The Chelsea Pensioner potters celebrate a decade of creativity and comradeship

21st June 2023

The Chelsea Pensioners’ pottery club is celebrating its 10-year anniversary. The group doesn’t just provide a forum to learn or develop a skill, it’s also a creative outlet, a therapeutic pastime and an opportunity to enjoy comradeship and mutual support – as tutor Emily explains.

“It’s like a little family”

Emily says that club’s popularity is partly due to its constancy: 

“We’ve met religiously every Tuesday since 2013, bar Covid.  That’s helped to set a rhythm. People can dip in and out, and the buzz of being here has been maintained. We’re not just creating together, it’s a social setting, like a little family.”

Over the past decade, more than 70 Pensioners have been part of the club. Currently, the pottery studio in the new Prince Phillip Building is filled to capacity with regular members, supported by volunteers. Emily’s way of working focuses on the Pensioners, as keen potter Alan explains:

“Folk come along and join the class and Emily says ‘What would you like to make?’ and then she enables them to make it. It gives older people the opportunity to learn a brand new skill– and there’s so much talent! We’ve got people that can paint and draw, we’ve got people that can do statues, we’ve got people that are very precise because they’re ex-engineers, we’ve got people like myself, who do modelling. It’s quite meditative and great for mental health.”

Janet, another loyal member also enjoys the combination of sociability and creativity:

“Pottery class gives me a nucleus of like-minded people who through the use of their hands put their thoughts and ideas into realising something wonderful to hold and touch.  

Clay will talk to you if you let it!”

“Pottery is good for so many things”

Emily has observed the many ways pottery helps the Chelsea Pensioners:

“One of our members was struggling with physical problems and was persuaded to come along by one of his friends. He did and not only does he have incredible skill – he was an architect – but it’s given him a purpose and taken his mind off his difficulties. Some of the Pensioners from the Infirmary come here and I’ve brought pottery to others who aren’t able to make it. It’s good for physical problems, like arthritis and for mental health.”

Emily & Ron at the 10th anniversary celebrations
One member of the club has found it helpful for his PTSD and Emily says the tactile, repetitive and playful nature makes it beneficial for those with dementia. 

“It’s about being connected and making together”

The club began as a six-week pilot, funded through a community engagement grant, but grew and grew.

In addition to the weekly sessions, the potters hold sales, were part of an exhibition at the Tate and have supplied our shop with beautiful ceramic tags for the Royal Hospital botanical gin, imprinted with flowers from the grounds. 

For Emily, it’s been immensely satisfying seeing the Pensioners blossom and she’s grown so close to them that a number attended her wedding:

“When I first started, my grandfather who I was very close to and had an Army background had just died. The Chelsea Pensioners are my honorary grandparents. It’s more than a working relationship. They are part of my life. I’m sharing this absolute joy of working with clay and seeing how relaxed it makes them. They don’t want to stop and that’s so nice. It’s  not just a group they come to, we are all connected through making and being together.”

Potters' Tree of Life

The potters hosted an exhibition on Friday 16 June and were joined by family, volunteers and external partners who have supported them along their journey so far. On display was a variety of work made by currentmembers of the pottery group as well as archive pieces from Pensioners throughout our 10-year history. At the heart of the exhibition was the Potters Tree of Life, beautifully capturing the group’s values and what it symbolises to the Chelsea Pensioners.

Congratulations to the potters from everybody at the Royal Hospital – and here’s to the next ten years of this wonderful club.

Enjoy a short video looking back at the past 10 years of the Chelsea Pensioners Pottery Club - "The Scarlet Potters" with a beautiful poem narrated by the Chelsea Pensioners and written by Emily:

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