After an incredible couple of weeks in Italy, watching my family complete the Virgin Strive Challenge, I flew to Marrakech with Richard for the grand openings of the Eve Branson Foundation Tansghart Woodwork Centre and Tamgounssi Weaving Centre.
Driving up into the High Atlas Mountains, and arriving at the breathtaking Kasbah Tamadot, I immediately felt I was at home. This part of the world has always held a very special place in my heart. I fell in love with it 10 years ago when I founded the Eve Branson Foundation (EBF), which has been my work and passion ever since.
The EBF have done many worthy things in the communities we support and it was truly wonderful to see our newest endeavours in full swing, having heard so much about the progress we have made over the last 10 months since my last visit. Among the many special guests at the occasion was Patrick Hull, maverick entrepreneur and longtime EBF supporter, who has been single-handedly responsible for funding the carpentry centre for boys. That was our first port of call.
To see our old goathouse in Tansghart transformed into an incredible facility was a wonderful thing. The boys are provided with state-of-the-art equipment and a comprehensive training programme,which allows them to make and create high-quality carpentry products and learn skills that will open doors for them, should they continue to be as devoted and engaged with the project as they are now.
The smiling young men from the project took such pride in showing us around. We wanted it to be a really memorable day for them, hosting special guests such as the Governor of the region, representatives from the High Atlas Foundation, the American Chamber of Commerce, the British and US embassies in Morocco, and notably, the newly appointed British Ambassador to Morocco, Karen Betts – all who took great interest in what we were doing. These guests had travelled far and wide to attend our openings and see the work we are doing within our Berber communities and we are so grateful for their support.
After some delicious Moroccan mint tea and skill demonstrations from the boys, including use of the brand new laser cutting machine, it was on to Tamgounssi to bear witness to another incredible transformation. Taking a piece of unused scrub land, we have transformed it into a beautiful centre for sewing and weaving.
The new weaving centre at Tamgounssi has been established to train locals in the art of weaving fabrics using hand and foot-operated looms. This takes a lot of practice and instruction, with up to 18 months of training needed to produce items such as throws, towels and tableware; the likes of which you will often see in London boutiques.
One of our valued team members, Amina welcomed us at the doors of the weaving centre. She was beaming with pride and after cutting the red ribbon (two ribbons in one day!), we made our way into the facility to find the girls hard at work with their embroidery – they have become so professional and their stitch work so delicate and precise, it is amazing to see the results of the training.
We then made our way to the next room to observe the carpet weaving. It always fascinates me how extraordinary the wooden framed machines are, unchanged for hundreds of years – merely setting up the looms can take upwards of a week.
The carpets and rugs produced on these timeless machines are such beautiful intricate pieces that it’s not hard to understand why Morocco has always been the destination for one-off creations of the highest quality and why these items are so sought after. It can take two women or more, working on the same loom, a month or more to produce a carpet. If only I could pack a few in my luggage to take home!
I cannot thank everyone involved in our effort enough; the girls and boys we support, the guests who came to be a part of this great day, David Bult of Green Sahara Furniture who has facilitated and led the inspirational carpentry programme, Patrick Hull who funded it and made it all possible, Barbara, Zoubair, Brahim and Vincent who work tirelessly for the Eve Branson Foundation and last but not least, to my son Richard, who got me across to Morocco on time and gave his time so graciously and generously to celebrate with us.
I know I am not alone in finding these centres inspirational – Richard too wanted to share his experience following the visit. Everyone present was impressed by the facilities and progress made, but even more so, by the positive impact that initiatives like ours have on communities as a whole. The events of the day left us all with much food-for-thought and the desire and drive to do even more… watch this space!
What a remarkable weekend and what joy I took from this most positive trip to the communities of the EBF.