Potting Around SwanCare

Potting Around SwanCare
Retirement Living

We meet the Bentley Park Pottery Group. Hear how they got started, and where they're at today.

30 years ago, a resident named Betty Snell expressed interest to SwanCare’s founder, Richard Cleaver, about building a village pottery studio. Now sitting under the Richard Cleaver Lodge, the space continues bringing joy to some of our most creative residents. 

Gwen Simms was among the Pottery Group’s first members, and like Betty, was passionate about getting the studio up and running. This led to her own daughter and professional potter, Margaret Frew, joining the group. 

“I was a full-time potter in Chidlow but when my parents made the move to SwanCare in 2002, the long drives taking them to and from medical appointments became quite draining,” explains Margaret. 

“I sold my house and all my pottery, as well as four kilns, a slab roller and pugmill, so I could move to SwanCare and be closer to mum and dad.” 

At this time Margaret decided to hang up her apron for good, although things soon changed when Gwen talked her into lending the Pottery Group a helping hand. Margaret has since spent the past 20 years sharing her extensive skills and knowledge with fellow residents. 

“I have taught a number of people about pottery throughout my life, both formally but also socially, and I like that if someone wants to know something, I can share my knowledge,” she says. 

“We no longer have a President but initially that was my title. It was great because I could use my connections to get the group more tools while teaching them new skills.” 

Three decades later the group has welcomed a range of new members, each with their own story on how they found their passion for pottery. 

Dot Keals is one of the longest standing members, first joining the Pottery Group alongside Margaret and Gwen after moving to Bentley Park in 2004, “I first started potting at 21 years old after my sister-in law introduced me to it, and now I’m nearly 95!”

For Margaret Forsyth, it was seeing the group listed on the Bentley Park Bulletin which sparked her interest, “Pottery was something different and completely new to me, but I thought to myself ‘why not just give it a go?’” 

Mary Manning had a similar thought when she stumbled across the studio on a wander around the village with her husband, “I decided to pop my head in and have a look, that’s how it all began!” 

Previously working in a brick yard, Shane Annert would often fire clay products as part of his role, now exploring it as an art form in his retirement, “Since joining I have made gifts for my family which either way, good or bad, they have enjoyed.” 

Whether you argue there’s not a creative bone in your body, or perhaps you’ve done some art sporadically throughout your life, resident potter Ellen Clair assures it can be enjoyed by all. 

“What I love most about pottery is how varied it is. There’s such a range of things you can do including different techniques and styles of work, it’s about finding what feels right for you,” Ellen says. 

Mary agreed, saying there’s no pressure to create perfection, “With modern art these days anything can be beautiful! In fact, I believe everything is more beautiful when it’s made with your own hands.” 

Although if there’s one virtue a potter must have, it’s patience. Kathleen Hudson explains there’s a meticulous process before getting your hands on the finished product, such as cleaning, painting, and glazing your item, as well as firing it in the kiln multiple times. 

“You then have to wait to see how your creation turns out. It’s rather exciting because you don’t know until it’s out of the kiln for the final time,” says Kathleen, “You may have an idea on what you want to create but it doesn’t always turn out how you’d expect.”

“One time I made a lovely turtle, and I was so sure it would turn out beautifully, except the kiln wasn’t working properly. The turtle ended up covered in little bubbles which burst, leaving white specks all over it - it’s leg even fell off!” She laughed. 

However, it’s these happy little accidents which for some, can be their favourite part about the potting process, “I glued the leg back on and now it sits out on the table in my garden. The white specks actually made me like it more,” says Kathleen. 

When asked what they each enjoy most about the Pottery Group, words like ‘companionship’ and ‘community’ came to mind, as well as their mutual joy of bonding over art. 

“Everybody has such diverse life experiences and I like that we all use our hobby and coffee times as an opportunity to learn more about one another,” says Shane. 

Thank you to the Pottery Group for sharing your passion with us. We love having you and your creativity part of our village.


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