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introduction to the potter's wheel participants at eastnor pottery

As we prepare to close our doors for the 2nd National Lockdown, we’d like to share this article commissioned by our valued partners Virgin Experience Days and penned by Kam Scott at The PHA Group

It succinctly records our experience of emerging from the 1st National Lockdown in July.

Jon Williams, 50, from Ledbury, Herefordshire set up Eastnor Pottery with his wife Sarah Monk, also 50, 26 years ago. Since then, they’ve been teaching the British public how to get to grips with a potter’s wheel and coach them through the process of clay throwing.

“It’s our baby”, Jon says, “What started out as a studio where Sarah and I made pots to be sold all over the world became our everything – a place where we could do what we loved and work with other people. We never factored in the possibility of our business being affected by a global pandemic – who does?!”

Like many other small businesses, COVID-19 threw the future of Eastnor Pottery into complete chaos. In total, Eastnor Pottery was closed for just over 15 weeks, from 17th March until 4th July. At one point, Jon was forced to start thinking about other work: “It was really concerning. I just couldn’t see how we could sustain what we do here. I seriously dabbled with the idea of becoming a postman to keep us afloat.”

pottery class participants socially distanced at eastnor pottery in herefordshire

Before COVID-19, Eastnor Pottery employed a core team of four people, increasing to seven in the summer months during Peak season. When lockdown hit, Jon and Sarah had to shrink the team right back to just the two of them: “The uncertainty of the situation was very unsettling. As a business owner you are responsible for the wellbeing of your staff. Having to shut up shop for three months meant there was no work for our employees. Luckily, we were able to access the furlough scheme and the government’s small business grant.”

Working with Virgin Experience Days meant that the team had a huge number of classes to put on hold. This really shone a light on some of the admin processes that needed revamping and in a bittersweet turn of events, lockdown allowed Jon and Sarah the time to address these issues: “I’m historically one of those people who will write myself a note and then find it two weeks later, Jon laughs, “Our admin system really needed updating and lockdown gave us the chance to regroup. We’re savvier and much more efficient now – we’ve set up an online system which has hugely streamlined our booking process.”

When the government announced easing of restrictions in England on 4th July, Jon and Sarah had to completely overhaul the way they ran their workshops. Due to social distancing guidelines, customers are no longer able to paint their pots – historically, a key element of Eastnor Pottery’s offering. Jon and Sarah were initially worried, but customer feedback has exceeded all expectations: “We’ve got people telling us that they love getting to spend so much time on the wheel. Before lockdown we hadn’t considered this as an offering, but once again, the circumstances have forced us to reflect and have ultimately allowed us to reshape our business for the better.”

Jon and Sarah have done everything to ensure any customers visiting feel as safe and comfortable as possible. Anyone attending a class must wear a mask and wash their hands as soon as they arrive. Jon and Sarah wear Perspex visors and strictly follow the two metre social distancing guidelines.

They’ve also had to cut down on the frequency of classes and currently there is limited capacity for the classes they do run. A typical Saturday pre-COVID-19 would have seen up to 40 people walking through Eastnor’s doors, but now Jon and Sarah welcome a maximum of 12. This allows for a deep clean to be done in between sessions.

However, Jon and Sarah try and look for the positives: “We just want everyone to be as safe as possible. We love meeting new people. Of course, limited capacity means we’re not making as much money, but look at it this way: our customers get an amazing one to one experience and we really get to know them. Our classes were brilliant before, but due to COVID-19, the quality has really shot up. Now they’re extra special.”

It also means Eastnor Pottery has been awarded the Visit England seal, so customers can rest in the knowledge that their safety is being taken seriously.

The pair are ecstatic to be fully booked for the next few months but are ever-conscious of the changing guidelines and potential future lockdowns: “To be honest, we weren’t sure how it would go. When we first reopened, we didn’t know if anyone would have the confidence to come. However, we’re experiencing a huge spike in popularity – it seems people are desperate to get out and do something exciting and creative. We’re not taking it for granted though, who knows what will happen in autumn and winter.”

The pandemic was unexpected, but the positive consequences for Jon and Sarah’s business as a result are even more so: “We feel quite buoyed up. The pandemic is a massive national tragedy, but lockdown has been positive for us. It’s given us a chance to reflect on the business and come back more streamlined than ever.”

participants at pottery course at eastnor potteryintroduction to the potter's wheel participants at eastnor potterypotter's wheel demonstration at eastnor pottery

three wheel thrown pots stuck together to make a daffodil vase

sarah monk from eastnor pottery

sarah monk from eastnor pottery

Eastnor Pottery’s Co-Director Sarah Monk been featured in a lovely online magazine! It’s called Emerging Potters and contains 35 pages of ceramic artists, gallery news and book reviews.

Paul Bailey, the editor asked her six questions: how she got into ceramics, a bit about Eastnor Pottery, her influences, where she sells, how does she use social media and her observations of how pottery has changed in the last 5 years. Paul has put her answers into a beautifully written three page article.

The feature can be found in the April to June copy, Issue 18. The magazine is produced quarterly on the ISSUU platform. Paul is very happy to send a copy if you email: paulbailey123@googlemail.com

You can also follow Emerging Potters on Instagram here!

Thanks Paul!!!!

Community apprentice job opportunity at Eastnor Pottery West MidlandsWe’ve teamed up again with those lovely people at Creative Alliance to offer an exciting job opportunity.

We are looking for a motivated and enthusiastic individual to join our small but perfectly formed creative business as a Community Arts Apprentice. You will be assisting in educational workshops in schools, community settings and here at the studio. You will be given full, on the job training in pottery techniques including the potter’s wheel, eventually being able to instruct our customers and workshop participants. The role will also require you to assist in a range of other duties including; helping with glazing, packing kilns, general office administration and gardening.

Both our previous apprentices have gone on to secure full time and part time employment with us having completed their one year apprenticeship.

Don’t delay – apply here!

 

 

Jon Williams' finished clay bees made for Creative Black Country

Back in the depths of Winter Jon was approached by Creative Black Country to contribute a work of art for a field of ceramic flowers, being ‘grown’ by community groups in West Bromwich and the surrounding area.

He submitted several ideas, but the one that really captured the imagination of CBC was a swarm of touch sensitive ceramic bees that buzzed when handled.

Jon’s practice is interactive and playful and the more layers of engagement the better. FAB LAB were the technology collaborators on this occasion with the outstanding problem solving capabilities of Anne Scrimshaw playing a huge part in the project.

The bees are a development of his work on the Random String project with Ludicrooms and a more recent collaboration with creative technologist Ashley James Brown.

The bees were also featured on BBC Midlands today.

Jon showing how to throw a bee on the Potter's Wheel   Jon Williams being interviewed for BBC Midlands Today   Satnam Rana learning to throw on the Potter's Wheel at EP Central

Celebrating 40 years of The Prince's Youth Business Trust Jon Williams and Sarah Monk Throwing Together Circa 1995

A heartfelt congratulations to The Princes Trust as it celebrates 40 years of helping disadvantaged young people in a myriad of different ways.

When Sarah and myself graduated in 1992 we were given tremendous support and financial assistance to help kick start our businesses.

A generous setting-up grant from The Princes Youth Business Trust enabled us to purchase a brand new kiln and a couple of Shimpo potter’s wheels at a time when we had very little resources. In fact, we would never have been able to make the kind of impact we did at such an early point in our careers without the help of the Trust.

Thank you HRH, we are big fans!