By Amanda Eleftheriades
Photos by Caroline Finn
An Aladdin’s cave of frills, fabrics and wicker lies hidden in Faifley’s Skypoint Community Centre.
It is here that local creative genius Alison Bell conjures up stunning wedding backdrops and light installations, the front-facing element of her social enterprise, Frill Factory.
But, a bit like the entrepreneur herself, Frill Factory is a multi-layered concern and behind the glamorous exterior there is an important social mission rooted in life struggles which are both very personal to Alison and commonplace in her beloved local Clydebank community.
A note pinned above her desk bears testimony to Alison’s strongest motivators – her family and her creativity – ‘my cards are handmade using my grandpa’s typewriter and my gran’s Singer. Each fabric a scrap is donated by someone locally making your card unique. The quotes expressed are inspired by my soulmate and our banter.’
A lover of human stories, Alison took Clydesider on a journey exploring how difficult times and challenges helped channel her creativity and humanity.
“As a creative person it can be a thin line between sanity and insanity at times.
“I was brought up with mental health in my family – my uncle was diagnosed as a schizophrenic at the age of 19, so I learned very young how to have a relationship with someone who was unpredictable.
“Every Saturday we used to go with my Mum to the charity shops and that was how I got interested in other people’s lives – through their objects that held their stories and their pasts.
“My Dad was a ‘functioning alcoholic’ and these shopping outings took me away from the reality of our family life. I would build tents where I could hide and feel protected. I did this my whole teenage life, that is where Frill Factory was born.”
Bullied at high school by what Alison describes as “real pieces of work,” she left as soon as she could and went into an admin job where she faced a new bully in the form of her boss.
Deciding it wasn’t for her she quit the job and enrolled in an art course at Clydebank College, one of the few things she remembered enjoying at school.
She loved every minute and at the end successfully applied to Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen.
But it was while at art school that Alison lost two close friends from home to suicide – siblings Nicola and Craig.
Inspiration From Heartbreak
Turning to her art she used the heartbreak as inspiration for an urban art project called Dreams Come True, which she dedicated to the pair.
She explained: “It got me thinking what sort of mindset you need to be in to take your own life, I wanted to reach out and try to do something to stop people feeling that way.”
Her project took her into some of Scotland’s poorest communities where she would spend time talking to people, listening to their stories and leaving in her wake a trail of public art work emblazoned with the phrase ‘Love Yourself’.
Nearing the end of her degree Alison took a position in London with Wayne Hemingway, co-founder of designer label Red or Dead, but the high stakes pressure of the fashion world proved too much for the young designer.
Anxiety and stress led to a panic attack blackout and realising London wasn’t for her she returned to Aberdeen to complete her dissertation.
But one challenge was followed quickly by another as a computer meltdown thwarted her goal of a first class honours. Devastated, she turned her back on her art instead taking a job working with young people on regeneration projects.
Again the pressure of long days and travelling around the country took its toll on Alison’s health and she was diagnosed with Bells Palsy.
“I couldn’t lift my arm above a certain height, my mouth tasted of metal and I seemed to be losing the sight in one eye. I thought I was having a heart attack,” she remembered.
“I didn’t even go on the sick, I just left my job and took time to heal.”
This time out proved to be a turning point, leading Alison back to her Clydebank community and eventually to the birth of her own social enterprise.
While unwell she spent days in the archive section of Clydebank Library and became fascinated by stories from the Singer Factory.
Inspired by these tales she decided to dig out her grandmother’s Singer sewing machine – lovingly named Violet – and take control of her own destiny by turning Frill Factory into a reality.
It was her lightbulb moment.
“A lot of people felt sorry for me because of the Bells Palsy but I felt it was the best thing that happened to me – it showed me how strong my body is and this was its way of saying enough, I needed to listen to it.
“I felt that all the noise had gone and I was able to listen to myself, for my mental well-being that is really important.”
With start-up social enterprise funding Alison found a home for Frill Factory in Skypoint and started breathing life into her creative ideas.
The social entrepreneur’s aim was to take some of the commercialism out of the wedding industry by using materials heading for landfill sites and transforming them into bespoke backdrops for couples to glam up any wedding venue, helping them save thousands of pounds in the process.
“I started experimenting with fabrics and doing what was in my heart.
That was the beginning of my journey. When I started to get clients I felt they believed in me and in the concept of Frill Factory.
“I had felt trapped by working in an environment where I was made to feel worthless but since I have been taking my life into my own hands I don’t feel trapped any more.
“The fear is still there but now I have the confidence to face it.”
Find out more visit Frill Factory
First published in Issue 9 of Clydesider magazine @Clydesider Creative Ltd
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