Make Give Live: The social enterprise knitting communities together

by Sheryl Blythen / 28 August, 2017
Make Give Live group members (from left to right) Becky Smith, Alison Voorburg, Angela Barrow-Kay, founder Claire Conza and Sheryl Blythen knit beanies to warm the hearts and heads of people in need.

Make Give Live group members (from left to right) Becky Smith, Alison Voorburg, Angela Barrow-Kay, founder Claire Conza and Sheryl Blythen knit beanies to warm the hearts and heads of people in need.

The old-fashioned idea of a knitting circle has been revived in Auckland, to connect communities – and also give back to them.

Laughter and the clacking of knitting needles fill the room as Claire Conza distributes balls of gorgeous New Zealand wool to a bunch of women gathered in a Birkenhead cafe on a crisp Wednesday morning.

Conza, 34, is the founder of Make Give Live, a social enterprise that’s brought together about 40 women in five groups around Auckland to knit or crochet beanies, under a “buy one, give one” model. Her “makers” meet each week or fortnight. “We swap finished beanies for new wool and patterns to keep them busy until the next catch up,” she says.

Since starting up last year, Make Give Live has sold more than 400 woollen beanies online (www.makegivelive.com), at markets or through a handful of retail stockists. Another 250 hats have been given to the homeless or elderly people through partnerships with Lifewise and Age Concern, with more donations to come.

Founder Claire Conza says strong friendships form between the “makers” in her knitting groups: “They become like families.”

Founder Claire Conza says strong friendships form between the “makers” in her knitting groups: “They become like families.”

But for Conza, the movement is about more than making hats – she sees Make Give Live as a way to connect communities, ease isolation and improve wellbeing. “There’s a magical interaction between the generations within our groups. Our older members are enriched by using their knitting and crochet skills to teach younger people. Our younger members have new methods to share and get to create something for their community.”

Makers are also harnessing the health benefits of knitting, which Conza says offers many of the same benefits as meditation. “The rhythmic motions and sense of focus can help distract from symptoms of anxiety, depression, and stress.”

That’s something the former fashion designer understands first-hand. After suffering a breakdown and dealing with depression during a difficult time in her life, Conza began knitting again with a friend.

“I found so much therapy in the mindful process of knitting and the joy of creating something useful and beautiful, at a time when I wasn’t able to do much else. I decided if it worked for me, others would also benefit, and Make Give Live was born,” she says. “The best thing has been the friendships that form in the groups; they become like families.”

Left: Knitting’s rhythmic motions provide many of the same benefits as meditation. Right: Pompoms adorn many of the popular children’s range.

Left: Knitting’s rhythmic motions provide many of the same benefits as meditation. Right: Pompoms adorn many of the popular children’s range.

Conza’s next challenge is to make it easier to set up more groups around the country. She’s also reached the stage where she can make nominal payments to people working in key roles and reward the makers with wool for their own projects. “A social enterprise is a hybrid between a charity and a business. The key to its sustainability is recognising people for their efforts so they are able to stay involved.”

Wool is the biggest expense. A Pledge Me campaign at the start of winter, where supporters pre-ordered beanies for themselves or to donate to the community, raised $4000 to kick-start the 2017 campaign. Some of those funds will be used to set up a therapy knitting group with A Girl Called Hope, an organisation that works with young women dealing with issues such as abuse, addiction, depression, eating disorders, self-harm and unplanned pregnancy.

Says Conza: “I like to borrow the quote that  it’s about having the head of a business, the heart of a charity and the hands of the community.”

This was published in the August 2017 issue of North & South.

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