Meet Wakefield tailor who makes bags for Yorkshire designers, clothes for dolls and teddy bears and costumes for Leeds Playhouse and Opera North
Nearly all have vanished, to be replaced by vast emporiums or online shopping. But perhaps there’s a glimmer of hope, and signs of a town and city revival? That at least is the purpose behind a new enterprise which is – at the moment – centred on Wakefield.
The city’s Art House, which is based in a beautiful art nouveau building which used to be the central library, is a hive of activity at any time of day. There are dozens of studios for creatives and spaces collectives. But, they reasoned, why not take some of this activity out into the larger community, where it would be further seen, and get a much higher profile?
They’ve now forged strong bonds with The Ridings, the shopping centre opposite the city’s Cathedral, and where many shop units have become empty with the current downturn in the economic climate for a project dubbed Makey Wakey. It’s a coverall umbrella title that encourages anyone, whoever they may be, to get involved with this kick-start to the city centre.
In The Ridings, and at The Art House, Makey Wakey offers help, advice and guidance to everything from toddlers’ groups to artists, from an innovative photographic business, The Merrie Collective, to a hugely popular clothing and rapidly expanding outlet called My Eco Baby that retails revitalised clothing to new or expectant mothers.
But Makey Wakey isn’t just for Yorkshire alone – they are getting in contact with other similar communities across the UK, so that their idea, and the template for its success, can be adapted wherever it might be needed. Salford and Guildford have already picked up on the idea.
To date, there are nineteen units of The Ridings with the Makey Wakey imprint, and another three are used for meetings and discussion forums when they are required. One shining example of how a unit can close – and then re-open with both imagination and significant success – is up there on the second floor: Wakefield Tailoring.
It’s run by Hamid Shoar, who was born in Iran in 1976. Hamid knew from early in his teens that learning a craft would be, for him, the best way of earning a reasonable income. And in tailoring, Hamid found something at which he could excel.
He and his family left Iran, spent hard times in Greece (where sometimes a day’s labour would only pay for enough bread to live on) and then in Norway. Hamid’s stories, about a tough life in a very cold climate, are told with immense good humour and no rancour at all.
Finally settled in Yorkshire, Hamid was introduced to The Art House, and became one of their “star enterprises”. They recognised – and promoted – a unique talent, and, as soon as a Ridings unit became available, moved him in, and helped with setting up a full tailoring establishment, complete with old-fashioned tailor’s table, where Hamid can sit, and cut out cloth, and the much tougher leather.
He jokes that the Art House project leaders wanted him to leave – because before he had access to his specialist table, the super-sharp knives required to trim that leather would cut into the Art House floor coverings, the only flat area of size where he could manoeuvre the blades. The truth is that they recognised what a skilled talent they had in their midst, and that any business he could set up would flourish.
They were right. Hamid, who has son Ramtin, 12, will be taking his full UK citizenship examinations next year. His English is already excellent, but he cheerfully admits that it improves daily, because of the interaction with his customers.
“A lady came in the other day, and used a very strange word, asking if I knew anything about it, and could I do repairs? She seemed a little frustrated that I didn’t at first understand what she needed, so I asked her to be very patient with me, and to explain slowly. The Yorkshire accent can be a bit hard, sometimes! Then I realised what she was talking about. Patchwork. Could I repair a beautiful piece of antique patchwork for her? Well, of course I could, and it was a delight. I’ll turn my hand to anything.”
In his few short months in his shop, and as part of Makey Wakey, Hamid has done everything from taking up hems to repairing ancient sewing machines. He has sourced specialist elastics, made clothes for dolls and teddy bears, and made bags for top-flight Yorkshire designers, whose work sells in places as diverse as the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and at the Tate Gallery Shop, in London.
He’s also starting to do upholstery, and Hamid has made costumes for Opera North and Leeds Playhouse. He can turn his hand to anything, from Velcro to villains like Richard III.
Lucy Norton, the project coordinator for the Art House and Makey Wakey says: “Hamid is wonderful. You go in there with a challenge, and he always rises to it. Overall, every enquiry, every initiative is different. Flexibility is the key, and there is no rigid answer to revitalisation in the high street, everything must be bespoke, and the way forward is to discuss problems, and to give support.
"We work actively with landlords, and with local authorities. It’s ambitious, but we want to get right across the UK, pushing forward a high street resurgence. Believe me, if every town had a Hamid in their midst, they’d be half-way there already.”
Makey Wakey Open Day is across the city on September 24 and open to all.