The power of pottery

Jon Williams working on the potter's wheel with a student at Sunfield residential SchoolPeriodically, I have the privilege to work at Sunfield Residential School in Stourbridge. The school cares for vulnerable young people who have severe and complex educational needs, such as Autism.

One of the many aspects I’ve really come to value about my visits to the school is the opportunity to work one to one with the students. Every interaction, how matter how varied, slight or short is all the better for the dedicated engagement.

Sometimes the students make huge journeys in confidence, creativity and understanding in a very short time frame. Here is an extract from my scribbled session notes from one such interaction that lasted approx 30 mins:

 ‘J’ refused to take part at the beginning and sat wheel-side watching the demo, arms firmly crossed and coat well and truly buttoned up. Member of staff ‘A’ takes a turn on the wheel to encourage him to participate. We ask ‘J’ what shape he would like to see being made on the wheel. “plate!” ‘J’ watches as I make a plate. Once it is completed, we adjourn to the floor to form letters from small coils of clay – he touches the clay for the first time, progressing to picking the clay letters up and attaching them to the soft clay plate. The letters spell out his name. We discuss the ceramic process and firing, showing him a shop brought mug and telling him this is what his plate will look like when he gets it back – would he like to make a mug? “yes” Coat off, old shirt on (too small) so it comes off again and then he sits at the wheel, makes a guided pot properly touching the spinning wet clay and ending up with his hands covered in slip. We then make a handle together and add the handle to the freshly thrown form – magic!

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