Welcome to Rug Aid
In late 2004, internationally renowned rug maker and teacher, Heather Ritchie, visited Zanzibar in east Africa. Local women and children who she lived with were fascinated when she demonstrated the very simple and safe technique of rug making - using recycled local material, clothes, yarn and plastic bags - and quickly picked it up.

Providing Opportunities
On her return to the UK, Heather Ritchie developed her idea. After a great deal of discussion, she and two friends set up Rug Aid cic (a not-for-profit social enterprise). Heather's goal was to make a difference to some of the poorest communities in Africa by providing people with the opportunity to bring about change in their lives 'from the bottom up'.

Rug Aid's first project started in The Gambia in February 2007. Heather heard that begging had recently been outlawed there, a move which deprived many blind Gambian adults of their only source of income: very few of them had been able to go to school as children so they did not have the skills needed to hold down a job. After learning of the new problem this already underprivileged group faced, Heather specifically chose to work with people with visual impairments. She thought she would be almost exclusively teaching women and children but, when she arrived for her first workshop session, she found to her delight that the students were a mixed group of men and women. Heather felt an immediately empathy with these people, all of whom have a degree of visual impairment or are the sighted members of the family of someone with a visual impairment, because her father became blind when she was five.

This project is based at the GOVI School in Serrekunde, and some of the best rug makers there are men with visual impairments. In addition, some of the children from the GOVI School attend workshop sessions and, in an exciting development, rug-making is now on the art curriculum for older children.

Rug Aid trainees in The Gambia make rugs and wall hangings which they are encouraged to sell direct and locally: Rug Aid itself does not currently export trainees' work for sale.

Every Rug Tells A Story
Rug Aid encourages people to draw on the stories of their lives - families, animals, friends, transport, homes, schools - as well as the colours, patterns and textures of their environments, both rural and urban, to produce beautiful and very saleable works of art which will bring pleasure to both the creator and the purchaser. The project harnesses the artistic skills people already have and inspires people who are not sure that they have any artistic talent to express themselves through colours and patterns.

Rug Aid's latest newsletter - now available online

Film: Hooks and Eyes
Watch Michael Gough's fascinating twelve-minute film about Rug Aid's work in The Gambia here
The film allows you to hear Heather's voice and to see something of her home, her studio and the beautiful landscape around Reeth. It also includes footage of the Rug Aid cic workshop at the GOVI School.

Also available online as .pdf downloads:

  • WI Life article, February 2015
  • Heather's December 2011 visit to the Rug Aid workshop - illustrated
Trade Fair
Rug Aid in The Gambia
See photos from Heather's December 2011 visit to the workshop here
See video from the Trade Fair in December 2011 here

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