ladies making ceramics in Rochester Square Camden

Ceramic dynamics at Rochester Square in Camden

Rochester Square founder Francesca Anfossi tells us how her love of clay fired up an inter-generational hub for eating, gardening and creativity

Around five years ago, my husband and I took on the abandoned plant nursery at Rochester Square. What was once a home for film industry props had been lying dormant for over a decade, only its bones remaining in the form of the original beams. I liked the idea of the square becoming the kind of place that mixes everyone together, a centre point for people to come to.

After taking part in aceramic course at Working Men’s College, I discovered an affinity with ceramics and developed an interest in how the material plays a similar role in bringing people together. The course was intergenerational and suddenly I had friends in their 80s. Simultaneously, I was running workshops in schools with young children. Anybody can use clay, it’s not an elite material, so I set up a studio, open to everybody across different generations and abilities.

At the heart of Rochester Square is the idea of a symbiotic relationship between clay, food and the garden. When people think about ceramics, they don’t immediately think about what we eat from, that a plate is made from soil. Travelling to India ten years ago, I found myself at a festival party where they were serving chai tea in tiny earthenware cups. People drank the shot of tea and then threw the cup to the ground. The cups were fired at a very low temperature so they become brittle and smashed, returning home to the soil. I thought it was magical, the way the clay becomes a cycle of itself.

Ceramics on display in Rochester Square Camden

The chemistry of clay interests me greatly. It transforms so much in the kiln that the result is always a surprise, and sometimes a terrible one! I like that. I was always taught that you learn from your mistakes and clay certainly delivers a lot of those. In the studio, everybody has a different way of using the material and so brings different knowledge.  

I think it’s difficult to find a potter who doesn’t like food or plants too, they often go together. On the first Friday of every month people come to our gardening club, where we mainly grow flowers and sometimes use them to dye fabrics. Being around nature brings me back to simplicity. I love weeding, it’s a portal into a therapeutic zone.

I’m a multidisciplinary artist, so I like to think about art not just in terms of the materials used but also in the ways one delivers a project. I’m interested in combining clay with events and food, and in art as a social engagement practice. Art should be for everybody, that’s my approach. I often involve people in the making too, I like it when they get to own the fact that they created something.

picnic at Rochester Square Camden

We started working on the From the Pot to the Earth two years ago. I wanted to document all the square’s activities and some of the beautiful objects people have been making here. All the recipes for the communal dinners we’ve eaten are inside too. Each dish was made to feed 40 people – it’s more about eating together than being a gourmet chef. We encountered a lot of problems with Brexit and Covid, so the book feels more like an archive, the beginning of something that’s already evolved.

Whilst I love the romantic abandoned feeling here, I’d like to make it a bit more stable. There is a beauty that comes with this place being slightly unkempt, so I don’t want to change that too much, I’d just like it to be warmer in the winter and fresher in the summer. We’ve formed a big family here and I love how on some days it’s more professional and there are people working on projects but then on the weekend there are twenty kids playing in the chicken coop and everyone’s eating around the pizza oven. It’s always changing but it flows naturally.

ceramics inside a greenhouse
GROW

Find out how you can get involved in Rochester Square’s gardening club, communal dinners, ceramics workshops and more at rochestersquare.com.

The book, From the Pot to the Earth at Rochester Square is out now.

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