Friday, 17 May 2013

Pottery Classes in the Margaret Thatcher Infirmary

The latest pastime on the activities schedule in the Margaret Thatcher Infirmary is a pottery class, taking place every Tuesday. Each week the teacher, Emily Hall works with the pensioners from the Infirmary to transform the activity room into an Aladdin's cave of clay creations. From fruit bowls and vases, to sculptures and mini figurines, the Chelsea Pensioners are able to craft whatever they wish out of the huge slabs of clay that Emily provides.

The results will either be used as presents to family and friends, or will decorate their berths, and plans are being discussed to put on an exhibition of the work once a portfolio has been built up. The 7 regular attendees (a number that is increasing week by week) are currently learning basic techniques such as 'coiling' (rolling the clay into a long sausage and building it up to create a bowl shape) and 'slab building' (using pieces of flat clay).

Emily Hall has an upbeat, smiley demeanour and a passion for pottery that is contagious. In particular, listening to her speak about her work with older people (she also runs a similar class at Nightingale, a nursing and residential care home in Clapham) reveals the true benefit of clay. She recounts how the class can mean so many different things to each person. Some want to get really stuck in, others just want to sit and chat and others like to do the painting but if the atmosphere is right, with drinks and music it is always a success.

There are also obvious physical therapeutic elements to crafting clay - it is good exercise for the muscles in the hands to keep them moving, but there is also an emotional element to it - the sense of achievement and satisfaction when your work comes out of the kiln is strong.

Emily studied 3D sculpting at Brighton and whilst focusing on pottery she learnt the processes and techniques. However when working with the residents of Nightingale and the Royal Hospital Chelsea, these become only loosely significant. For her, it is more about your way of thinking, being inquisitive and noticing the little things about someone, analysing their behaviour and trying out different things with them. It is a conversation starter, a way of socialising and reminiscing about things they have done. What a fantastic way to spend your Tuesday afternoon!

These Chelsea Pensioners might soon be changing their trade to become the Chelsea Potters - watch this space!

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