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How people with disabilities are weaving dreams in Napier

Andrew Bruce works his loom at Hohepa’s Rose Weavery in Napier.

You’ll find art from the heart at Hohepa’s Rose Weavery in Napier.

“If we had a workshop full of Andrews, we’d have a pretty productive studio,” says Yasmin Dubrau, manager of the Rose Weavery at Hohepa Creative Works in Napier. 

Andrew Bruce is on the autistic spectrum and has been at Hohepa, a disability service provider, since the late 70s, when he was in his teens. Now in his 50s, he’s had a go at almost everything: farming, cheese-making and working with wood. But it’s weaving on a loom that he’s truly mastered. “The rugs and blankets he makes have all kinds of beautiful patterns,” says Dubrau. “He’s really artistic.”

Last year, the weavery and a candle-making workshop moved from Hohepa’s main site in Clive, to Tennyson St, in Napier’s city centre. There, Bruce greets visitors wearing bright-yellow earmuffs and a carpenter’s apron. Always keen to help out, he hates wastage and rescues colourful scraps of material, which he incorporates into his work.

Dubrau says Bruce operates more by visual memory than a planned-out process, describing him as a “soft beater” who creates an airy weave that’s perfect for mohair blankets and summer shawls. “Controlling the strength that goes into the beating is not something everyone can manage so well.”

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Candice Chung, who has Down syndrome, focuses intently on her work.

Across the studio floor, working on a slightly smaller loom, is Candice Chung, who has Down syndrome. She’s busy making bags and pillowcases, examining the loom carefully – her face only centimetres from the wool she’s studying with scientific precision. Now in her early 30s, Chung arrived at Hohepa when she was 17. She has a knack for weaving together awkward colours and making them harmonise.

“Candice is very Candice,” says Dubrau. “She has a real artistic drive, and is very considered; she really loves the wool.”

Chung and her loom.

Hohepa was founded in Napier in 1957 by two locals: Marjorie Allen and farming entrepreneur Sir Lewis Harris, who had a disabled child himself. (“Hohepa” is Māori for Joseph, the name of Sir Lewis’s father.) Early advocates of supported inclusion, they were ahead of their time, in an era when many people with intellectual impairment were simply institutionalised.

Drawing on Steiner-based philosophy, Hohepa aims to create opportunities for people with disabilities to enjoy a life fully lived through meaningful work – giving everyone a chance to achieve something and to feel good about themselves. The Creative Works shop in Napier sells weaving and candle products made on-site, as well as woodwork pieces from the Hohepa workshop in Clive. Later this year, they plan to start selling biodynamic milk in reusable bottles from the Hohepa farm in Clive.

The sale of textile products made at the weavery enables Hohepa to provide meaningful employment for people with intellectual disabilities.

One of the region’s largest employers, Hohepa has some 400 staff across Hawke’s Bay – on farms, in schools and at other workshops. Branches also operate in Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland.

Donations of wool are always welcome at the Rose Weavery. The beautiful textiles its workers produce are also sold through the Hopeha store in Clive, Homebase Collections in Napier, and Bluedoor, in Ponsonby, Auckland.

This article was first published in the March 2019 issue of North & South.

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