The ceramics community has come together to support a fundraising campaign to provide children from disadvantaged communities across the UK with access to clay. Kimberley Chandler and Stephen Knott find out more
Christine Cherry teaching a group of young people from Chorley Inspire Youth Zone at Make North
Picture your typical youth centre. Football pitch. Climbing wall. Ping-pong table. But a ceramics studio? Fitted with state-of-the-art facilities and open seven days a week? This is the ultimate ambition of FiredUp4, a fundraising campaign led by ceramist Kate Malone MBE: to equip the national charity OnSide Youth Zones with pottery studios.
FiredUp4 launched in early October as part of London Craft Week and will be followed by an online auction of contemporary ceramics at Maak in November. The auction will raise funds for two studios (comprising a kiln, two potter’s wheels and tutors) to be set up and run in OnSide Youth Zones in Chorley and Wigan, two of the most deprived boroughs in Lancashire1. Make North – a studio that opened last year in Preston, providing online and in-person ceramics tuition – will facilitate the programme, drawing on the resourcefulness and compassion of its director and resident tutors, paired with the enthusiasm of OnSide’s youth workers. Whichever way you turn, this is a worthy campaign.
The origins of FiredUp4 lie in another instance of recreational learning. Neale Graham, a board member for OnSide Youth Zone in Chorley (called Inspire) and a collector of studio ceramics, was held captive by the tactile power of clay during a week-long raku course in Croatia. This experience, which kept the otherwise restless Graham rooted to the workshop, prompted the idea that ceramic facilities should be made available to young people in Chorley and throughout the OnSide network. Already an investor in Make North’s innovative open-studio model, Graham connected with Malone and Louise Smith at Make North, and the campaign came together.
The backdrop to FiredUp4 is well known. Funding cuts have led to a dearth of ceramic provision for children and young people. Even before the consequences of Covid-19 on craft education are assessed, the number of young people taking craft at GCSE, A-level, or degree level has been in decline. A 2016 report commissioned by the Crafts Council, Studying Craft: Trends in Craft Education and Training, noted a 23% fall in uptake of craft-related GCSEs between 2007–20142. In 2014, ceramist Edmund de Waal OBE and Geoffrey Crossick, Chair of the Crafts Council, launched a manifesto in Parliament that called for MPs and government to pay attention to crafts education and its important contribution to the British economy3. Two prime ministers down, and it’s hard to see crafts education anywhere on the government’s radar.
Pictured: Work by Edmund De Wall, Pineapple by Kate Malone | Photograph by Sylvain Deleu
Work by Walter Keeler / Photograph by Dan Fontanelli
Edmund de Waal is one of 32 accomplished makers who has donated work for the FiredUp4 auction. As OnSide’s Ceramic Ambassador, Malone has spearheaded this arm of the campaign, enlisting the help of both emerging and established potters, as well as several fine artists. ‘It was easy,’ she states. ‘Once you explain to them the context for and reasons behind the campaign, they want to be involved.’ Further support has also come from Potclays who has offered to renege its profits on all equipment and materials. This philanthropy conveys the generosity of spirit within the ceramic community and even an obligation to support clay awareness in younger generations in the absence of mainstream provision. ‘This is a campaign by makers for makers,’ explains Malone – an enabling, or passing on of skills.
Malone is an untiring advocate of the value of working with clay: she describes its therapeutic quality; its calming effect; the transformative experience of making, of holding earth; the importance of shaping, re-shaping and imagining, and the discipline of clay, how it demands a lot of patience and resilience. These are skills that are largely missing from the curriculum, and which Malone, and the ceramics community as a whole, wish to impart to young people.
ACCESS AND TECHNIQUES
Integral to the success of the pottery studios at OnSide is the planning and running of the workshops. The team
at Make North, led by Smith, has the difficult job of equipping OnSide’s youth workers, who will staff the new studios with the requisite skills to facilitate the workshop programme. Yet with Smith, FiredUp4 is in safe hands. She admits to finding more satisfaction in delivering workshops to community groups and schools than in her own studio practice. Smith understands first-hand the lack of access to arts resources in areas such as Blackburn, Blackpool and her hometown Preston, which is where she opened Make North last year, just months before the coronavirus pandemic hit.
Make North is a membership studio, where members can access materials, tools, potter’s wheels and kilns, as well as undertake courses in different ceramic techniques – from slip-casting, to glazing and throwing – taught by the professional ceramic artists who have studio space at Make North, including Christine Cherry, Katie Timson and Micaela Schoop. From the outset, there was a large uptake in membership. Then came the uncertainty of lockdown, but Smith was versatile enough to weather the storm. She very quickly realised that by offering her members a handy drop-off-and-pick-up service, whereby the team deliver materials to people’s homes and pick up any work that needs firing, as well as providing accessible online tutorials (that make use of things commonly found in the kitchen cupboard, for example), the work of Make North could continue, prosper, even. Membership increased and it became clear that this model of ‘blended learning’ was also fitting for the FiredUp4 project.
One of Make North’s biggest challenges has been how to train the youth workers to deliver the workshops, many of whom have never worked with clay before. ‘It was something we all agreed on at the start,’ explains Smith. ‘Kate, Neale and I knew that the quality of the teaching was integral to its success.’ The answer is to build on the self-same, pre-recorded tutorials that Make North has provided its members during lockdown, while equipping OnSide’s youth workers with a basic understanding of clay and how it works, in order to mitigate disappointments. What has emerged is an enterprising approach to learning that is the least resource-intensive, accessible and that, once perfected, could potentially be replicated across the whole OnSide network.
Malone, Graham and Smith are all mindful to mention the therapeutic benefits of clay, of working with your hands, of the transformative potential of the material, the thrill at seeing something materialise in ceramic, something that will most likely outlast you.
Work by Bouke de Vries / Photograph by Dan Fontanelli
Lots for the auction include: Rose Bowl by Hitomi Hosono, Flower Jar by Lisa Hammond, Mashiko 31-19 and Mashiko 67–19 by Jennifer Lee, and Large Dry Kohiki Bowl by Akiko Hirai / Photograph by Sylvain Deleu
These notions are familiar – yet there is something different about this venture. It’s not a squeezed session in a school classroom once a term; nor is it a fully paid, membership-only venture. It is for young people and it costs very little to spend time there. FiredUp4 has the potential to go beyond this one-off campaign and support other forms of creativity such as the Crafts Council’s Hey Clay! initiative – a ‘national celebration of clay’ that involves opening up studios and inviting the public to engage with clay over the course of a weekend. The hope is that it will offer a new form of ceramics education for young people, nurturing attention to and respect for the therapeutic qualities of clay and positioning the craft alongside other recreational offers at OnSide Youth Zones.
1 UK Government, National Statistics, English indices of deprivation 2019, (26 September 2019), gov.uk2 Emma Pooley and Andrew Rowell, Studying Craft: Trends in Craft Education and Training (October 2016), craftscouncil.org.uk 3 a-n Editorial, Crafts Council calls for a change with education manifesto, a-n News (11 November 2014), a-n.co.uk
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