Farewell to the Sorting Office

Wednesday 13th September was ‘a space’ arts’ last day managing the Sorting Office Studios in Eastleigh. ‘a space’ were brought on board to manage the project from its inception four years ago and have now handed over the running of the project to Eastleigh Borough Council.

The studios are the largest designer-maker space in the region. To mark the event we’re looking back over our time there. Ria Loveridge, the Studio Manager at ‘a space’ arts has been managing the space from the start, we asked her more about it.

How did the Studios come about?
It started in 2011, before I’d started working for ‘a space’ arts. Eastleigh Borough Council (EBC) got in touch with us initially. They were having discussions about creating studio space in the town and were looking for a suitable space. Dan Crow, the Director of ‘a space’ went over to view an old shop in the Swan Shopping Centre, which just wasn’t right. On the way back they took a detour and went past the Sorting Office, which at the time was vacant. A week later they went back to view it and thought it looked perfect for studios. So its discovery was a bit of a happy accident really.

How did you find the artists to get the studios filled?
Through conversations with Cheryl Butler at EBC and Charles Freeman from the Partnership for Urban South Hampshire (PUSH) we looked at all the studio provision in Southern Hampshire. We quickly realised that designer-makers weren’t that well catered for. That organically became the focus for the project. We ended up with far more applications for studios than we had space for. This meant that we had to implement quite a rigorous process of approving applications and had to turn a lot of people away. That then set the precedent for the quality of work that the Sorting Office represented.

What kind of residents did you get at the Sorting Office?
Because we received so many applications we could choose the ones that showed most promise. We ended up with a community of designer-makers who were dedicated and who really wanted this to be their career, and that’s meant we’ve had a really low turnover of residents, as people have wanted to stay. The applications we received were overwhelmingly from women so that reflects the make up of the residents. It’s become a creative community who are passionate about their practice. Most of them were previously working from home and they’ve found that now they’re taken much more seriously which has really been quite empowering and great to witness.

What’s been the favourite part of your job there?
It’s been great to manage a project that’s got all the right infrastructure to allow talented people to excel and fulfil their potential. That’s been a real privileged position for me to be in.

What if you had to pick a highlight from the last four years there?
It was good to be there when it all started and we had fashion designer Wayne Hemmingway come to formerly open the studios. He’s been a bit of an informal patron and it’s been great to have him support the project, he even came back again for our third birthday. But the real highlight has been seeing the project grow – we had 100 people come to our first Open Studios and that’s grown massively, at our last Winter Open Studios we had over 800 people come and that’s generated a real sense of achievement for everyone involved.

‘a space’ arts’ final day was marked by a tea party for current and former residents who shared fond memories of their time there. Below is just some of the generous praise the residents had for the studios:

‘My practice has come on leaps and bounds. It’s a creative, affordable space with great support allowing my practice to be free and develop without everyday concerns.’ Liza Lewis, Graphic Designer and Illustrator

‘a space’ have always supported and encouraged my practice and have always been available for help and advice.’ Miesje Chafer, Textile Designer

‘Its provided a supportive place that has laid the foundations of my start up creative business.’ Emily Burns (Mode EB), Fashion Designer

‘a space’ have an instinctual understanding of an artist’s needs. They are talented in acquiring funding which has enriched my practice immeasurably as well as providing thriving affordable studio spaces and unwavering support.’ Karen Head, Textile Designer