Sarah Cressall isn’t afraid of colouring outside the lines

A chance accident in Zimbabwe unlocked Sarah Cressall's creativity and led her to found kids art class franchise The Creation Station

Sarah Cressall isn't afraid of colouring outside the lines

Given that Sarah Cressall has dedicated her life to unleashing children’s creativity with The Creation Station, few would be surprised to hear that she would often let her imagination run wild. Having been told by her mother that she could achieve anything she wanted, the young Cressall – nee Long – composed a comic featuring a superhero based around a well-known chocolate bar. “The lovely people at Cadbury sent me a huge box of chocolate and I discovered the power of setting a goal,” she says. And this wasn’t Cressall’s only brush with creativity: her expressive endeavours also included plying her sister’s boyfriend with green-tinted, poorly set fudge and producing papier-mache creations in the family’s shed. “I loved that tactile process of making something and evolving ideas,” she says. “Personally I feel that the more we can allow children to experience the journey of ideas, the more their own unique personalities will blossom.”

Despite this, when Cressall entered a convent boarding school in Alnwick in Northumberland at age 14, it’s safe to say this latent artistic ability wasn’t nurtured, as one of her O-level art projects demonstrated. “When we were told to do a sunset, I used every colour that I could think of and blended them together but the teacher failed me,” she says. “As much as I loved art, I was told that I was no good at it.”

As a result, Cressall went down a more scientific route, concentrating on maths, chemistry and biology at A-level and choosing a degree that was more pragmatic than expressive. “My mum said ‘well people always have to eat,” she says. “So I found a degree in nutrition.” Studying at the University of Huddersfield, Cressall embarked on a four-year degree that involved completing multiple placements. And during one of these placements, her then boss and mentor John Wilkinson said she could eventually work her way up to become the regional manager. “I was like ‘I don’t know if this is really my passion’,” she says. Finding something she was more enthusiastic about wasn’t hard: not only had Cressall caught the travel bug – having spent time on a kibbutz in Israel and travelled around America by Greyhound Bus – but global events revealed her true calling. “It was in the 1980s: there was a famine in Ethiopia and Bob Geldof was doing Live Aid,” she says. “I thought ‘I’d love to make a difference there’.”

On the hunt for ways she could help, Cressall found Operation Raleigh, now Raleigh International, the sustainable-development and volunteering organisation originally launched by Prince Charles. But qualifying for the programme was far from a walk in the park. “In order to get on, you had a selection weekend, which was really tough, both physically and mentally,” says Cressall. The bootcamp-style experience needed high levels of discipline and physical fitness, even requiring participants to get up for runs in the middle of the night. Fortunately, Cressall rose to the challenge, fighting on even when she took a tumble from a 30-foot rope walk. “There were probably too many people on the wire so I fell off,” she says. “What I didn’t realise at the time was I’d broken my wrist but I was so keen to get onto the programme that I kept going.”

Josh Russell
Josh Russell