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Illustration of three people sitting at a table knitting from separate colourful balls of yarn.

Knitting For Change – Craft Forward

Words by Zoe Larrad
Illustration by Eliott Bulpett


  • OPOA
  • |
  • Magazine


‘Craft Forward’ knitting workshops are popping up all around London. They’re free, they’re fun, and you don’t have to have any prior skills to get involved.

You’ll find all stages of knitting ability, from complete novices tentatively picking up the needles for the first time, to knitting extraordinaires pulling yarn at lightning speed from rolls carefully balanced on top of their heads! Everyone’s smiling, everyone’s knitting, and everyone is working towards one goal; to create positive change.

Among the packed room of keen crafters in Brixton are six (yes six!) AUB alumni. Zoe Larrad, AUB’s Alumni Officer, sits down with founder and Fine Art alumna, Elena Lo Presti to hear how her philanthropy work developed from an Instagram call-to-action in her living room to a multi-disciplinary craft-based not-for-profit, serving the city.

Identifying an issue

I have always had a love for craft. During my BA I worked with ceramics, using zines, writing and other types of lo-fi media. I had been living with my grandma in Italy to care for her through the 2020 lockdowns and she taught me how to knit. Knitting was such a good way of connecting with my grandma, especially at such a difficult time. It also really helped me process what was happening in the world.

I came back to Lambeth to start a job at a pottery studio and finish my MA in Fine Art. In yet another lockdown I heard of night and day shelters being shut down for fear of new cases. It was a very tragic time because everyone was asked to stay at home, but what do you do when you don't have one?

I just realised that I don’t need another jumper, I don’t need another scarf, I don’t need to be knitting for myself, but it really helps, and I want to keep knitting.

Spreading the word

I took to Instagram with a post ‘Let’s knit blankets for people experiencing homelessness in Lambeth.’ People donated spare yarn or knitted squares and I would assemble them into blankets to donate. To be honest I thought I’d make a couple because it was just me in my living room, but surprisingly, loads of people got interested and were really passionate about it. In the end we had 14 blankets assembled. And Blankets for Lambeth was born.

It's all in the (he)art

After distributing the blankets through a local charity, I received a handwritten letter. It said how important the gift was, not only from a practical perspective but also to receive something so beautiful, so thoughtful. In all the conversations I’ve had with people that are unhoused, the real issue is feeling like they are not being considered as people. You don’t get given gifts anymore, right? It’s about survival, it’s about making it to the end of the day, to the end of the week. I guess it was a great opportunity to make someone that’s in a very vulnerable position feel special. When I got that feedback, I realised that I had actually made a positive impact on someone’s life and however small that impact was, I knew that I had to continue and to do it again but do it better.

There was this amazing community of makers that formed around the project, it was surprising and needed, especially in such a period of isolation. People messaged me asking me to teach them how to knit so that they could contribute. I set up these very weird Zoom calls where I would try and teach knitting.

All hands on deck

I would have people waiting outside my house to give me yarn and knitted squares which was also a bit crazy. It really made me understand that there were loads of people locally that wanted to build on this type of community, on this type of creative output and creative way of making and giving back.

You know how words like ‘community’ and ‘care’ are used by so many, and so often they become this abstract concept where ‘community’ is just this buzzword and it’s not about people and ‘care’ is just this thing and it’s not an action. I really wanted, with this community that I had created, to have a space for people to come together for a purpose in this non judgemental creative environment.

Craft is for everyone

In the workshops we make beautiful blankets. But the workshops aren’t really about making. They’re more about connecting and creating, holding the space for people to come as they wish and bring in the energy they wish to bring. We have a lot of people that come on their own and make friendships there. Some people come because they want to learn the skills. Some people come because they want a chat; crafting can become very lonely and solitary. It is possible to hold an educational yet non-judgemental space where you can be creative, you can make something beautiful, but you can also have a laugh and a cup of tea.


The second year we made around 19 blankets, and it was still very much me in my living room. Year three saw a record of 44 blankets and then, after restrictions were lifted in 2021, I started hosting monthly knitting clubs and meet-ups in Brixton. Aided by funding from the National Lottery and now Lambeth Council. We have 60 completed blankets this year already which we now distribute across four boroughs. Blankets for Lambeth has become Blankets for London.

By happy coincidence, we’ve got other AUB alumni involved. I knew Brit from AUB, we moved to London at different times, I taught her how to knit and now she’s a facilitator at the workshop, teaching others. Tobias is our photographer, videographer and works on social media. And the others just came to the workshop. It’s funny – I’ve always had AUB alumni around me, even in previous roles.

A big challenge was securing funding to make things happen. I’m constantly striving to make Craft Forward self-sufficient so we can continue to provide free, creative, and accessible spaces. You’ve got to have a business mind but keep your not-for-profit heart. Making peace with these two ways of thinking is a constant learning and struggle.

Overcoming your own bias is a big one too. You suppose that you’re doing good and, because you’re doing good, it’s natural to forge ahead and do what you think is best without consulting the community you are hoping to serve. So, the very first thing was to completely unlearn everything I thought and to come first as a member of the community, not as the leader. To approach very humbly with questions before formulating a plan.

There are also other things to take into consideration. A lot of the people that we help don’t have the space to carry these types of things. People have different necessities, which I think is important to understand. We now make small blankets that can be used for children, because there are a lot of families in temporary housing, which is the homelessness that we don’t see. It’s also easier to carry if you’re sleeping rough and you don’t want to carry a full-size blanket.

Craft onward and forward

We are expanding our workshops, having more of them and in more locations. They’ve been popping up across London! Also becoming more multidisciplinary, expanding our crafts will expand our impact. The common denominator, really, is that everything we make during these workshops goes directly towards helping a cause rather than selling things and donating the money.

The goal is to make as many creative processes as possible accessible to as many people as possible. I’m aiming for a more open, diverse curriculum of crafts. Expansion outside of London is a bit far off, but, in the future, across the whole of England is not impossible. So in the future, mostly expansion and more blankets. Like, tonnes of blankets!

One piece of advice to other creatives

Art can take very different forms. You can find art in your nine to five, and you can find art in community acts. You can find it in conversation, in relationships, and in activism, in loads of different things. So, try to have an open mind about all of this. Especially coming out of an art education.

Don’t think that you have all the answers. Don’t think that you know exactly what you want to do because you will surprise yourself.

A section of the illustrated cover of the fifth issue of One Piece of Advice, the Alumni Magazine from AUB. The cover features a selection of motivational quotes and cute Y2K-inspired illustrations

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