groups met regularly at the centre to learn about all different ways and applications of stitching; and created amazing small personal pieces to take home, using card, paper and, finally, vellum.

The project went up a gear when we decided and then realised what the end artwork would be. The groups now had to create three hundred panels, of differing sizes, and each had to be an individual artwork in itself. Each panel would make a statement – about a community memory, or a story from local history, or a famous person from round here, or even about what we do at the centre!
Thanks to a lot of enthusiasm, and some great leadership from Jennifer, the project was completed and installed on time.

Come take a look
Even if you stood and looked at the work for an hour, you could still miss some of the themes that are illustrated on the shades and pendants. There are that many!

So what we’ve done is created an accompanying information-gallery of photos, which will help you pick out some of the most popular themes. For example, people into local history will be drawn to the panel about Sergeant Egerton, who won the VC for bravery; while local parents might like more information about the panel created by the Twinkle Tots group, with its brightly-coloured paper cut-outs! Those are both in the photo-gallery on the wall, under the shades.

Debbi Silcock, Catherine Birtles, and Jennifer Collier

But there is also fun in just looking for what you can find. For example, see if you can spot the panel about Rachel Shenton, born locally, who won an Oscar for the film she made.
Eventually, information about each of the 300 panels will be placed on to a digital database, and be available to all.

Tracie Meredith and Helen Bickerton admire the sights

The small print

Nothing like this can happen without great support, so we must thank as many as we can. If we have missed you out (by accident), please contact us, and we’ll make sure you get a mention.
So, thanks go to:
Jennifer Collier who tirelessly and cheerfully led the project, supported by Charlie Birtles who acted as creative co-ordinator.
Debbi Silcock, Blythe’s own artist in residence, who put her own expertise and friendliness at the service of the project.
Tracie Meredith (the officer for Staffordshire Libraries Community Arts) who was behind the original bid, in partnership with ourselves at the Blythe Centre/Care & Fun charity
Our very own Helen Bickerton, the lead volunteer and manager at the centre, who just never stops – and all our volunteers, who patiently keep things going
Michelle Jackson from Staffordshire Libraries, who negotiated the installation with our Helen, ensuring the whole thing got off the ground (literally!)
All the centre’s crafts groups and the play-groups, who really entered into the spirit of it
The public of Blythe Bridge & Environs, who volunteered their stories of this area at our Memories sessions (stories which were later used to inform the images on some of the panels)
The Arts Council, who funded the whole project
And to Bourne Electricals who made sure the pendants were installed and shining bright by the deadline.
Phew!

… and so, on that note: a Merry Christmas to us all !! ….

Memories….

Welcome to our November bulletin

Crafting project

It causes a twinge of regret to realise that our big project of the last three months has now come to an end. The ‘Crafting Communities’ sessions led by the artist Jennifer Collier (see pic right) were a lovely experience, and inspired many new friendships – as well as leading to the creation of some beautiful artworks. (You can see more of these artworks if you click on to the facebook page of the Blythe Centre Creative Group).

Jennifer gave us these thoughts:
It has been an utter joy to be artist-in-residence at the Blythe Centre, and it has given me the opportunity to work with a wide cross-section of different members of the community through the outreach workshops; with family groups, Local History Groups, The Friendship Group, but also through the Thursday Hub group workshops.

It has been fantastic to have a longer engagement with the Hub Group and watch them grow in confidence, and flourish as makers over the 12 weeks of this project; some had been Covid-shielding on their own for such a long time, but are now confident to join in and even help others in the group.
I will be SO excited to be there to reveal the final artwork to this brilliant community on 16th December, and am proud that this work will incorporate all of the participants’ memories, and that they can be enjoyed for years to come by all…

Many thanks to Jennifer.

As she says, we will see her back again with us before Christmas, on the day we gather in the centre to unveil the permanent legacy artwork. What it will look like is a secret until then, so, if you want to know more, you’ll just have to come along and see it for yourself!
For details of times and dates of that unveiling, please see our Events page.

Day of memories

As well as the craft sessions, last month Jennifer also led the local-memories sessions – when many of us got together to reminisce, and then record what we came up with. The Blythe Bridge History Group were very happy with the results, which gave them insights into the past they’d never had before.

Here’s just one piece that was collected on the day: “I remember Sylvia’s Wool Shop on the corner of the Co-op car park, her husband David had a DIY shop along Uttoxeter Road. I also remember a little shop just near the chip shop, which was someone’s living room and she sold baby clothes, cards, wrapping paper etc on certain days of the week.”
The records, whether written or in-audio, will be kept for future generations, as well as incorporated into the legacy artwork.

Babywear

As the weather turns colder, don’t forget that the centre has plenty of baby-wear for sale, all made by our Knit & Natter group. All is on display on the wall in our main space (see pic below). Prices are all around £5.
Great Xmas presents!

Cushions and baby-wear for sale

If the items were made from donated fabrics/wool, the centre receives all the sales revenue; if the items were made with purchased materials we receive 25%.
It’s a fantastic way to help the centre raise funds – so thanks to the members of Knit & Natter!

Sadness

Busy and happy as we always are, there has been sadness. In recent times, a number of the team in the centre have gone through the loss of a dear one , and the bereavement that inevitably follows. It has been tough at times.
But the grief has been a little allayed by the support we have been able to give one another and the condolences that the centre’s visitors have expressed, and for that we are more grateful than we can say.

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Gathering memories

Welcome to autumn, “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”, as the poet Keats put it – a great time to be out & about. We hope to see you at the library…

First though to say that: the great news is that we have finally been able to extend our opening hours – in fact, to double them. Our library service will now be offered Saturdays 9-1, Tuesdays 9-5 and Fridays 9-5.  
This has only been made possible because our lovely volunteers stepped up – so thanks to them!

(Please remember that, if you wish to use a computer during these times, you need to call the centre on 01782 485269 to pre-book).

Memories…

Autumn is a good time to gather round and remember the old days, and that’s exactly what’s happening here on Monday 11th October.  Led by our artist-in-residence, Jennifer Collier, there will be two (free) ‘Blythe Memories’ sessions in the afternoon on that day.
The idea is simply to sit down with some tea & cake and share memories of the district with others, even writing down or drawing some of them. Please bring along old photos too, if you can!
What Jennifer wants to do is help compile the memories into a sort of artwork – so that they are not forgotten.

You do need to book for these sessions – please phone 01782 485269 (in office hours) to find out how, or use the online booking system.
People of all ages are welcome – after all, we all have memories!

Films for Black History Month

October is Black History Month – when we remember the experiences of black people in this country down the centuries. Libraries always like to be involved with the occasion, and we are, again, this time – but, this year, nearly all events are online.

The main thrust is a series of small animated dramas, which will be found on the Staffordshire Libraries YouTube channel this month. A new one is released every Friday.
Of particular interest to Staffordshire people will be ‘Tunstall’ (the story of Samuel Barber, the first black British preacher in Staffordshire, which is released on October 8th) and ‘The Chartist’ (the story of the working-class reformer William Cuffay).
There are many more films of course – to find out about them all, please click here. All films will remain available on YouTube after release, until 31st October.

Write a poem!

It’s National Poetry Day on 7th October, a great day to start re-reading poetry… and writing it. Please feel free to drop in here over these weeks and find a new poem or rediscover a childhood favourite. We can always make a recommendation for you, or reserve something for you.

But writing poetry is also a joy.  So – we’d love it if you’d write a short poem for us.  If you need inspiration, please write about this place where we live. We’ll publish our favourites in our quarterly newsletter. Please email your results to us at blythebridge.library@staffordshire.gov.uk

Community Crafting

Don’t forget that our artist-in-residence, Jennifer, is still doing her (free) Thursday crafts sessions, and will be continuing them right through to the end of November. There’s a special one for families at half-term.
As people can only book them two weeks in advance, there are still plenty of spaces into the future – so, if the sessions were full the last time you tried, don’t despair, keep trying! See our What’s On page for more details.

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Slowly, slowly back to normal

As we enter the autumn, the big question is: are we all safely out of the pandemic, or must we be still careful? For us, the reply must be on the side of caution. Yes, we do hope to extend opening hours soon, and yes, we will be hosting more groups as the months go by. But, our first thoughts must be for the safety of volunteers and visitors.
So we are still cleaning vigorously, still being aware of numbers in the room at any one time, and still maintaining watchfulness. We pride ourselves that we are especially careful when it comes to our parent & toddler mornings.
So, with that said: onwards we go!!

Big plans

Our major project for the autumn is, as you will know, the ‘Crafting Communities’ sessions with paper artist Jennifer Collier, which will last through to December. (See our last post for details) .
As a bit of publicity, Jennifer and some of us from the centre hosted a stall at the Draycott Fayre last month – where a good time was had by all, with lots of activities undertaken!

Our very own Roger entertaining the crowds at Draycott Fayre (pic: Neil Archibald)

The publicity must have worked – because the sessions, which are free, have attracted almost the maximum numbers allowed so far. (Please see our What’s On page for how to book yourself in).
The sessions have also produced a ‘Big Idea’ – which is, why not create a long-term artwork representing Blythe Bridge itself?? Such a project will rely on community involvement to make it work… please email us your thoughts about what themes should be included – or come and talk to us when we are open!

Slots available

While the centre is working on restricted hours, we have certain time-slots available for other classes, including evenings and weekends.
Would you like to run an exercise class, in, say, Yoga or Pilates or Tai Chi? Or perhaps you need a venue for health & well-being groups (in say, counselling, bereavement-care or weight management, etc)?
The bonus is that, because any new sessions would have to take place when the library doors are closed, they are guaranteed privacy.
If the opportunity appeals to you, please contact us. We will support you at Blythe Centre if we can!

Borrowing periods

One sign of the slow return to normality is that all libraries across the county are going back to asking for the normal borrowing period for books.
Over the last eighteen months, a flexible approach to borrowing times was in order, but now we can get back to how it was. If you have ‘overdue’ books, please return them, or, if that will be difficult, please give us a call (during opening hours).
However, the good news is that, even now, no one will face fines for books returned late.

Online festival

Lastly, don’t forget that this month sees the start of the Staffordshire History Festival, which is largely a Libraries initiative this year.
Most of it is online, which makes ‘attending’ events very easy! For more details, click here

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Get crafting this autumn!

Blythe is proud to announce that we are one of only four libraries across Staffordshire to be selected for ‘CraftingCommunities’, a major crafts-in-the-community project.

On site, and out and about in the local villages, the maker-artist Jennifer Collier (see pic right) will be with us as Blythe Bridge’s craftsperson-in-residence. She will be here for three months, from September until December.
With all the funding already provided (by the National Lottery, through the Arts Council), this is going to be an amazing, and, we hope, transformational project!

Making together
Thursdays at the centre are being set aside exclusively for residents to work with Jennifer, in a range of fun-crafting activities.
All are welcome to come along, though booking is essential; and, whatever the government Covid guidelines will be then, we assure you we will be following them.

But, it doesn’t stop there. Jennifer is open to invitations from local community groups to go to them, to create on-the-spot sessions. Please contact us for details.
And we have not forgotten those who are house-bound or still isolating. Bespoke packages will be available for them – and we will deliver them.

Re-connecting
One of the many downsides of the pandemic was that it stopped communities coming together, so now, as the pandemic recedes, comes the task of re-creating those connections – and we intend to make this project a great contribution to that.
As Cllr Victoria Wilson, of Staffordshire Libraries, says: “Libraries have always used arts and crafts for social activities; and can reach out and explore new ways to get more people involved.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has had a real impact on individuals and local communities. By bringing people together for creativity we can start to strengthen community wellbeing.”

Staffs Libraries have set up a special webpage for this project – click here to see more.

Jennifer
It’s going to be fun to have Jennifer Collier with us! She works as a paper-and-stitch mixed-media artist in Stafford. As you can see from the photos of her work (below), she is not afraid to ‘think outside the box’, and have fun…

Jennifer’s big idea for these sessions however is to encourage everyone who attends to experiment with simple techniques suited to all abilities – in other words, maximum participation. To aid that, all the sessions are free, and materials will be free too.
Depending on what ideas come up there may even be a chance for a shared project, resulting in a community art-work at the end.

How to join
To join a session, please book ahead. See our What’s On page for details.
However, if you are a member of a local community group, or are one of those who are not able to get out, please feel free to contact us now about how this opportunity can work out for you or your group.
Our email is: blythebridge.library@staffordshire.gov.uk

If you re-blog this article, please use the hashtag #CraftingCommunities

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