What Price Community?

• June 14, 2013 • Comments (0)

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I have been involved in Clapham Pottery since 2006, first as a volunteer and then as an assistant tutor. You know community when you experience it – but it’s only when it’s threatened do you really see how communities come together.

Clapham Pottery is a not-for-profit community pottery housed in a beautiful old rectory in Clapham Old Town, Lambeth, South London. The pottery is a thriving community hub, which offers ceramic classes for all ages and abilities. However, it has recently been threatened with closure.

As is the case in boroughs across London, and with the backdrop of national austerity measures, Lambeth council is now selling off their community buildings. This means that if we don’t buy it, a developer could purchase the building and turn it into a more lucrative enterprise – such as converting it into expensive flats. Thus, Clapham Pottery may be forced to close or relocate if we cannot raise £175,000 to buy the building.

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Over two hundred students come through the doors each week. The pottery offers courses for adults as well as children’s after-school, half-term and weekend classes. We also host pottery parties, team building and hen parties. Any money left over from these fee-paying classes funds classes for disadvantaged and isolated members of the local community. This includes homeless and vulnerable people, children from low-income backgrounds, isolated elderly, young carers (children who look after dependent adults) and children with autism and their families. We also attract some small grants for classes that focus on those in the local community who would most benefit, and cannot afford to pay.

Everyone is welcome at Clapham Pottery. This inclusivity is something very important, especially at a time when inequality among society is widening – with London way above the national average.

ElderlyforwebCommunity is about space for everyone, and there is an intrinsic universality of working with clay – something entirely neutral and levelling about the medium. Everyone can benefit from the physical and therapeutic qualities of working with your hands, making and creating, and learning a skill. For those who are isolated or long-term unemployed, pottery classes can offer a social activity, confidence building and provide a range of transferable skills. And for the businessman who works in the city, a two-hour class is an opportunity to leave the stresses of the day at the door and focus on the creative process of pottery – being out of your head and in your body. Having the space to do this is ever-more valuable as so many of us spend our working days in front of a computer.

Anyone who is a maker will tell you that learning creatively through the give and take of natural materials is incredibly rewarding. Research also shows that working with our hands enhances mental health and makes us happy. This is certainly the case with ceramics – you have to be patient and centred (especially if you want to throw on the wheel) and there is definitely something to be said for getting down and dirty with clay – it is an activity where you literally have your hands in the Earth. The essence of this is beautifully captured in a quote by Dartington ceramicist, Marianne de Trey, who says:

“The satisfaction comes through the use of every part of oneself, hand and eye, brain and intuition, and through being always in contact with natural materials and the power of earth, air, fire and water. … It is, in fact, a voyage of discovery into the very heart of things. How lucky we are.”

Quote taken from: The New Materialism

In the last few weeks I have seen how the team at Clapham Pottery, the community of Clapham, and all the students who use the workshop have pulled together to help raise the funds to buy the building. From the pensioner who donated £10 of her pension money – to the local celebrity chefs who gave their time and donated the proceeds of special dining events.

In times of cut-backs and austerity, it is often the arts, and community arts projects which are threatened. With a shrinking pot of money available for essential services, arts projects are challenged to prove their worth. To policy makers, the ‘outcomes’ of these projects are not as tangible (especially when their value is reduced to short-term economic indicators), but having spent the week at the pottery with the students and tutors, making a short fundraising film, I have seen the immeasurable impact of this community space on all the people who use it.

You can see the video here: Save Clapham Pottery

 

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Category: Articles, Community, Projects, Spotlight

Amy Woodrow Arai

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Since graduating with a degree in politics and development, Amy has been working on issues concerned with Indigenous rights, biodiversity protection, alternative economics and action on global climate change. She worked with the Native Spirit Foundation, which provides a platform for dialogue between the Indigenous world and modern societies, coordinating an annual film festival and workshops, screenings and events through the year. She also worked at the Gaia Foundation, working with communities to revive Indigenous knowledge to secure land, seed, food and water sovereignty and to protect Sacred Natural Sites. She worked specifically on highlighting the devastating impact of the global extractive industries and supporting communities to strengthen resistance to mining in their territories. Concerning the challenges that face humanity today, she believes that there is much to learn (and re-learn) from Indigenous cultures and traditional knowledge. She is also excited by the many possibilities and social movements presenting alternatives to our unsustainable global economy.

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