The Workshop was set up in 1978 as a craft producers’ co-operative by three craftspeople: Elli Pearson, a potter; Rosie Jarrett, a weaver; and woodcarver Peter Leach. Its first premises were in an old bakery just off Back Road in St Margaret’s Hope that needed extensive renovation to make them usable. It opened its doors in July 1978. Soon local knitters became involved and its knitwear became the core activity of the business. In 1982 the group registered as a Friendly Society with a membership of ten.
By 1999 the business had expanded and needed to move to new premises. It relocated to Leith’s, a former draper’s shop in Front Road.
Membership of the co-operative had grown to over 100 and the part-time shop manager had been employed. Still in post today, she is also responsible for designing the knitwear and works with a dedicated team of local hand knitters. A management committee runs the business and the shop is staffed by a rota of volunteers. As well as the knitwear, the shop sells a wide range of high-quality local crafts and artwork: pottery, jewellery, textiles, prints, cards.
With the move to Front Road, the Loft Gallery was started on the first floor above the Workshop – and the enterprise became The Workshop and Loft Gallery. Trish Spence was active in setting up the small gallery and continued to run it until 2018. Exhibitions are put on through most of the year, making the Loft Gallery a sought-after venue with local artists.
Now in its 44th year, the co-operative has over 350 members. The shop is busiest during the tourist season but is well supported by its members and local customers throughout the year.
Two founder members of Hope Cohousing – Trish Spence and Elke (Elli) Pearson – talk about their involvement in the early days of the Workshop and Loft Gallery.
For the Makers was filmed and edited by Martin Laird, researched by Fiona Grahame, and produced by Orkney News Ltd, It is part of ‘Orcadian Stories’ – a series of short filmed interviews of people who have played a part in creating a cultural legacy for the islands. Watch the video on YouTube (15 mins.)