Former members of the Digswell Ceramics Community let us know about their new studio
Letchworth Heritage Foundation, North Hertfordshire District Council and the Civic Trust have all contributed to giving the beautiful, historic Vasanta Hall in Letchworth a new life as a ceramic facility – Made with Clay Studio. The studio is set in its own garden a few steps away from the town centre. It’s an aspirational and inspirational space with two kilns, four wheels, fully stocked decorative materials, a small library and a new kitchen. It already has a creative buzz and a warm, accepting community, with everyone, even in these socially distant times, feeling a sense of it being somewhere they love to be. They will be welcoming new members as soon as the studio re-opens on 12 April.
Debbie Bent takes up the story: “We were Digswell Ceramics Community in Letchworth, but we now have our own little ceramic space.
“When I asked Letchworth Heritage Foundation if they had a building for us, they suggested a beautiful historic building called Vasanta Hall that had been built by the Theosophical Society (our website has a bit on the history of the hall). It had fallen into a state of disrepair, but we could all see that restored, it would be perfect for us. It has thick walls, its own outside space, two separate rooms for a workshop and a kiln area with lovely high ceilings and big windows for great light.
“We set up as Made with Clay Studio and got a business plan together with two other trustees, which, when approved, gave us funding to get the building into a usable state.
“The main building work of repairing leaks, fitting a kitchen and restoring the original flooring, as well as using the stage for the new shelving, was done by a building firm I had used before, called Bob Finch Kitchens. They were brilliant and kept to a strict budget. The building is listed, with a large plaque with ‘There is no religion higher than truth’ above the main hall and two enormous paintings by Horace Wooller, which are protected.
“All the clearing, cleaning, painting and fixing was done by members of what had been Digswell Ceramic Community and other new interested partners and their families. All the materials, equipment and tools were mine, or were donated to me too.
“We then began a rota of works; each day of the week, we worked with two people in each large room or one person in the other smaller spaces, such as the toilet. It took a few months, and we opened in October 2020. It was only for a month or so, but we had already signed up 24 members.
“Some of the members continued to pay for a clay and firing service when it was allowed, but it is closed now, apart from myself and Zara, our apprentice technician. We keep the place running and there are a few artists making things to sell.
“When we’re able, we hope to offer a more open membership for those who work shifts or want to do extra hours, but so far, we have only been able to hold workshops for a maximum of 10 people each time, split into two groups, using different areas of the main workshop and toilet facilities. Everyone had their own washing up bowl, which we filled for them to wash any shared tools or materials. It worked really well.
“Lastly, we were given another grant from the Civic Trust in Letchworth, which paid for us to put in central heating and hot water. It has made an enormous difference to how the place feels.
“Following Coronavirus guidelines, Made with Clay will be re-opening from 12 April 2021, with workshops held on Tuesdays 10-1pm, Thursdays 12-3pm and 6-9pm, and alternate Saturdays 10-4pm starting on 17 April. The cost is £130 a month for three hours a week, which includes all tutoring, available materials and two firings.