More tea with that slice of cake? Why the Tea Set?

Meeting up for a cup of tea and slice of cake with a group of fantastically creative women was all I wanted when I set up The Tea Set in 2017. Now, we’ve got a website, blogs, an anthology in the making, creative partnerships, members all over the UK, and we’re experimenting with AI. 

Such is the power of passion, creativity, and friendship that we’ve become a self-supporting hub of professional, personal and creative wisdom. We’ve supported each other through the uncertainty of the pandemic, offered skills swaps to save money, provided sage advice on business decisions, just been there for each other when life hurled some huge challenges, and we’ve been able to revel in the individual successes of all our members. 

Sounds great, doesn’t it? It really is, but it isn’t always easy. Trying to find the time and energy to devote to a group, even one you love, often means giving up something else (hopefully, doing the ironing!). In fact, trying to find a space in the diary when everyone is free is probably the hardest part of the whole endeavour

Herding cats

The secret to herding creative cats is simple: enjoy the chase, go with the flow and never give up. Simple, right? That’s why we started off in a local café, huddled around a table that was too tall in a corner that was too dark, just talking about what we were working on while we drank copious cups of tea and sampled the cake menu. Our modus operandi was also simple: meet monthly, work to a theme, create something, share something, reflect on what we’d created, repeat. 

The supportive criticality of all the women was an essential part of that method. We didn’t want to smile sweetly and compliment each other on work that could have been better. There was a kindly rigour to our sharing and we all wanted that as it improved our work and gave us a better chance of success.

Support and generosity

We went on to help members to submit work to competitions and exhibitions, we attended each other’s book launches, we joined workshops that our members ran, and we shared information and opportunities generously. This has been another critical part of our ethos: generosity. We’re here to lift each other up.

Of course, nothing stays the same. Members moved away, life has moved on, and then the world stopped so abruptly in the face of COVID. Taking a moment to breathe, we gathered ourselves in the new creative space, Zoom, and kept going. We held a creative workshop where one woman made miniature furniture, others wrote, some made decorations, others just enjoyed the onscreen solidarity. It really didn’t matter what we did as long as we stayed connected and stayed creative. It also showed us how flexible, resilient, and dogged we could be. Not bad qualities in the interesting times we’re living through. It also opened up our thinking to different ways of working together as a collective, allowing us to see an opportunity to create an online studio space where we could showcase our work as individuals as well as in an anthology. 

The Tea Set in virtual space was formed. The advantage was that it made it easier for us to meet, as we are now spread around the world not just the UK, and easier for us to create something to a theme: artificial intelligence. It was as though the creative goddesses aligned to bring us a new mechanism for working and a theme that is permeating conversations, questions assumptions of daily life, and challenges the very nature of what it is to be human. Exactly the stuff that feeds creativity.

So, here we are, setting off on our online journey as a creative collective. The only thing that’s missing is the opportunity to share the same home-baked cake and pour tea from the same huge teapot but we make up for that in the generosity and inspiration we bring to the virtual table. 

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