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SPOTLIGHT: Caroline Gormley // MADE in PAISLEY

Despite it being the first time I’d walked into Made in Paisley, it was certainly not the first time I had seen or heard of it. The massive windows allow the studio to be completely visible from the street, a glimpse into an artist’s studio with easels full of work in progress paintings from the many adult and children’s classes that run throughout the week.

Starting in late 2018, Made in Paisley now feels somewhat of an ‘OG’ of the Paisley high street as well as the wider arts and cultural sector in Renfrewshire. I’m intrigued to know what Caroline thinks of Renfrewshire’s arts and cultural scene, having seen it through this period. “Since we went for city of culture, things just seemed to pop up, it seemed to give people the courage…it’s quite amazing the amount of things that are happening, culturally…I think Paisley is very fortunate”.

Caroline clearly cares deeply about Paisley, her hometown, and it is refreshing how positively she speaks of it, and of the arts scene she is part of. It can be so easy, as someone trying to sustain your own business, to see new organisations and artists popping up as a threat or competition, but Caroline speaks passionately about this ‘big creative community’. Rather than fighting against each other, people can work together, “there’s enough room for everybody”.

Caroline gives me a tour of the space. She is incredibly open, “we’ve got nothing to hide!” she chimes as I make my way downstairs and am surprised by just how much room there is down there! There’s paintings everywhere, with Caroline’s massive canvases carefully resting against the wall alongside what feels like a never-ending amount of smaller canvases from the classes. It’s no wonder really, Made in Paisley regularly teach over 85 children!

Caroline points out the difference between coaching and teaching – “we’re not a school”, she says, and the freedom here is evident. People can paint what they want, and Caroline and Sandy help coach people through these paintings, “you don’t want people to feel intimidated when learning a skill”.

With so much to do just running Made in Paisley, it is impressive that Caroline manages to maintain her own practice. She paints within the space too and it is impossible not to be in awe of her huge paintings. She’s working on one while I’m in and, she tells me, each one takes about a year to do. She’ll be exhibiting her work in May so keep an eye out, they are worth seeing in person! “It’s important to keep your practice alive while you’re teaching others”, she says and explains how teaching and her own practice feed in and support each other. How do you find the time?! I exclaim. “You just do. That’s what you do as artist.” Caroline paints between classes, her brain switching all the time. It is clear that she is beyond busy, but she is so generous with her time as we chat away.

During this time, I learn how Made in Paisley came to be, how it was a pure accident that her and Sandy got this space. Caroline spotted a window cleaner at the space and ran across the road (narrowly missing a bus!) to see if it was vacant and to find out the landlord’s name. Within a month she had the keys (this story already feels so ‘Caroline’ and I’ve only spent the last hour with her!). While Caroline and Sandy have built Made in Paisley into a great success, it’s certainly been the result of a lot of hard work and risk taking. Following the signing of the contract for the space, people donated to get Made in Paisley off the ground. “I think you’ve got to take risks… You need to make a choice, of what’s important to you…but of course you’ve got to work to get by”.

Caroline tells me about the many jobs she had before she started Made in Paisley (she has surprisingly only been a painter for the last ten years, before that she was a chef!). She doesn’t see herself as a natural businessperson… “in fact, I don’t know how I manage to be a businessperson! I think I run this place like I’ve always ran my house, you know? It’s just like having a bigger house with more responsibilities. That’s it”. Which is funny that she mentions this because it does feel ‘homely’. From what I’ve seen about Made in Paisley, there is a real community surrounding it, so I ask Caroline about this and about her process of marketing the place over the years (a subject I know is of interest to lots of arts organisations). “Stupid Facebook videos – just being real. I haven’t made flyers. I haven’t got anything. I’ve just been who I am – I can’t be anything else, you know? The happy photographs that come out of here help”.

Caroline’s chatty, bubbly, and confident when we meet. She comes across as unapologetically herself, so it surprises me to hear that teaching, at first, made her sick to her stomach. She’s had years of practice at it now and knows a few nerves just means you care, they make you more aware, more understanding. Now a decade into life as a painter and 6 years into Made in Paisley, I wonder what’s next? Talking about the possible expansion of Made in Paisley brings our conversation to a natural end. The success and the demand for Made in Paisley is clear to see. Caroline is run off her feet with work and we joke that replicating the success of Made in Paisley will mean having to clone her! The passion, love, and belief in what Made in Paisley stands for, the value it adds, the connections it creates, is clearly what drives it to keep going. How do you expand or replicate this, I ask. “People say to me, Made in Paisley is because of you and Sandy, Caroline!”. She pauses and thinks “It’s not to do with me, it’s to do with…I don’t know what it’s do with!”.

Me and Karen (the lovely volunteer assistant at Made in Paisley) laugh, both thinking the same thing. I’m first to say it. “…. I think it might be to do with you!”. Her answer feels so authentically ‘her’. “Shut up!” she says.

Caroline is one of those people that leave you feeling warm inside. A 40-minute chat and I don’t want to leave, perhaps I understand what her students may feel. I have a sense Renfrewshire is full of these gems. Organisations run by passionate, determined people. I leave wanting to shout about Made in Paisley from the roof tops – it is organisations like these that are the heart of our community. Let’s make sure we’re supporting them.

Written by Creative Renfrewshire’s Creative Networks Promoter, Jodie Barnacle-Best.

March, 2024.

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