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Interview with a Real Life Womble

Updated: Feb 24, 2022

In her time with The Faraway CIC, Emma has supported autistic people to explore new skills and hobbies, grown all sorts of fruit and veg and created art out of what some may simply throw away. Here's her story.

Primarily, I am an artist and craftswoman who enjoys creating things out of found materials, wood is one of the materials I work with. I am, by nature, a forager – a bit like a Womble.

I've also taught primitive skills like making bow drills, making string from nettles, making paintbrushes from sticks. I've invented a drill using a pebble with a hole in it that I've never seen anyone else use. I'm also an experimental archaeologist, archaeology is one of my special interests/restricted interests.

"I've invented a drill using a pebble with a hole in it that I've never seen anyone else use. "

I have an extensive portfolio that predominantly involves wood carving, as an artist I am most popular for that. Although, I wasn't always a crafts-person and, for a long time, refused to call myself an artist. I'm entirely self-taught and learnt to carve with a cheap set of chisels from Lidl. Within only a year - I accepted my first commission - for a logo to be carved on a tree in a local park on behalf of a local community group called, ‘The Friends of the Freshney’.


I used the money I'd earned to upgrade my tools - and took commissions for working with children in schools and with community groups. The first piece I did for a school was Healing Primary school, I worked with over 200 children on that project, all the children were involved in the design to some extent, and I still have a card from the headmistress thanking me.

That's what my arts about, connecting people and showing them that they are capable of more than what they think themselves capable of.


My background is one that comes from poverty, I come from a single parent household during the 70's, the first years of my life were spent in a caravan on Humberston Fitties and then we lived in an asbestos shack on the Nunsthorpe estate.


I found my art because I'm autistic. I preferred to dig clay rather than accept invites to play.

And not having much to play with as a kid and enjoying my own company a lot, lead to me learning how to weave grass and dig for clay and find things to play with.

I left school at thirteen because I was bullied relentlessly so left school with no qualifications.

I stopped living with my parents when I was seventeen and would have been homeless if a field social worker from Doorstep didn't intervene. I was placed in foster care and didn't leave until I was eighteen.

"I preferred to dig clay rather than accept invites to play."

After that, I worked in sales and marketing roles because I had no other skills or qualifications and had to accept any job that would accept me.

I spent ten years in that industry, I started off door to door canvassing and progressed to working as a marketing manager for Action for employment for a few years and eventually became a branch manager to a temporary recruitment agency. I flitted a lot, that's how I masked my autism, I tried to avoid staying anywhere for more than a year because I sensed people's attitudes towards me change and I tried to avoid people getting to know me because I knew there was something different about me, I just didn't know what and couldn't understand why. It wasn't a nice feeling to live with.

It was fortunate that I've always had art to turn to, when the world feels overwhelming to me and when I realised, I couldn't understand people, no matter how hard I tried. that's when I took stock and made a decision about my future.

I decided, when I was almost thirty, that I needed to develop hard skills oppose to trying to develop soft skills that I felt I'd proven to myself, that I didn't have.

I stopped working in marketing and trained to be a lawyer for two years, I studied and completed two years studying for a BA Honours degree in Law. I particularly excelled in the finance and accounting module, I attained 96% for the assignment part of the module. I'd lost some of my fight by then, I didn't enjoy criminal law, I was hoping to train to be an Employment Law Barrister, but lost heart by the time my third year came and could no longer see myself in that sort of position.


I started to explore as many different arts and crafts that I could lay my hands on, it started with making tile mosaics, moved onto sewing bags, book binding, paper marbling, papier-mache, topiary, wire work, painting (waters, oils and anything else I could lay my hands on.)

And eventually wood carving because I had a cheap set of chisels from Lidl and just thought "why not?"


My interest in the natural world started to blossom at that point, it took me years to learn how to identify trees and recognise species from the grain of the wood - it involved a lot of pilgrimages to specific trees throughout the year - and waiting for windy days in the hope of finding broken boughs.

"My hope for the allotment is that it will be an oasis for us to escape to, a sensory haven that feels far away from the grey, noisy, overstimulating hustle and bustle of modern day life"

I've been accumulating knowledge of herbal medicine, an ability to identify native plant and tree species as well as finding practical uses for them. I'm also an amateur landscape archaeologist with a passion for medieval monastic gardens, which will undoubtedly become evident at the allotment.

My hope for the allotment is that it will be an oasis for us to escape to, a sensory haven that feels far away from the grey, noisy, overstimulating hustle and bustle of modern day life; a place we can all go to, to relax or to watch the robin in the tree - we have two established trees on site - a clootie tree (hawthorn) and a stone pine (lovingly nicknamed the Faraway tree after the stories by Enid Blyton.)


To find out more about the Allotment Project, visit www.thefarawaycic.org/allotmentproject


You can support The Faraway CIC in quite a few ways!

Click here to find out how.


Image Credits:

(The Wombles, 1973)

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