Interview with Kate Bosset, about her...
Interview with Kate Bosset, a long-time member of the Makers Guild in Wales and volunteer with Craft in the Bay.
The Chronicle Project is a community heritage project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and run by VCS Cymru with the aims to document the history of volunteering in Cardiff, from 1914 to 2014.
Visit our website at: http://chronicle.recueil.net/
Interviewer: So, what is your name and when were you born?
Kate: My name is Kate Bosset and I first became a member of the Makers Guild In Wales in 1987. I was fortunate to be accepted (the standard of my work was good enough for them to accept me). And I have been grateful ever since, because I have been involved not only with a very high standard of work, but with people who are excellent craftspeople and very good friends. It is an extremely close-knit organisation: most of it done of course on a voluntary basis.
Interviewer What motivated you to join the Makers Guild?
Kate: Because I went to one of their fairs, which they used to have before they had their own premises, and I liked the standard of work that I saw and I thought “This is the kind of group that I would like to be part of.”
Interviewer: When you started as part of the Makers Guild, what were your tasks, what did you have to do, what was your role?
Kate: Nothing very much because we had, I mean we just organised craft fairs, mainly in St. David’s, in the concert hall, here in Cardiff. And we had very successful craft fairs there. And then the Old Library became vacant and it was mooted that we should have a permanent presence there. And I was part of that meeting and very much in favour of doing that. Now, it was extremely difficult to do because we had no money at all, absolutely none, so we all contributed, each person contributed a certain amount of money. And the rents, they were kind, it was owned at that time by Cardiff City Council and they did not charge us a great deal: they wanted the space used and we were a fairly good organisation to do this.
We did employ somebody at that stage, but it was one of our own members, and the rest of us manned it all the time wholly voluntarily.
Interviewer: What kind of activities would you do voluntarily in the old library?
Kate: Oh, we’d do everything: we’d dust; we’d clean the gallery; we’d look after everything; we’d display it, all the artwork; and we would be salespeople when people came in. I mean, we ran the gallery as this gallery also is run, on very much the same lines. Nothing has altered in that respect.
Interviewer: How would you recruit more members to be part of the Makers Guild, especially in the beginning?
Kate: Oh, wholly on the excellence of their work. I mean, the craftspeople, or really they’re applied artists, because craft has a slightly derogatory meaning to it but the people here are artists and it’s a close-knit community and they soon knew that the standard that the Makers Guild asked was a high one and there was prestige in belonging to it. So we didn’t have to recruit people, they came to us.
Interviewer: Before you had the space in the Old Library, how would you go about organising a craft fair?
Kate: By booking the space. And we would produce the tables ourselves – often in the space the tables would be there, but we just turned up with our stuff.
Interviewer: Would craftsmen have to pay for their stalls?
Kate: Oh yes. Each craftsperson paid for a stall.
Interviewer: Would you say that your volunteering with the Makers Guild impacted on the wider community and if so, how?
Kate: Any volunteer, social volunteering impacts the wider community because you are being part of that society. I mean, alright, this was the art section of the society but any volunteering impacts the wider society. I mean, it goes without saying really doesn’t it.
Interviewer: That is true, and how did Makers Guild do it?
Kate: How did we do it?
Interviewer: Yeah, how did Makers Guild impact the wider society?
Kate: We advertised ourselves and they got to know when one of our fairs was advertised, that we would advertise that we were having a craft fair, the public came because they had faith in what we were selling.
Interviewer: Could you talk more about how Makers Guild developed, so about looking for different spaces to put your gallery?
Kate: Oh, that is extremely difficult and there is no point in putting a gallery in the back of beyond, you’ve got to be somewhere where there is a decent footfall. We were very fortunate because there was disappointment in the Old Library closing for us. We were not given the space. I think we were there two years or something, not much more than that, I can’t recall completely. But we were offered space down here in the Bay in the old Techniquest shed. And we knew it was temporary because the space was going to be pulled down and the space used for Cardiff Bay Development. But we were there and we made our presence felt while we were there. And it was a lovely space, it was big, it was light. We inherited all the old lighting features that Techniquest had had. And as you know, Techniquest is a splendid showpiece of science technology. And so we were there for I think another two years, maybe just eighteen months, and then we had nowhere to go, and that was just awful. But there was space available in the Cory Building at the bottom of Bute Street. This was less than desirable, it was much smaller than Techniquest, people didn’t pass by so much, it was darker. But we made do. We moved in there and we were there for some time.
But during that time Cardiff Bay was being developed and so we asked The Cardiff Bay Development Corporation for premises to open up here in the Bay, because we liked the Bay and it seemed to be good for us. And it took a lot to convince them that we were professional enough to run a viable business. That was their problem. They refused to listen to us for some long time. We asked local politicians to help us and they all helped us. They could see that it was a great asset really for the Bay to have a gallery like this, a permanent gallery. And in the end, we managed to persuade Sir Geoffrey Inkin, the Chairman of Cardiff Bay Corporation, that we were pretty good, and he conceded that yes, he would see if we could have some property in the Bay, unspecified. And all the properties that we looked at that we thought were suitable to develop, they said no, someone else was coming in. And it also needed much more money than we had. And so they had an excuse to refuse us permission. And then I thought, because at the time I was chairman, so quite a bit of the negotiation fell to me (we always work as a group, always work as a group but I would travel down from where I lived in mid-Wales, two or three times a week), and it just dawned on me because there was this plot of land here. And I talked to them and they made this commercial aspect very clear that they did not consider us professional enough to take on such a project. And I had gleaned from conversations that the site on The Flourish was deemed to have no commercial value so I had an argument to put to them and they accepted.
Sir Geoffrey Inkin was extremely good about this. The other person who was good to us was Alun Davies, who at the time was the Chief Executive Officer of the Associated British Ports here, and he had the ”D” shed, which was an old warehouse which had been used as a vehicle testing building, but CADW had listed it because it had a cast iron frame. They suddenly realised that they were losing a lot of the old property and the old buildings in Cardiff Bay and hadn’t noticed that they were going so they started pretty well listing everything that was still standing, and the ”D” shed was still standing. Because it was on dockside this was the property of the Associated British Ports and they had the responsibility of taking it down and noting which piece of iron belonged to which other piece of iron, in the way that old buildings are taken down in order to be reassembled. And they offered us the framework of the “D” shed.
Because of that we were able to go to the Arts Council Lottery Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund, both of them, otherwise we could never have had this built. And we went ahead with it, and we’re still here. I’m afraid that the people who said we were not professional, because mainly we were volunteers you see, none of us was paid for this, no one had a bean, not even expenses. I would come down here, I never never claimed petrol money or anything like that – I suppose the round trip was about a hundred miles or so, you know, when I came down. And it never occurred to us because our enthusiasm and our energy was such (you must recall that we were a lot younger then than we are now) that we wanted to make the project work. And I think it has.
Interviewer: Could you talk more about the process of getting funding, especially in the beginning when you said you didn’t have any money?
Kate: Oh, it was awful, it was absolutely dreadful, because that I think is where our lack of professional knowledge did come into it. Now then, in the funding we were able to employ somebody, and we did. We employed somebody to do the donkey work of getting the funding. He referred to us all the way along the line and he did a great deal. So in that respect we did have some … well, he’d never done it before either but at least he was paid. He was paid of course, as you well know, out of the funding nest itself, because we didn’t have the money to pay him – that was part of the application.
Interviewer: Could you talk more about your role as chairman? What things would you have to do as chairman of the Makers Guild?
Kate: Well you really just have to keep an eye on everything and make sure that it is running smoothly. It can be a very onerous job but the people involved are so bent on making a success of what they’re doing that it is not very difficult at all to be chairman. You are yes, a figurehead, and if somebody has to be … there was quite a role to negotiate getting the land for this building, I accept that took a lot of meetings. There was one occasion when I had levelled at me the remark that “Do you realise that you’re getting a reputation for being the (he didn’t quite use the word) stroppiest woman in Cardiff?” (but he implied it). Anyway, stroppy or no, we got the land.
Interviewer: What other memories from your time with the Makers Guild stand out – happenings, or crafts or anecdotes?
Kate: I think the appreciation from the public about the standard of work that is produced, and the variety of work that is produced. It is a very fine line between fine art and applied art: they cross over quite often.
Interviewer: We were talking about memories of your time with the Makers Guild that stand out.
Kate: Yes we were, but I don’t know where we got to really. [Interviewer: We can start over with the memories]. Please no! What impact did we have I think was what you were saying wasn’t it? [Interviewer: Impact on the community]. On the community, yes, and what gave us most pleasure. Right, well I said that the pleasure people obviously got from the standard of the work they were seeing. And I was talking about the difference between fine art and applied art. It was quite difficult also to persuade the Arts Council that craft in its best form is applied art, because they’ve got a very, very big, broad demand on their resources: there’s literature; there’s music; there’s fine art, so what they term “craft” really comes off pretty low down. They have been quite good latterly but it was very difficult to get any funding from them in the first place. They did give us, once the Lottery came into being, they did back us for Lottery funding. The fact that the Heritage Lottery fund also was involved, the fact that the Heritage Lottery Fund thought that we were worthy because we would be preserving the building in a reasonable way. That gave us strength really.
Interviewer: Would you say your work as a volunteer impacted on the community here in the Bay?
Kate: It’s inevitable that it did, because it wouldn’t be here if we didn’t volunteer. I mean, this place (yes, we do employ now, we can afford to employ, several people), but everybody else is a volunteer. I mean, Debbie today, whom you’ve met, and Mandy, they’re volunteering – they don’t get paid at all. In fact if your work is here you undertake to do some volunteering, it’s part of it. And it’s very good as well, it’s extremely good because when you are down here it can be a bit boring from time to time, but when you are down here you look at other people’s work, you meet other makers: it is a very good stimulus. I am very, very chary when I see somebody’s work as I go around Wales somewhere – I never say “Oh, you must apply to the Makers Guild”, because the selections are tough, I mean it’s a very high standard that is expected of an artist. But I never do it … that’s untrue, I have done it on two or three occasions when I’ve seen outstanding work, but I have said “Look, there’s no guarantee that you’ll get in but it’s worth doing”, and one or two of the people have got in on my suggestion that they should apply (because I’ve got nothing to do with … it would never have had any effect on whether they were chosen), but I notice how their work improves after they have become a member. It is purely and simply because they are rubbing shoulders with other craftspeople and they get inspiration from the standard of work they are involved with.
Interviewer: Would you say volunteering impacted other areas of your life – social life, career, family life?
Kate: Yes of course, because you’re not at home, you’re here, you’re volunteering. You are giving your time to something other than your life, what you’re doing. And in my case it was just wholly family life. I was older, I mean I’m old! All this was a long time ago and I was still old – I was well past retiring age when I started here.
Interviewer: What does volunteering mean to you, how would you define it?
Kate: To define it is difficult. I think, quite frankly, that my attitude to volunteering is that I am doing something that I enjoy doing and at the same time I’m pleased that it is perhaps benefiting other people as well: self-indulgence if you like. Because you get an awful lot from volunteering, well as you know, otherwise you probably wouldn’t volunteer.
Interviewer: Did you volunteer with other groups or organisations?
Kate: Oh, I’ve always done that, yes.
Interviewer: Any examples that stand out right now?
Kate: Sort of just normal things – Red Cross volunteering, but not in this country, abroad, in times of a certain amount of stress, I did things for other people, yes. I’ve lived a strange life.
Interviewer: Would you like to talk about your Red Cross volunteering?
Kate: No, that was very minimal. I mean no, because I’d be ashamed at how little it was, but that the only think I could really think [of]. But I’ve always been part and parcel of … and it certainly wasn’t here, it was in Africa and Japan and places, so it just doesn’t apply here any more. It would be wholly irrelevant.
Interviewer: How do you think … do you have any words of inspiration for volunteers today?
Kate: Oh, only that they would get probably more from it than they give.
Interviewer: Would you say that there are maybe frustrations or disappointments during your volunteer work – what would be something that would stand out?
Kate: There are always frustrations with anything you do. Not really, because you … no, you wouldn’t continue with it if you were frustrated too much. That is the big thing about volunteering work, you’re not employed – you can say “Blow you!”, and off you go if you want to. You needn’t record that! I could have used a worse word!
Interviewer: Do you still keep in touch with people from the Makers Guild?
Kate: Yes. I walked in today, I haven’t been here for ages and there they were, you know. Yes. It’s nice.
Interviewer: Do you still steward here from time to time?
Kate: No, no. Getting down here today was quite enough of an effort thank you very much.
Interviewer: What kind of activities do you do now for Makers Guild, do you just display your work?
Kate: No, no, I’ve stopped working. I mean, if I were to display my work here I would have to volunteer, I would have to come in two or three times a year and do my stint. I mean, you must have gleaned this from what other people have said … other people whom you have interviewed must be giving you the same story really.
Interviewer: Not really, there’s always different perspectives of the same story more-or-less. Is there anything that we didn’t talk about that you’d like to add?
Kate: I think I’d like to add that the local councils, local government, civic authorities generally, don’t always appreciate the energy that is available from volunteers. No volunteer works in a lethargic way and they all feel, no matter what aspect of volunteering, this of course is a particular aspect, but they all have, if you like, a mission. And they work to it and they give a lot of their thought, not just their time but they give thought and this is something that I tried to get across to Cardiff City Council and the Cardiff Bay Development Corporation when we were negotiating this land here, that they should not underestimate the energy that this group of people had. Yes, we weren’t professional in that respect, but that I think should be recognised more by civic authorities.
Interviewer: Thank you very much for everything.
Kate: No, thank you.