Ramsgate mum’s ambition to create handmade tiles industry in Thanet

Sarah at the tile exhibition

Creating Thanet as a centre of handmade floor and wall tile making is the mission of mum-of-two Sarah Hopkinson.

Sarah, who moved to Ramsgate from London in 2008, has been running business Handmade Tiles since early 2017.

Initially the business ran from a store in Margate but Sarah moved to an online model so work could fit around family life with husband Mark and her children now aged 12 and six.

Inspired by a talk given by the Chief Executive of the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES) Sarah is hoping to use a ‘local wealth building’ model to help the artisanal skills not only flourish but create an industry with economic benefits for the isle.

The CLES is responsible for turning around the economies of several local authorities and towns, creating thousands of jobs for local people.

The scheme uses existing skills in a community rather than relying on inward investment from corporate institutions and purchasing or outsourcing goods and services nationally and globally.

Sarah says the handmade tile-making industry is one that offers a niche for customers who want something unique.

Ema Dennis tile

The 36-year-old said: “Over the last decade or so, homeowners, interior designers and architects have been moving towards installing more distinctive and interesting tiles for their projects as the market has become consumed by mass-produced, machine-made porcelains and ceramics that are inexpensive to manufacture and purchase.

“Handmade tiles might be more expensive to make and purchase but the wide possibilities on offer in terms of materials, dimensions, patterns, colours and finishes means it is like installing your very own permanent artwork.

“The blend of traditional handmade tile making methods with a contemporary design aesthetic has resulted in Handmade Tiles offering truly unique tile collections. Each handmade tile is distinctive with lots of variation between tiles of the same design.”

Rachel Ella tile

Sarah says part of the drive is to become more environmentally friendly, by cutting out the need for overseas shipping, and to help people use their artistic skills to boost the local economy.

She said: “I have been importing tiles from countries which have retained their artisanal industries such as Morocco and Spain. With the prospect of the UK leaving the EU single market and with a view to becoming a more environmentally responsible practice in the face of climate change the idea for Margate Tile Makers was developed. 

“Lots of artists have access to kilns either in their home studios or as part of their studio collectives. So the idea that we could start to make our own range of tiles to meet the handmade tile making needs of UK buyers, to create work for local artists came to fruition.

Claire De Lune

“In the last ten years, the influx of artists and makers moving to and setting up their studios in Thanet has increased exponentially due to  affordable property prices and the easier work and life balance. With an 84% growth in creative businesses and a 71% increase in the opening of artist’s studios, Thanet has become a hot spot for highly skilled creative Londoners and out of towners to lay down roots.

“But while Thanet has seen some positive changes, it has long suffered with the highest social deprivation and unemployment rates in Kent. Modestly paid work is available here during the summer season, steady well paid work outside of the public sector is scarce.”

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Sarah has spent months talking to Thanet’s artists and makers to develop Margate Tile Makers. The aim is to encourage handmade tile making as a mainstream artisanal skill locally and to meet the increasing demand of UK.

She said: “The vision is to provide regular work for local artists and to eventually be able to offer training to local people on handmade tile making  to carry this handcrafting skill on to future generations.

The Heritage Crafts Association considers floor and wall handmade tile making to be at ‘endangered’ risk of becoming a lost skill within the UK. It is reported that fewer than 100 people in the country practice handmade wall / floor tile making as their main occupation.

Combatting this Margate Tile Makers has developed to be a collective of artists and makers who are in the process of creating ranges and palettes with tiles in alternative shapes and materials.

Margate Tile Makers debuted at the 100% Design show at Olympia, London in September

 Find out more at www.handmademargate.co.uk

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