Henshaws Arts & Crafts Centre in Knaresborough held an unusual and special award ceremony last week.
Di Lofthouse MBE, an Art Maker at the Centre and well-known disabled rights activist, gave out medals to people who might not usually receive such an accolade.
The ceramic medals and awards were all created by Di as part of an art project she’s been working on in which she celebrates the lives of those around her.
Di said: I wanted to give awards out to people who I think need celebrating. People often do amazing things but do not get recognised for this. This event was all about celebrating the big steps and the small. Sometimes the small steps are the greater.
On the night, around 40 people received awards for achievements including ‘being a brilliant artist’, ‘helping so many people’ and ‘being a survivor’.
Di explains why she nominated Art Maker Nat for an award: Nat has the biggest and brightest smile I have ever seen. He is happy go lucky and greets everybody with the same beautiful smile and politeness. He is a very happy man and his happiness shines through and spreads to everybody all around.
Di first started working on the idea as a result of personal experiences. She was a gold medallist at the 1989 Special Olympics for table tennis, but her medals were later discarded by staff. As a keen advocate for disabled rights, she wanted to make artworks which turn a negative experience into a positive statement about the importance of recognizing often unnoticed everyday achievements.
From bringing a smile to someone’s face to being there for your family, being strong in the face of adversity or prejudice, or coping with pain and disability, Di’s work tells the tale of the extraordinary people we are surrounded by and asks us to look again at those we rub shoulders with on a daily basis.
Speaking afterwards, Di explained how much the event had meant to her: It was such a fantastic atmosphere on the night, with people cheering and chanting. I hope that I’ve enriched people’s lives through bringing us all together to celebrate in this way. One of the Art Makers came up to me afterwards and said that they’d been having quite a difficult time recently and being nominated for an award had really helped them.
Henshaws Arts & Crafts Centre in Knaresborough provides training for people with disabilities. Every week, over 150 Art Makers take part in a range of workshops including employability training, health and wellbeing, arts and crafts and multisensory.