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Helen Hamlyn Inclusive Design Workshops Take International Stage

19 December 2012 – An inclusive design workshop for sheltered manufacturing devised by RCA senior research fellow Julia Cassim, is to take the international stage as a travelling exhibition after winning three Croatian design awards.

Work Created By URIHO Workshop in Zagreb On CAD Embroidery Machine
Work Created By URIHO Workshop in Zagreb On CAD Embroidery Machine

The exhibition, the UK-Croatia Extra/Ordinary Design Workshops, will present the process and prototypes from, as well as the economic and social impact of a series of inclusive design workshops run across Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia between 2009 and 2012. It will run first in London throughout January, before moving on to kick off the Welcome Croatia festival, which runs until June 2013.

The project has already won three design awards, recognising the strategic power of inclusive design as an effective agent of social, attitudinal and economic change. The workshop held in Zagreb in March 2011 won the Croatian Designers Association Grand Prix at D (Design) Day in the city that May, while the overall project won the international jury prize for best concept at the Biennale Exhibition of Croatian Design in November 2012. In the same month, it received an award for ‘the encouragement and development of tolerance in a business environment’ from the Croatian Network for Development and Creativity.

Exhibition curator and one of the originators of the workshops, Julia Cassim, explained that the project grew out of two Sarajevo designers' request for assistance in helping sheltered workshops – supervised workplaces for the disabled – become self-sufficient and able to compete in a mainstream economy, after the Bosnian Government decided to withdraw its support for such schemes.

Efforts, funded by the British Council, led to the _ All Inclusive Sarajevo _ project, which had ‘transformational’ economic, social and creative results, prompting it to fund further workshops in Zagreb and Osijek in Croatia, based on the same model and with the same aims. A further workshop was held in Skopje in Macedonia in May this year.

More than 60 Croatian designers, teamed up with senior RCA design alumni, to share their skills and knowledge with four sheltered workshops including URIHO (The Institution for Rehabilitation of Disabled Persons by Professional Rehabilitation and Employment), Croatia’s oldest and largest sheltered manufacturing facility and UPI (The Association for Promoting Inclusion), an NGO whose aim is to create work opportunities for people with learning disabilities.

While many of the sheltered workshop facilities had strong technical skills, from sewing to metalworking, they lacked design awareness and were isolated, operating at a loss, outside of the mainstream market.

Cassim said: ‘The element missing was design. One largescale manufacturing facility in Croatia produced everything but they couldn’t sell much and what they did sell was selling at a loss. Their workforce was not integrated, and it was a completely pre-social enterprise model.’

Throughout the five days, designers shared their skills, showing how design can be used as a strategic tool in business practice. The outcome was the creation of a new portfolio of products and identity.

‘They got a complete design package and all the strategic tools they needed to carry on,’ said Cassim.

One of the themes to emerge from the workshops, and presented in the exhibition, is the struggle that such co-operatives have in generating income in a mainstream market.

‘Small social enterprises, working with marginalised groups have got to generate income somehow,' said Cassim. 'Many do not understand that design is a fantastic strategic tool. It’s not just about the design of products, it’s about looking at the limitations of the context, and designing around those or with those, and coming up with something – a whole package and identity, a strategy by which they can sustain themselves.’

The UK/Croatia Extra/Ordinary Design is a partnership between the British Council Croatia, the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design at the Royal College of Art, the Croatian Designers’ Association and the School of Design, University of Zagreb.

Julia Cassim directed the Challenge Workshops at the RCA Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design until July 2011. She continues to run the workshops as a visiting senior research fellow.

The UK/Croatia Extra/ordinary Design Workshops runs from 7–27 January, 2013 at the British Council Gallery, 10 Spring Gardens, London SW1A 2BN and will launch at the Welcome Croatia festival.

Opening hours: Mondays-Fridays 10.00 – 16.00

Private View : Thursday, January 10, 2013 18.00- 20.00

The exhibition will be opened on January 10 by HE. Andrea Zlatar Violić, Minister of Culture of the Republic of Croatia