Our Handmade Collective – An Aladdin’s Cave of Handmade Treasures

Leeds is blessed with numerous historic Victorian arcades, built in the later decades of the 19th Century The Grand Arcade, built in 1897, is one of the oldest retail places in the City.   

It’s seen its fair share of dilapidation over the years and gained a somewhat seedy reputation amongst locals, with what some describe as a run-down nightclub inhabiting the place for over two decades from the 1980’s.  However, over the past five years, this Grade-II listed Victorian arcade has been transformed into a vibrant shopping, food and drink space.  It’s the only Leeds arcade that is not owned by the Council and is the only one occupied 100% by independent businesses.  It therefore truly is the home of Leeds’ independents.  

Nestled in the heart of the Grand Arcade is Our Handmade Collective, a gift shop that I’ve frequently enjoyed visiting over the three years when I lived just around the corner in the City Centre. I was excited to be invited down to chat with Claire, co-owner of Our Handmade Collective, to find out a bit more about who they are, what they do and why everyone should visit? 

 Our Handmade Collective – The Story…………………  

Claire Riley and Natalie Entwistle are the brains behind this hidden gem of handmade goodies.  Friends since 2012, they got to know each other at local West Yorkshire craft events, whilst selling products from their respective businesses.  Claire’s ‘Little Shop of Lathers’ focuses on handmade bath and body products, whilst Natalie’s ‘Handmade by Natalie’ showcases her artistic flair, with beautifully decorated wine glasses, to greetings cards, personalised decorations and gifts.   

After 9 months of hosting events and open houses together, in June 2013 they took the plunge and rented a shared space on the first floor of Handpicked Hall within the Grand Arcade, inviting 18 local Makers from within their creative community to join them. Thus ‘Our Handmade Collective’ was born. They pounced on the opportunity to take over the lease of one of the ground floor premises in March 2014 and since then they have gone from strength to strength, growing their business.

Five years on, the shop works on collaborating with over seventy independent artists or ‘makers’ as they are known in the business, to showcase the best of independent talent with handpicked personalised commissions. Over 90% of these ‘makers’ are Yorkshire based.  Claire and Natalie are very busy ladies indeed – as well as manning the shop themselves they both still run their own successful businesses. In fact, you will often find Natalie hard at work making her greetings cards while manning the shop and Claire packaging and labelling deliciously scented bath bombs and soaps.

Claire was keen to stress the importance of the uniqueness and value for money of products, designs and artwork available in Our Handmade Collective, and I couldn’t agree more.  The main reason for my previous visits over the years was usually to get inspiration for presents, and there would always be something on offer that you couldn’t buy anywhere else.  Independent does not necessarily mean expensive; what it does mean is something bespoke, unique and more than often at a reasonable price.   

In addition to selling products, Claire and Natalie also run regular Creative Craft classes, from modern calligraphy to ceramic making and recycled jewellery.  Check out their social media or website pages for details of all upcoming classes; a great idea for an alternative present for loved ones.   

Customer service is of utmost importance to the ladies, as it is for most independents.  People will keep coming back if they know they get a warm welcome, a helpful suggestion, or just someone to have a chat with. ‘If we can’t find a customer what they want in the shop, we help them find it through our makers and contacts.’ Claire confirms. This focus on excellent customer service must have played a big factor in Our Handmade Collective receiving numerous awards since opening their doors, including being number 1 on Trip Advisor for shopping in Leeds and awarded Certificates of Excellence each year since 2016, and winning two public voted ‘Leeds Love Affair’ awards for best place to shop (2014), and best place to treat yourself (2016).  

The Grand Arcade ‘Community’……………………  

Claire was very keen tell me about the wider businesses in The Grand Arcade “We all know each other, and we work together as local businesses to help to promote one another to our customers. We are proud to be part of this great community, sharing a common goal of helping one another thrive.”  

After visiting pretty much all of the businesses in the arcades, although not yet The Bridal Emporium, I’ve enjoyed feeling a part of the community Claire talks about.  They vary greatly from Casa Colombiana, where you can enjoy some delicious authentic Colombian and Latin food or salsa dancing, to Dominos Jazz Club (Barbers by day). Vegetarians can enjoy lunch at Roots and Fruits or enjoy an afternoon tea at Just Grand! Vintage Tearooms. 

Claire informs me of the national ‘Just a Card’ campaign by Sara Hamilton  https://www.justacard.org/  The focus of this campaign being around shopping local, shopping independently, and buying small to help local businesses. If every adult in the UK spends just £5 a week* in independent shops, this would put a staggering £13 billion a year into the UK’s local economies, away from the big chains and high street brands. 

Our Handmade Collective and the Grand Arcade may be ‘off the beaten shopping track’ i.e. it’s not on Briggate, the Headrow or in Trinity, but walking those extra few hundred yards to an arcade of truly independent business ready to give you a warm welcome will be worth the effort.  So, what are you waiting for?  Get down there on your next visit to Leeds to support your local independent businesses and browse some interesting, unique products and services. 

*According to the FSB (Federation of Small Businesses).

More Information:

Our Handmade Collective opens 7 days a week:

All photographs by Cath Kane.


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