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Sustainable makers: Devon potter

 Introduction

Many of the jobs within a post-oil era are going to be different from the jobs of today. The repair, reuse, recycle industries will see a lot more action, and the ways we choose to make the new stuff we need will undergo a major shift as well.

Richenda

For that latter category, some people who are already operating in this different world are the "sustainable makers". It's not easy to hear from them (usually because they're so busy and don't have the time to code up webpages with their experiences). Here in Totnes, there are quite a lot of "sustainable makers", and I managed to cajole one of them, Richenda McGregor, to draft up some words on what her work life is like. In particular, I hoped to get an idea of how her multi-faceted work life split up in terms of time and income - and Richenda delivered, as you'll see below.

As Richenda notes, it looks like many people are aiming to have more than just one job or income stream - a "resilience through diversity" approach - and that certainly seems to be the way Richenda operates.

Maybe this account will help you figure out how you're going to be earning a living in a few years...

I'll let her tell her own story. 


WORKING AS A POTTER

My most obvious work and the most regular is the Potting shed Workshop www.pottingshedworkshop.com. I run courses for adults and children in ceramics and glass and have guest Makers who come and demonstrate and teach with me.  I teach one-to-one, run several weekly classes and weekend workshops.  Alongside the teaching I also make beautiful (they really are - Ben) hand thrown Raku fired ceramic pots and vases fired in a converted oil drum. At the moment it is gas but I am hoping to convert to wood in the near future.  Materials are locally sourced, recycled and sustainable wherever possible but this is still a work in progress!  Emphasis is on re-skilling and teaching self-reliability wherever possible, giving the participants the skills needed to create and make without supervision.

I sell work at local markets fairs and festivals as well as open studio events and exhibitions, I am expanding this year into more ‘national’ events such as Art in Action and The contemporary craft fair. It is interesting to note that financially I probably do better at more low key events and markets. Selling directly to the public and interacting is lovely, watching people’s responses and I don’t have a middle man swallowing up the profits!!  For Makers who don’t have their own outlets it is extremely difficult to make any kind of profit as galleries generally do "sale or return", charge anything up to 100% (double the wholesale) with VAT on top.  By the time you have sent them work, postage and packing or petrol you have very little left!

I work to commission, producing bespoke dinner sets, mounted pieces and wall hangings... and lots of mugs!

Time:60 %
Income: 70% Teaching not making pots! 

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WORKING WITH KIDS

I teach in schools working on projects as diverse as building a cob oven, teaching clay winning, converting a space into a gallery and teaching curating as well as ‘normal’ ceramics.

I also work with children at risk of exclusion.

Time: 10%
Income: 5%

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FACILITATING WORKSHOPS

I am a regular facilitator at Schumacher College and have facilitated courses taught by Fritjof Capra, Thomas Moore, Iain  Mcgilchrist.  I tend to be invited to facilitate the more practical or art based short courses like bee keeping and living soils.

Time: 10%
Income: 8% 

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WORKING WITH PEOPLE WITH LEARNING DIFFICULTIES

I run a weekly social club (with a whole group of volunteers) for people with learning disabilities called ‘Tuesday choice’ and we are expanding into another project called ‘Tuesday voice’ which will offer drama and radio opportunities.

Time: 10%
Income: 10%

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WORKING AS A BUILDER

And... I work as a builder for the traditional building company in Wales. They are an ethical building company who have an active policy of employing women and skilled crafts people.  They have close links with the Prince’s Trust and are now extending into teaching traditional skills.  Look them up, they are amazing!

Time: 5%
Income: 7%

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MAINTAINING LIFE/WORK BALANCE

That’s pretty much it for the moment, it sounds like a lot but I actually do manage to have a good work/life balance.  Partly I think it is easier for me because I don’t work for an organisation and avoid a lot of paperwork and form filling, justifying actions etc.  When I look at any one of my projects on its own it doesn’t work and there is no way it will bring in enough income but together it does seem to work. For the moment, living life on the edge!

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NEW TRENDS IN WORK?

I am meeting more people who are going self-employed and diversifying into several different ‘businesses’ - if one dries up you still have others to keep you ticking along. 

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Photos: all by Richenda MacGregor

About the author
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My journey towards and within transition involves me a) asking myself what I have done, unwittingly or otherwise, to contribute to the global crises of climate change, oil addiction and inequality; b) really acknowledging my “contributions” c) trying hard to understand the consequences and impacts within our complex ecological, social and economic systems d) working at both the personal level and also alongside my fellow citizens to come up with ways of making sure my/our contributions switch from exacerbating these situations to ameliorating them, and/or making sure they stop; e) trying as much as possible to work at root cause level.

Transition, with its creative, positive and “can-do, will-do” approach is, for me, the most appropriate mechanism for doing this work.