When I think of the word ‘wellness’ I think of the women I met when working as a hostess in a posh restaurant in Belgravia, who would try to convince me that in order to be well I needed to tea-tox, holiday twice a month and attend a Barry’s fitness class every day. Actually they did seem well, but in an evil stepmother in the Parent Trap way.
Barnaby Hosking's take on wellness, or creative wellbeing as he prefers to call it, is different. An artist himself, he created ‘Dalston Clay’ to combat the regimented nature of yoga and meditation classes he’d grown tired of attending, instead adopting a messy approach that celebrates experimentation (think nice mum in the Parent Trap). As a social enterprise, each class and workshop offer pro-bono places for those who are low-income.
A half day clay day will see you starting the day with yoga with Kristine, followed by meditation and then clay making. It doesn’t matter if you’ve made anything before or if, like me, you turn up with the desire to make a butter dish and no idea how you’re actually going to do it. Barnaby is there to make sure your clay… slays (sorry). At the end, the group goes across the road for delicious vegan Ethiopian food at Kaffa Coffee.
Whether you want to become a master of ceramics or you just want to try something different this summer, Dalston Clay offers a relaxed environment and a refreshing take on wellness.
Read Rachel Edwards' full interview with Barnaby below:
Rachel Edwards: What inspired you to set up Dalston Clay?
Barnaby Hosking: Essentially it was a vision: to combine art with wellbeing practices: what I have now come to describe as creative wellbeing. Having been to wellbeing venues to practice yoga and meditation I found many to be firstly quite beige and uninteresting, but also the atmosphere to be rather uptight and prescriptive. I feel most at home in an art studio: a place of total freedom; to explore, make a mess, relax and chat with people and most importantly to just be myself.
I had started teaching a bit towards the end of 15 years running Ridley Road Studios in Dalston; from which I, along with 85 other artists we were evicted last year. We were the last standing genuinely affordable art studios in East London and as the end of an era loomed, I sensed my calling: it was time to impart my knowledge to others: To create a co-working art studio and to be of service. The concept lay on the drawing table for a few years leading up to our eviction until I found the right space, the right people and the right time: We opened the studio mid-pandemic and the words mental health were heavy in the air. I had already completed my training as an MBCT (Mindfulness based cognitive therapy) teacher and I was ready to make my dream a reality.
R.E: What can someone expect if they join a clay day?
B.H: A Clay Day is a perfect storm: It is an 8hr day including sessions of Yoga, meditation, ceramics, lunch, more ceramics and Yoga Nidra respectively.
The day is scheduled to mirror what happens in our mind and bodies during a "Flow" cycle. Flow is a state of mind in which a person becomes fully immersed in an activity; a state during which people have commonly reported to be at their happiest. Yoga and mindfulness meditation are effective practices to prepare the body and mind to enter into flow and the deep relaxation of Yoga Nidra serves to consolidate our increased capacity for learning during Flow, and allows us to completely relax; as during flow we use up a lot more energy than typical waking activity. I have come to view the process as a mini life cycle: Struggle, Flow and letting go. However you will feel much more alive at the end of it!
During the two ceramics sessions, participants have enough time to complete their work and can either come back to glaze it or we can fire and glaze for them. We have lunch at the delicious Kaffa Vegan Ethiopian restaurant just two doors away. [On] certain Clay Days we collaborate with my close friend and colleague Josh Dickson and his partner Kristine Steffenak from Resurface to include psycho-education workshops on subjects such as positive psychology, self-esteem, resilience and flow.
It's my favourite day of the week; not only for the practices themselves but also to be able to share them with others and connect with people authentically.
R.E: Clay has become something which can be expensive and inaccessible for many people in London. How does Dalston Clay combat this?
B.H: We are a social enterprise community interest company and consistently seek funding in order to be able to provide reduced and pro-bono spaces on all our offerings for low and no-income members of our community. Last year the government announced a recommendation to healthcare professionals in the NHS to suggest non-pharmaceutical interventions such as MBCT courses, art classes and gardening before prescribing medication for sufferers of depression. This is called Social Prescribing and with this in mind, I am currently in the process of forming a cooperative of ceramic studios across London with the aim of collectively seeking funding in order for our respective studios to be able to provide free places for people needing support for their mental health.
R.E: You are an artist yourself! How do the workshops help with your own mental wellbeing?
B.H: The practice of being an artist is commonly considered to be a solitary pursuit. An old mentor of mine years ago used to say about being an artist that "you can't take anyone with you". This may have been true when I was a gallery represented artist, making work for shows and collectors in my studio of which I had sole residency. The classes at Dalston Clay seek to shatter this outdated and romantic idea of being an artist. However there remains an element of it; what I call "Being alone with others" a place of freedom to be yourself, within and without; to be able to go within yourself to explore who you are; but also to be supported in this endeavour by others and to connect with them in the process.
R.E: Where would you like to see Dalston Clay in a year's time?
B.H: My dream is to hear more people say they are going to Dalston Clay, rather than binge watching, nursing hangovers or drinking in the park. I would like Dalston Clay to have become the most exciting, fun and supportive place for people who want to discover their innate capacity for creativity and wellbeing. Seeing peoples beaming faces at the end of a session is intoxicating for me and so Im just going to keep on going!
For more information or to book a class visit: www.dalstonclay.com