Empty studioAfter over four years in residence, I moved out of Studio 305 in Islington Mill last week. It was an emotional* journey but an overdue one. This was my first studio. It was mine… My space… Private space. A bit of a mess but my mess. Prior to this I had worked from home particularly on my design work when not working onsite in a theatre workshop or tv studio. After my first child arrived, I found for me, tv schedules and overnight paintcalls didn’t appeal but I still needed/wanted to work in my chosen field. I found myself doing more designing & prop/costume making. I was also finding that theatres were giving up their workshop spaces and as a freelance scenic painter, prop & costume maker, people were starting to request that I had my own workshop space. My workspace/studio at home was one half of the through diningroom/lounge separated off with just a curtain. As small child started to move, I had to install a fence but no way to contain the smell of paint & glue that I had become accustomed to but not a good atmosphere for little lungs. We had run out of space not just physically but also headspace. I needed clarity between work and home.

People think it’s great to work from home but it’s hard to escape (I am of course writing this at the reclaimed dining room table) but more than that I found it was easy enough to work when I was busy but it was those quiet times (other freelancers will know what I mean) when it was hard to focus on personal development and the search for new work, easy to get distracted by the washing and the long list of things that need fixing, painting etc. I checked out a several studios online. I was looking at sizes, prices, locations, facilities, availability and range of artforms. Some were very fine art orientated. Some were too open. Some were too expensive. Some didn’t have internet. I visited some to get a feel for what was on offer. Some were still being built. Generally there was nothing available.

Studio viewJust after Christmas when my daughter had just turned one, a fellow artist/friend told me that some studios had become available in Islington Mill. I rang up and booked an appointment to view. I was working nearby in The Angel with DIY Theatre Company so it was very easy to pop by. Mark greeted me and showed me round the building. There were two medium studios still available – one at the back on the fourth floor and a slightly smaller one at the front on the third. I am not usually known for my decisiveness but something felt right. I knew this was meant to be. So on this grey wet day in Salford, I said yes and signed the contract and paid the deposit there and then. Knowing that I am often to be lugging stuff – props, costumes, materials etc and there was no lift, I lazily chose the one on the third plus it had a view of the cathedral (and as I later realised, a noisy school playground). Number 305.

So in February 2008, I moved into my own studio. I bought some bookcases, a big desk and an oil filled heater (best buy) from Pete’s Secondhand Store on Upper Chorlton Rd. It felt good to buy some stuff from him as I had spent years blagging & borrowing stuff off him for various theatre shows. They included delivery in the price not just to the door of the Mill but right up into my studio which I was truly grateful for as it was a mammoth desk. On my first day, as I moved in, who should hold the door open for me but Johnny Marr. As he had seen me carrying rolls of fabric and dressmaker’s dummys up, he knocked on to introduce himself and ask my advice on curtains for soundproofing – “Hello, I’m Johnny, I have the studio at the end..” It was a nice welcome.
Wall art by We Are BoyIn my early days at the Mill, the first floor gallery was a communal area with a food prep area with kettle, fridge, coffee maker and microwave. There was also a communal computer for internet access for those who didn’t have access in their studios. I would often pop down at lunchtime to get away from my work and that smell of glue & paint or so I didn’t get food on the fabric but also to see other faces and get to know what was going on. I was loving having my own space but I also liked that I was part of an artistic community but one that you definitely had to opt into rather than were forced to be part of. I particularly enjoyed Fridays when the butty man came calling and a big pot of coffee would be brewed. Another fan of butty Fridays was Rachel Wood who I was pleased to be reacquainted with as she had been my lodger and now we had studios on the same floor. I did certain days as I was also covering childcare for half the week. I got to know the others who crossed these hours as I rarely made it back for gigs or parties.


When I became pregnant with my second child, I was very glad that I had chosen the third floor. I also deliberated about giving my studio up but having waited so many years to have a studio of my own, I knew that the waiting lists meant that I may find it tricky to find another after my maternity leave especially at the Mill as its reputation had grown considerably. I would have to pay for storage anyway and I was in no state to do the move so I stayed. I was glad I did. It gave me a sense of artistic focus and belonging following my maternity leave. This was a tricky time for all involved in the arts as we waited to find out who had gained NPO status (including the Mill itself). I think it helped keep me sane. Things had changed in my absence. The gallery and bar were having a revamp.  Kim was doing food (this was a good thing) in The Engine House which had kind of replaced the first floor communal area. Faces had changed but this was a constant thing. There seemed to be more digital types which I think put a massive strain on the internet connection (one of my reasons for choosing Islington Mill) and so I was often to be found swearing at my laptop or retreating home if I needed to do webby stuff (you can tell I’m not that digital). I think it was shortly after my return to work that the council went a bit mad with the yellow paint and suddenly there was no longer anywhere to park (another of my reasons for picking the Mill) and as I mentioned before, I do a lot of lugging so this stressed me greatly.

Installation in hallway

Throughout my time at Islington Mill, I worked closely with physical theatre company, Aqueous Humour as their Head of Design. In 2009 Aqueous Humour were appointed Artists in Residence at Richmond Park KS3 PRU in Longsight and last year I was made joint Creative Director. This hasn’t meant more money but it has meant spending more time at base for meetings and project planning. When Aqueous Humour received confirmation that we would continue as Artists in Residence at the PRU, the natural progression was for me to move my studio there.

I will miss Islington Mill but I was just no longer there enough. Knowing me, this means I will now actually attend more gigs/events and am looking forward to doing my Christmas shopping at Xmas at The Mill. I have become Twitter (@nerissact) and Instagram friends with several Mill residents so will continue to be in touch and support your projects. Was glad I paid The Blue Van company to help with my move as there is still no lift (though I heard a rumour that there is still hope for one) and that desk is still as big and heavy.

*Thanks to my lovely neighbour Anj from Design By Day for the hug when I came over all emotional. I will miss their afternoon giggle attacks.