Local craft businesses have been at the centre of a showcase of the Ards’ creative industries to a European delegation. [caption id="attachment_23965" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Attending the showcase of creative industries in Ards were: Eloy Rodriguez Pinel of Spain, a representative from Fundacion Laboral del Metal in Spain, Esa Honkimaki from Finland, Joe Kelly, CraftNI, Sara Graham, Creative and Cultural Skills, Sharon Mahaffy, Tourism Development Officer, Ards Borough Council, Rosemary Lightbody, NITB and (seated) Sarah Daly, Louth Craftmark, Heather Parker, Craft Development Manager, Ards Borough Council and Karine McGuckin, Economic Development Officer, Ards Borough Council."][/caption] The 18-strong delegation from Spain, Italy, Finland and the Republic of Ireland spent two days in Ards visiting a selection of craft studios and galleries across the area, talking to the makers, as well as learning how crafts and creative industries generally are supported and encouraged in Ards, in Northern Ireland and across the UK. The visit resulted from Ards Borough Council’s involvement the ‘Sustainable Crafts Networks’ project which over the last two years has seen four local craft businesses learning from their European counterparts, exchanging ideas and best practice, developing both their creativity and their enterprise skills. Several local craftspeople, including glass-maker Karl Harron and Irene McBride from Discovery Glass, have already spent time in Finland, Spain and Italy as part of the partnership programme. “The creative industries in Ards, and crafts in particular, have developed enormously in the last number of years and make significant contributions to our local economy,” said Heather Parker, Craft Development Manager with Ards Borough Council. “Harnessing the creative talent to grow viable and sustainable businesses is crucial. After all, without customers, you don’t have a business, you have a hobby. That is why this kind of European exchange programme is so important. It expands horizons, allowing our local craft makers the chance to benefit from the experience of their counterparts in other countries, to share their own, to develop business skills and to explore markets beyond Northern Ireland and the UK. I’m delighted that we have had this opportunity for our programme partners to spend time in Ards and to see for themselves the strength of the creative talent and enterprise here”. The ‘Sustainable Craft Networks’ project is part of the Leonardo European Lifelong Learning programme.