Championing makers for 15 years! An interview with The Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair’s Ann-Marie Franey


It’s almost time for one of our favourite shows. The Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair is a curated event celebrating makers and making. It presents a variety of handmade craft, from jewellery to glass, textiles to ceramics, prints, sculpture and more. It oozes quality, yet the atmosphere is relaxed and friendly and you’ll find a mix of established and new makers exhibiting together. We’ve been supporters of this show for many years, but a bout of covid prevented our director Katie from visiting last year in its new venue, so the excitement has doubled for this year’s show! We recently caught up with the GNCCF’s director Ann-Marie Franey to find out more about this year’s event…

Katie: I can’t believe you’re about to open the doors to the Great Northern’s 15th show! Huge congratulations to you all. I think we’ve been visiting for about 10 years now. Can you tell us a bit about your dream team and how the GNCCF started?

Ann-Marie: We can’t quite believe it either. I founded the GNCCF back in 2008 with Angela Mann who helped navigate the show to success over the last 15 years. 2022 is the start of a new journey though as Ange has decided to retire to pastures new (literally – she’s swapping craft for cows and off to take up her new passion for farming).

But the fabulous Victoria Scholes has stepped up to join the GNCCF team as Development Director. She’s obsessed with craft and brings with her many years of experience in the sector as a maker, curator and organiser so she’ll be a great asset. Victoria’s going to be responsible for fundraising and helping develop our portfolio of fairs and outreach activities. Next month’s show will be her first so she’s hitting the ground running and on a huge learning curve!

Two other key team members are Jane Dzisiewski and Leanne Richards. Jane is responsible for designing all our beautiful branding and promotional materials and she’s our digital marketing lead. Leanne has also been with us for many years as front of house, managing our fantastic volunteers and welcoming our visitors.

So it’s onwards and upwards for GNCCF!

Katie: The venue has changed and you’re in the beautiful Victoria Baths now. What can visitors expect from this setting?

Ann-Marie: Victoria Baths. Well, what can we say?

It’s got to be the most original venue for craft anywhere in the UK. Designed to be the grandest baths in Britain when they opened in 1906, the decorative tiled and stained glass interiors of this Grade II listed Edwardian landmark sets off handcrafted items to perfection. It’s a warren of beautiful spaces and a great building to explore. Expect exhibitor stands in the pools….but we will try not to throw our newcomers in at the deep end! And graduate talent in the changing cubicles around the pools.

This year we’ve teamed up with Green Grads in their first showcase outside of London – for an exhibition of graduate’s with craft and design ideas to heal the planet, curated by Barbara Chandler. We’ve also thrilled to be partnering with the prestigious Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust this year – five of their scholarship award winners will be exhibiting and selling their work from the stunning tiled Turkish Baths. And new for 2022 will be artist installations, exhibitions and bookable craft workshops – all taking place in quirky rooms around the venue.

Liz Willis Jewellery
Zoe Stainton Needlefelted Sculpture

Katie: There’s a line on your posters and flyers – ‘Craft says something’. How would you describe the show to someone who has never visited a contemporary craft fair before?

Ann-Marie: Craft is imbued with narrative. Every piece tells a story from the markings of the maker to the reason we buy it. A particular piece speaks to you, and you just have to have it. The GNCCF brings all those craft voices together into a beautiful symphony. It’s a mecca for craft lovers and those who love shopping and buying lovely handmade things for themselves, their homes or as gifts. We’ve got jewellery, bags, functional ceramics for the home, sculptural ceramics and glass, wall art, cushions, lighting, furniture and much more. It’s about finding something you love and then loving what you find. It’s about finding something unique and something to last and treasure.

You’ll be able to meet and buy directly from over 200 makers under the one roof. As an annual event, we have regular visitors who save up all year to buy work at the fair. We aim to have work for all pockets but even if you don’t want to buy anything it’s a wonderful day out browsing all the gorgeous work and chatting to the makers. Some makers will also be demonstrating their work and we have some free drop-in workshops as well as more intensive pre-booked workshops to make your own piece of craft.

Tone von Krogh Ceramics

Katie: I especially love visiting your show because I always meet new makers – graduates and established makers. You’re so good at keeping it fresh and changing the exhibitors. How do you select your makers?

Ann-Marie: GNCCF is recognised by makers as one of the top shows in the UK. Makers apply and then we invite a panel of craft experts to select to ensure a quality and diverse show. We are more than doubly over subscribed every year so sadly we have to turn down many great makers. It really is a coup to be selected for GNCCF and that’s why GNCCF is really a cut above other craft fairs. We always make sure that over a third of our selling makers are recently graduated or emerging makers. We visit other craft events such as New Designers on the search for new talent and we like to partner with like-minded organisations to bring new features to the fair. For example, we’ve teamed up with Green Grads this year and will be showcasing over 30 recent graduates who are meeting head-on the world’s most pressing eco-issues and highlighting a return to nature and craft, and the power/desirability of local materials and strengthened communities. We’ve also teamed up with Blackpool-based community crafts organisation Aunty Social to give makers who come from non-graduate routes a chance to present their work.

Paper Sculpture by Kate Kelly of Kaper

Katie: We’re really looking forward to catching up with our makers who are taking part – Liz Willis, Zoe Stainton, Fran Buxton, Tone von Krogh, Ann Povey, Print Garage, Rachel Butlin, [vinegar & brown paper] and Kaper to name just a few – as well as enjoying some Christmas shopping! Do you find you’re personally drawn to a particular craft or maker?

Ann-Marie: I love all craft. And always buy my Christmas present at the show. I’ve always had an interest in ceramics, but I’m running out of shelf space so will be on the look out for some stylish statement jewellery…or something to put on the wall…though don’t have much wall space left either!! Victoria is also a collector and has added to her collection at the GNCCF. As she’ll be working behind the scenes this year, she won’t have time to browse so, like me, will no doubt have to make some quick fire purchases!

Print Garage

Katie: We’ve always loved that you create different themed exhibition areas in the show each year. Tell us what we have to look forward to in this year’s Green Grads area.

Ann-Marie: Very excited to be hosting Green Grads for its first showcase outside of London. We think they’ll animate the Edwardian changing cubicles very nicely with their products and concepts tackling the pressing issues of climate change, sustainability, biophilia, circular production, waste, recycling and depletion of resources. It promises to be a challenging but fascinating exhibition of some real graduate talent.

Katie: Are there going to be any workshops for visitors to take part in or demonstrations to watch?

Ann-Marie: As ever, many makers will be demonstrating on their stands throughout the show and we will have some drop in textile workshops for everyone to have a go. New for this year are pre-bookable craft workshops for a deeper dive into learning a new skill with some of our exhibiting makers – including madebyhandonline’s Jennifer Collier, who will be making really pretty paper flowers and plant pots – a great Christmas present! We’ve also got knife whittling and willow weaving and some upcycling workshops – all bookable via our website.

Thank you very much to Ann-Marie for chatting with us. We’re so looking forward to the show! We’ll be visiting over the weekend and have the very enjoyable task of choosing a maker to receive an award, so we’ve been closely studying the exhibitor list! You can find the full list of exhibitors on the Great Northern’s website here.

Here’s the essential info….. Address: Victoria Baths, Hathersage Road, Manchester, M13 0FE.

Preview evening, Thursday 13th October: 18.00-21.30
Friday 14th: 10.00-17.00
Saturday 15th: 10.00-17.00
Sunday 16th: 10.00-16.00

Advance tickets are available from Eventbrite here. Look forward to seeing you there.

[vinegar & brown paper] Etched Glass

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