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Creativity is one of the things that distinguishes humans from robots so promoting creativity from an early age may become vital for our future job prospects. A new book by the founder of the multi award-winning Creation Station franchise is a hymn to the power of creativity.
Sarah Cressall states: “Ideas truly are the currency of the 21st century and although none of us can predict the future, we do know that things will change. Whether it’s environmental, political, economic or social change, there has never been a more important time to equip our children and ourselves with the ability to explore, discover, and develop.”
Her book, Creative Sparks: ideas and activities to inspire you and your child, is part memoir, part call to action, part coaching manual, part recipe for creative activities. It tells her own story, from early childhood to founding and growing The Creation Station – a franchise which provides arts and crafts classes and party entertainment for children of all ages – and it champions the importance of creativity.
The book ends with a list of 52 tips and creative activities to inspire children and, since Cressall is also a mum of three, she knows the importance of time management so every activity has an allotted time. The activities range from making a bug hotel, storytelling and making ice balls to making a one-minute movie and each is tailored to older or younger children.
Set up in 2002 with the aim of inspiring imaginations and nurturing creativity, The Creation Station has won multiple awards for its educational programmes and activities and has reached more than 650,000 children and families through its over 150 friendly franchise owners working across the UK.
The book starts with Cressall’s own story. She didn’t have an easy childhood. Her father died when she was young, leaving her mother to bring up six children on her own, the youngest of whom was Cressall.
Cressall isn’t one for dwelling on the negative and she tells her story to show where the seeds of her creative adventure started. Her mother, she says, was her inspiration and encouraged her to explore her ideas and boosted her self-esteem. When she was nine Cressall wrote a magazine about chocolate and sent it to Cadbury’s. They replied by sending her some supplies. It was her first experience of using creativity to get what she wanted and it made her feel as if anything was possible.
Confidence, she says, is key to creativity and it in turn promotes self esteem. She says: “I would describe myself as positive and someone who likes to make the very best of the life we have. I find it a good coping strategy when things get tough, either emotionally, physically or mentally. I can see this outlook on life rubbing off on my children too. And I’m certain the happiness and fulfilment I feel stems from having a go at things outside my comfort zone and outlets to express my thoughts and feelings. It’s why creativity and self-expression are so valuable.”
Cressall was inspired as a teenager by reading about Body Shop founder Anita Roddick and says Roddick was a role model for her when she set up The Creation Station – she wanted to create a business that made a difference like Roddick had done.
Cressall didn’t start out in the creative industry though. After school, she went into catering. Her family was hit by more tragedy when her brother died in an accident. He had had a love of adventure and this encouraged Cressall to explore the world, starting with working on a kibbutz in Israel, then doing voluntary work for Operation Raleigh in Africa as well as travelling. To fund her Operation Raleigh trip she designed and sold t-shirts and while in Zimbabwe she developed her creative skills further, decorating the camp where she was staying. The experience made her rethink her career and she returned to the UK and started working as a picture framer. This led to an arts management diploma and to Cressall setting up her own Artworks creative studio.
From there she got into teaching, working with people with disabilities and encouraging them to develop their creative skills. She says of the experience: “I knew I’d found myself. I saw how a creative approach could transform people’s lives – and it felt incredible to be a part of that journey.”
Things changed again, however, when she became pregnant. With each pregnancy she suffered from Symphysis Pubis, which causes acute pelvic pain and which got progressively worse with each pregnancy to the point where she couldn’t move easily. She also describes the exhaustion of the early years of parenthood – her children were not great sleepers – and how all of this combined to build her sense of resilience.
Having children changed her priorities – she wanted to be there for her children, but she also wanted to do something entrepreneurial and fun. The lightbulb moment came in a conversation with a friend about children’s creativity. The Creation Station was born. It was 2002 and Cressall had three children under four. She targeted preschools first, but The Creation Station now works with a whole range of schools and after school clubs as well as directly with parents. In addition to all the awards the franchise has won and its work with organisations like the Children’s Activity Association, it secured the contract for the 2012 Olympics in Hyde Park and provided two weeks of fun creative experiences there.
The book acknowledges some of the challenges Cressall has faced, but the main focus is on the positive and she takes each challenge as a learning experience. She also seats the business firmly in family life, talking about its impact on her own children and says: “In many ways, we’ve all benefited from having a business that blends with our family. After all, running a business has many similarities to being a parent.”
She says she has still not achieved all her ambitions yet: “Everyone has heard of Crayola. It’s an amazing brand with brilliant products. Well, my mission is to make The Creation Station the household name for creative experiences. And we’re getting there… Today, The Creation Station is the only company in the UK that can provide creative experiences in any part of the country with local, caring franchise owners who are qualified first aiders, DBS checked, safeguard trained, and health and safety trained. I do believe a creative outlook can have so many positive outcomes.”
The book, as well as encouraging parents and children, is a manifesto for the transformative power of creativity, something Cressall says schools don’t always teach. She talks of them being “like a sausage machine” and of the need for a much bigger investment in creativity, given its growing importance in all aspects of our lives. Schools alone can’t do it, she states. The benefits are manifold, from the personal – developing relationships, making people happier – to the economic.
For Cressall The Creation Station is clearly more than a business. It is a way of life. She says: “I believe if children (and us grown-ups) can tap into and develop our creative intelligence, we have a greater chance of feeling fulfilled. We’re also more likely to achieve our potential – whilst doing our bit to create a positive impact where we can in our worlds.”
*To order a copy, click here.