People often ask about the story behind Turning Earth. It happened again today so I thought that this time I'd share my answer with you.
I grew up around ceramics. My mother is a self-taught potter, a jack-of-all-trades kind of an artist who dabbles in everything. We had a wheel in our sitting room and a kiln in our conservatory. However, I wasn't all that interested. I associated clay with 'pottery class', the course my mum taught for children using the studio in the local comprehensive on a Saturday morning, which meant I had to get out of bed early at the weekend and so felt like drudgery.
Then, after working hard at university thinking I wanted to be a poet, and then an academic, I found myself in the corporate world as a sustainability consultant. I was bored out of my mind and disillusioned. I decided to take a course in pottery at Hackney Community College, because I wanted to do something more directly creative. I picked up the clay and got on the wheel and I had one of those memorable, life-changing moments of clarity. I felt like I'd been alive for a thousand years, as if I had been throwing pots for lifetime after lifetime. It was the first of many visionary experiences I've had in a ceramics studio.
Soon after, I quit the job and moved to California and briefly married an unknown novelist who couldn't get published. We had a romantic summer while he was retraining in journalism at Stanford University. They had an open-access pottery studio for all their students - and it wasn't even used by the art department. People who were studying as engineers, who have since been snapped up by Google, mathematicians, very mentally creative people, all used the studio as a way to create balance in their lives. Their level of skill was amazing - in my opinion, it wasn't paralleled by people coming out of masters courses in the UK. And this was just a hobby.
Part of me wanted to be a potter, but I had another big part of my personality that wanted to do something organisational. I didn't want to have to choose. I felt angry that the UK seemed to offer only two choices - either do evening classes and dabble but don't really get into it, or quit your job and do a three-year degree. It seemed to me (and still does) that I didn't want to either be an artist or not be one. I didn't want to choose; I wanted to do both. I wanted a hobby studio that was good enough that I could turn pro if I wanted to.
One day, on the Stanford Campus, throwing a set of plates on the shores of a dried up lake, under the California sun and surrounded by agapanthus and hummingbirds, I had the idea for Turning Earth. It came out of my own moment of perfect happiness.
I then went on a tour of the US, working as a theatre manager, and was able to try out ten different studios in five different States. I studied each of them and stored up the best elements for Turning Earth. One in particular, Mudfire in Atlanta, Georgia, gave us the membership model that makes everything work.
Long story short, the novelist became a New York Times bestseller, and I - inspired - moved back to the UK and started looking for a place to set up. It took about a year. I started reaching out to other people who wanted the place to exist as much as I did and built a community around it. We crowdfunded the studio and sold places in advance. And now there are hundreds of people that use the studio every week, many of whom graduate to becoming full-time professionals without having to take the college route. Many others just use the place for therapy.
Since we opened, the vision of what is possible at Turning Earth has continued to grow. It feels as if we are still at the beginning.