Albrights of Diss was a hardware and ironmongers store that occupied 21 St Nicholas street Diss, opposite the Corn Hall, for well over a hundred years until it closed in 2008.
In 2013, the Corn Hall Trust, having seen 21 St. Nicholas street stand empty for more than four years, suggested to the Diss and Ipswich Quakers (who own the building) that the empty building would be an ideal setting for a crafter’s collective. The Quakers generously accepted the idea and so began the work.
The grade two listed building (which appears on the 1838 tithe map) quickly took shape. With a lick of paint and buckets of enthusiasm, in May 2013, designermakers@21 opened with four craft studios for local makers. Initially the first four studios opened to the public for one day a week. Soon after, a second wave of makers moved in extending the conversion of storeroom and office space into practical and well presented studios, and the shop floor into several galleries.
To build on the initial success several initiatives were put in place:
Opening hours were extended to three days a week.
A large storeroom was converted into a gallery/workshop space for the public to rent for exhibitions and workshops.
Another store room was converted to host a rolling, quarterly showcase space for three visiting makers at a time.
Six associate makers were invited to collaborate with designermakers@21 extending the variety of crafts on display in the permanent exhibitions.
Volunteers were invited to join the community, they now provide an invaluable service; welcoming visitors and directing them around the warren of studios and galleries, providing information to enrich their experience.
In 2015 designermakers@21 changed its name to designermakers21, a change of identity that accompanied an up-tick in ambition as the Corn Hall Trust handed over the management of 21 St. Nicholas street.
In 2016 designermakers21 set up the charity designermakersCIO, providing a corporate scaffold to support the growing ambitions to educate and spread the appreciation of craft throughout the local community and further afield.
designermakers21 developed a reputation for craft excellence. With unfettered access to working makers’ studios, supplemented with craft process taster days and galleries displaying a wide range of high quality items, designermakers21 fast became a go-to place for visitors to East Anglia.
A donation from Dissigns of screen printing equipment and tools kick-started the emergence of ‘The Old Whiteforge’, a soon to be community asset (incorporating a darkroom for black & white photography), providing pre-press and screen process printing opportunities. With groups from Diss high school being among the first experiencers.
designermakersCIO started supporting makers in the community, showcasing their work in a dedicated gallery, facilitating opportunities to collaborate with members of designermakers21 and providing a dedicated, temporary craft studio for guest makers to test their ideas.
Another donation (this time from Aurora Eccles school), of a kiln and ancillary equipment has allowed designermakersCIO to realise an early ambition of setting up a Ceramics workshop: ‘The Potting Shed’ has seen the conversion of a previously redundant building into a community access ceramics studio, coming online in late 2019.