Ardross artist’s new studio helps craft role for special needs


Colleen Armstrong with Proudly Productive worker Chris Minutillo and carer Jason Evans.
Colleen Armstrong with Proudly Productive worker Chris Minutillo and carer Jason Evans.

WHILE working with children with disabilities in Perth high schools, Colleen Armstrong witnessed first-hand the anxiety calming effect of manual arts such as woodworking and craft.

Now the Ardross resident is using that understanding at Proudly Productive, a small studio that allows young people with special needs to restore furniture that is then sold.

Mrs Armstrong said that while working as an education assistant at Seton Catholic College she realised meaningful work-like building and creating things reduced anger outbursts and other anxiety-related behaviours such as impulsive movements and picking of the nails and skin.

“Also, when I was supervising Seton students who were on work experience, I was impressed by how they showed a noticeable improvement in their maturity, behaviour and skills,” she said.

“But when students finish Year 12 and leave school, work places offering support are so limited.

“Proudly Productive fills that gap left while continually building skills.”

Mrs Armstrong said she had long dreamed of creating a boutique studio giving teenagers an alternative to the sheltered-workshop type scenarios offered by big institutions, where work can sometimes be repetitive and unfulfilling.

She was finally inspired to make the move from schools to her own studio by former Seton Catholic College students Julian Gaglia and Ella Coombes.

Both are on the autism spectrum but their anxiety and agitation are markedly soothed when busy doing craft or furniture restoration work.

Julian’s mother Silvana Gaglia, an Autism West founder, said smaller personalised services like Proudly Productive were much needed alternatives to one-size fits all larger institutionalised care.

“Julian is a much happier young man and family and friends have noticed a real shift in his confidence, self-esteem and independence since starting with Colleen,” she said.

Located in Booragoon, Proudly Productive aims to replicate a workplace as closely as possible, so clients learn the employment skills they require before moving into paid work. The studio also offers craft workshops, such as needle-felting and sewing.

The furniture restored by the young people at Proudly Productive can be purchased from www.proudlyproductive.|com.au.