Shirley le Guern chats to Cheryl Lefevre Maiden – founder of The Saunter.
The beauty of living in KwaZulu-Natal is that some of the most amazing scenery and experiences are only a very short distance away – and beautiful crafts and collectibles produced by local talents, as well as great food made from fresh ingredients farmed nearby, are usually alongside them.
The only problem, according to Cheryl Lefevre Maiden, founder of The Saunter, is that many travellers don’t know how or where to find those gems. That’s why she created The Saunter – an online and readily accessible selection of routes across KwaZulu-Natal that showcases art, crafts, collectibles, activities and eateries.
Her personal favourite is joining talented artists in their studios and watching them work – and many of the artists listed on The Saunter are happy to do just that.
Cheryl explains that The Saunter is actually the legacy of her mother who joined with two friends during the eighties to create the Gillitt Foundation to help struggling pensioners and long term patients at the local Hillcrest Hospital sell their creations. More than 30 years later, Cheryl has taken this a step further.
She recalls how, on returning from the UK to care for her sick mother, she discovered that many locals knew very little about homegrown artists and crafters. Yet, when they either visited or lived overseas, the first thing they did was visit art galleries and museums.
The Saunter began to take shape four years ago in the Upper Highway area. “This area is rich in creative people. We now have a website and a Facebook page and all we are doing is pulling things together with beautiful visuals to show people what is on their doorsteps,” she says.
By the time The Saunter was officially launched at the beginning of 2021, it had been divided into seven different saunters and now includes central Durban, the North Coast, Pietermaritzburg, the Midlands, the Drakensberg and Clarens.
Cheryl and a network of helpers identify artists, crafters, shops and restaurants and then try them out before including them on The Saunter. She also encourages people to send in suggestions that can be anonymously visited to ensure that they meet the strict listing criteria. The end result is that they have “the best of the best”, she explains.
Cheryl says that The Saunter is a bit like the Midlands Meander of old. A formal listing comes at a fraction of the price which is important as creative and hospitality-based enterprises have taken a beating during the pandemic.
“We have a little bit of accommodation, but not a lot. The main thing is about finding wonderful things to do. That might be a beautiful place to walk, it might be a museum to go to or it might be an artist’s studio. For example, near Shongweni, there’s an artist who does wonderful work with blown glass and another in Forest Hills who makes beautiful jewellery and cutlery decorated with Murano glass.”
Cheryl and her helpers also create suggested routes that connect the listings. “It’s the most fantastic thing I’ve ever done. Trying to find the right artists and crafters along the way is so rewarding,” she says.
She is also very passionate about getting people to buy local. “That’s hugely important. We talk about artists and crafters but actually, it’s about an artisan movement. I love and value beautiful things made by hand – and that includes food. You get wonderful factory-made things as well but we are in a phase right now where we need to support individuals and small businesses. That’s how we will get this local economy back on its feet.”
Cheryl says it is still early days and Covid has unfortunately kept people at home. But that is changing and people are again keen to venture out. “I never set out to be online. My main objective is to get people walking through doors to see how things are created. That’s what counts – but it is going to take time.”
As things return to normal, she also expects The Saunter to grow. “It will never be finished. It will continue to evolve,” she says. They are about to add a Wild Coast Saunter and are in the throes of gathering information about the South Coast.
FOR MORE INFO: www.thesaunter.co.za.