Katie Abbot knows how such a distinction lies at the heart of ARTHOUSE Unlimited. The charity gives people living with epilepsy and learning disabilities the opportunity to create artworks, which are then developed into designer products for sale.
“It’s important to all of us to feel valued and respected,” says Katie, the sales and marketing director. “Instead of the artists’ work just being thrown away at the end of the day, we’re showing them how their creative talents have real value.”
Founded 14 years ago by artist Becky Sheraidah, ARTHOUSE Unlimited now has over 200 items for sale, with all the designs created in their premises on Godalming High Street in Surrey. The location is another important factor in the charity’s ethos.
“The studio and the shop are all open plan, so people can see the work being created and chat to the artists,” Katie says. “It encourages a sense of integration, making the artists very much a part of the local community. We really want to challenge society’s perception of people that live with disabilities.”
But it’s not just locals who get to peruse and purchase the goods on offer. An impressive range of products, including clothes, homeware and toiletries, is also sold online and via national and international stockists. On certain items, the charity has collaborated with some high-profile names, including Oxfam and Lush.
So the studio is a busy one, with sessions run every weekday by professional art instructors, with care workers on hand to provide physical or emotional support. In keeping with their emphasis on community engagement, there is also a team of local volunteers helping out.
“This might be people who are looking to find a way back into work, or just feeling lonely,” Katie explains. “We try to be as inclusive as possible.”
Relying on profits from sales, the charity is self-sustaining, with any funding a welcome bonus. The ambition is to see their business model replicated throughout the UK.
“It would be great to have something like ARTHOUSE Unlimited on every high street,” says Katie. “That’s the dream, and we’re getting there, one sale at a time.”
To find out more, go to arthouseunlimited.org or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
By Theo Hooper