Ceramics in the City – meet the potters defying London’s space crisis, The Spaces, November 2017

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In crowded cities, space comes at a premium – and if the rising cost of space is an issue for workers who need little more than a laptop, imagine the impact on potters, screen-printers and furniture-makers. People have been making things in East London ever since the capital began to spill over its city walls, and after the Huguenots brought the silk trade to Spitalfields in the 17th century, wave upon wave of new cultures has each brought its own brand of creativity, making East London the vibrant and diverse place it is today. But is that all set to change? Will the rising price of space in the capital force out all but the wealthiest and most space-efficient industries?

Not so, argues ceramicist Matthew Raw, who firmly believes that he needs to be in London, citing the diversity of the city, access to galleries, and the city’s architecture as key influences on his work. “London puts pressure on you, but I think that’s motivating – I decided if I was serious about my work, I should be able to cover rent on a studio,” he says. “It’s crucial for me to be here. I need to be able to teach to supplement my income and if I want to meet a journalist or a gallery owner, it’s easy.” With its requirement for kilns, drying racks, wheels and wedging benches, ceramics is a particularly space-hungry pursuit, but young creatives like Raw are finding ways to make it work. His studio is part of a space he shares with fellow Royal College of Art graduates, Manifold Studio, where he makes his own work, but also runs workshops. When he needs more space, he pops next door – a brain rehabilitation charity allows him to use its space out of hours in exchange for running workshops for its patients.

For London-based potter Nicola Tassie, living and working in London is a double-edged sword. “Space is both a problem and an inspiration for my work,” she says. “I keep building more shelves to store the pots, I stack them up, design them so they fit together, and squash them into each other. Now my sculptural ceramics are all about space, how we are filling it up and the folly of that.”

And they’re not alone – hordes of young urbanites are taking up the craft and finding ways to make it work. “There’s a vacuum being left by closing university courses,” says Stuart Carey, founder of the Kiln Rooms. “We’re filling that vacuum, but in a more flexible way.” Turning Earth and the Kiln Rooms both make efficient use of space, offering communal studios, shared equipment, technical support and master classes for professional potters, as well as evening and weekend classes for those just starting out.

It seems that for makers in London, all it takes is a little creativity. The sharing economy might be new to the rest of us, but artists have been doing it for years. And as long as they’re happy to keep sharing, swapping, and finding their inspiration in the city, it will take a lot more than rising rents to force them out.

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