social engagement

Potting in a Pandemic

The unscheduled break from all the social engagement and classes has provided a golden opportunity to develop my ceramic work. In fact, the lockdown hush fondly reminds me of the time Sarah and myself moved to Eastnor – 26 years ago. At that point in our careers all we did was eat, sleep and make pottery!

Since then our creative practice has blossomed and diversified in ways unimaginable at the time. A major part of our income drives from running courses and classes from our idyllic Herefordshire studio.

Here’s a recent article I penned for the Ledbury Focus. It’s written in the third person and describes the impact of  COVID-19 restrictions on our courses and classes.

potter's wheel course participant makeing a terracotta pot on the pottery wheel at eastnor pottery

Eastnor Pottery and the Flying Potter has been offering unique and memorable pottery experiences from its idyllic studio on the Eastnor Castle Estate for the past 27 years.

Although the Pottery is temporarily closed during lockdown, proprietors Jon Williams and Sarah Monk are more than optimistic about the time when they can start welcoming guests back to the wheels.

The couple’s positive outlook is part inspired by the experience of emerging from the first Lockdown.

When the Pottery reopened on the 4th of July 2020, business did not look very encouraging. You could count all the bookings for July and August on one hand. However, the British public were desperate to go places and do things. International travel restrictions meant holidaying abroad was not an option. Instead, people looked to spend their annual break here in the UK. The staycation had come of age and the tranquil lure of the countryside made Herefordshire an attractive destination. Fair to say Eastnor Pottery was inundated with individuals, couples and families looking for a meaningful and fun holiday experience.

potter's wheel course at eastnor pottery in the 2020 covid-19 pandemic

potter's wheel participants taking part in social distanced pottery classes at eastnor pottery in herefordshireintroduction to the potter's wheel classes in the potting tent at eastnor pottery herefordshire

As with most tourism and retail businesses, a large chunk of lockdown was spent planning and implementing the covid-19 rules and regulations, designed to limit the spread of the virus. If Eastnor Pottery was to safely reopen, it had to convince visitors everything would be done to make their visit as safe as possible. Face masks were mandatory, customers washed their hands on arrival and the two metre social distancing guidelines were strictly adhered to. Class sizes were stripped back to a minimum with plenty of time in between sessions for deep cleaning.

Before they reopened in July, the Pottery was awarded a ‘Good to Go’ seal from Visit England. Customers could rest in the knowledge that risk assessments had been carried out and strict protocols put in place.

pottery classes in the garden at eastnor pottery in herefordshire

The glorious weather helped too. Most classes over the Summer and early Autumn took place either on the Pottery lawn or in the Potting Tent marquee. Alfresco pottery ensured plenty of fresh air and minimised the chance of infection.

With all the rules and guidelines, Jon and Sarah had to alter the content of their courses. Far from a reductive process, the operation at Eastnor Pottery has become much more streamlined and efficient.

Customers no longer sit at tables and paint their freshly thrown pots – historically, a key element to the 1.5 hr Introduction to the Potter’s Wheel Class. Instead, visitors get longer on the wheel making two pots instead of one. The couple were initially worried, but participant reviews have exceeded all expectations.

Jon and Sarah have also had to cut down on the frequency of classes and limit the capacity for the classes they do run. A typical Saturday pre-COVID-19 would have seen up to 40 people walking through the Pottery’s doors, but now it’s a maximum of 12.

masked pottery class participants at eastnor pottery herefordshire

Limited capacity has naturally resulted in a decline in turnover. But on the positive, customers get an intimate and amazing one to one experience. Jon and Sarah really feel they get to know their students and enjoy hearing their stories. Their classes were brilliant before, but due to COVID-19, now they’re extra special – not only for the customer but for the hosts too.

The circumstances of this awful pandemic have forced Jon and Sarah to reflect and have ultimately allowed them to reshape their business for the better. The couple look forward to welcoming customers back to the Pottery when it is safe to do so.