A Pot of Clay was a part of Artcore’s larger Chai and the City project, an exhibition programme celebrating the reciprocal influences of India and Britain in conjunction with the 70th anniversary of India’s Independence. It celebrated India’s influence on Britain through the popularity of tea drinking, and the rituals and heritage that accompany its production and consumption.

Pot of Clay focused on the conventions and traditions surrounding British tea and tea drinking over the years. By looking at the objects, rituals, history and stories associated members of the community had the opportunity to learn and contribute to events bigger than themselves. People had the opportunity to come together from different backgrounds and walks of life to create together. They thought about tea accoutrements such as teapots and cups and created unique vessels by their hands. The vulnerability of learning a new skill together was met with excitement as participants planned their objects and thought about how they might use them and where they will store them. By making their own teapots and cups they were taught techniques and skills with clay using the tactile material as a way to relax. It provided an opportunity for a sharing of heritage and community learning. In learning about pottery in Derby they understood the unique context of this city and its relationship to clay. They used the pots and cups in a final tea party celebration appreciating each other’s successes and achievements.

The diverse group involved in learning new skills attended the first 3 making sessions working with clay and the basics of object making. They learnt to make a teapot and cup from beginning to end including tips on joining handles and spouts. They enjoyed experimenting with making small sculptures from their imagination which included animals and flowers. All the clay work was then fired and the participants joined us again for the final glazing session.

Many participants had not done this activity before and so the sessions benefited them as they learnt the process of adding colour and shine with glazes. Often when learning new things we feel vulnerable and sharing the experience of stepping out of their comfort zone and learning together helped to create a supportive atmosphere. The work produced was fired again and used during a celebratory tea party the whole community enjoyed together. In celebrating together the threads of common connection were made and people began to socialise, enjoying the journey of learning a skill and using what they made with their own hands at the end. Connections were made between people introducing plans for after the sessions to meet again.

Through these sessions they gained an understanding of the process of pottery production and during tea parties learnt about tea through tasting different types and enabling people to come together to share their stories and memories of tea. From recordings, photographs, feedback and evaluation at all the different stages we documented the project and the differences made.

The group are now more aware of the regional tea traditions and cultures around them, becoming more inclined to continue to sustain heritage, and actively engage in the future. The sessions supported skills development, exploring tea and its traditions and rituals instilling a desire in people to learn and feel rooted in its traditions. The heritage of tea was made accessible and shared through new approaches and perspectives so the group will related and commented within today’s context. Community members gained knowledge on history and mediums sustaining the learning.

The project made a huge difference to the wider community as it brought together people from diverse backgrounds. Children and adults had the opportunity for socialising during the sessions and final tea party allowing them to build upon the connections they’d made and benefit their lives. They celebrated by keeping a memento of the time they shared together in the pots and cups they got to take home with them. They also had the opportunity to make new plans together expanding social circles in an inclusive way.  The final tea party was open to the wider community who could all feel a sense of pride and connection, appreciate significance of traditions celebrated, mutual understanding, respect and pride for local heritage, creating a more cohesive society.

We had visitors from hard-to-connect groups, who wouldn’t normally visit places of creativity or heritage. People will related and commented on their own heritage within today’s context sharing their culture. Community members gained knowledge on history, and revitalised the common threads of cultural heritage between India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and England. It built connections, strengthened trust and celebrated togetherness. The sociable tea parties brought people together which alleviated social exclusion. We collated all the information about the fascinating topics of pottery and tea to create a part of history and keep a collaborative booklet. This was given out to participants and is available online leaving a legacy of the shared learning we experienced together.

The wider community now understands the socio-cultural contexts of the region they live in and feels a sense of pride and connection. They appreciate the significance of the local traditions celebrated, and participate knowledgeably and mindfully. This mutual understanding, respect and pride for local heritage has emerged, creating a more cohesive society. 

‘I have had an absolutely brilliant time with my daughter and grandchildren, have never done anything with clay before. Really enjoyed the glazing can’t wait for the tea party’’

‘Fantastic session so relaxing it’s amazing to see what we can achieve when in a relaxed environment. I have never enjoyed myself so much. First time I have ever done any pottery in all my 63 years. So, so enjoyable’

‘Lovely session but much more was making special memories together and something we would love to do again’