Community and Connection

Bethlem Handmade

Hospital inpatients and the community come together to learn vocational skills in pottery and textiles

The Bethlem Handmade Enterprise is a social enterprise project funded by the Maudsley Charity, based at Bethlem Royal Hospital, where patients have been making ceramic and craft objects to sell to the public in the Maker’s Space shop. People from a range of inpatient and community services are taught vocational and craft skills while exploring their creative potential and keeping well. 

The pottery department manager Katy Phillips says that “ceramics resonate with people in a specific way – the physicality and sensory processing is very helpful for some.” The occupational therapy helps both inpatients and outpatients with a range of mental illnesses at different stages of recovery 

Bethlem Pottery Handmade Enterprise
Katy Philips, Bethlem Handmade Enterprise Co-Manager

Opening up  

They have been meeting for 18 months, once a week for one and a half hours. Over that time Katy has witnessed significant journeys in peoples’ wellbeing. They have not only learnt new skills and techniques such as slip casting, glazing and decorating food-ready items, but it has contributed to their recovery and quality of life, providing them with a constructive social space. 

One young patient ‘Jenny’*(names have been changed) was experiencing an eating disorder and had been in hospital most of her life, as an adolescent inpatient, then moving on to a permanent placement as an adult inpatientThe chance for her to mix with patients from different wardsand crucially people from the community, was an entirely new experience for her, and which Katy noted she valued very much. “It allowed her to open up, and identify with other people in a way she hadn’t been able to before“.  

“Pottery has played a significant part in my recovery, has helped build my confidence, trust my instincts and embrace mistakes”

Vocation and Value

The workshops have a vocational element, as all the craft products go on sale in the Bethlem Maker’s Space shop on the site of the Hospital. The group of 15 service users collectively attended design workshops, developed a cohesive ‘brand’, and then worked as a team to make and market a range of craft and ceramic items. 

Mags is a weekly volunteer at the Maker’s Space, having been an inpatient at Bethlem Royal Hospital some years ago. She manages the shop’s finances and logistical aspects. “I like the atmosphere here, and speaking to people when they come in to buy and make the art. The products are amazing. It’s really satisfying to see the artists so pleased with their work and to be able to make a bit of money out of it.” 

Bethlem Pottery Handmade Enterprise
Terence Wilde, Bethlem Handmade Enterprise Co-Manager

Participants of the group earn a small amount of money by attending the social enterprise workshops. Terence Wilde, the manager of the textiles department says: “It makes people feel more valued and gives them that extra bit of self-esteem”.

Terence co-manages the Handmade Enterprise project, and has worked at Bethlem Royal Hospital for over 16 years. “We often base our confidence on the things we can’t do, rather than what we can. This group gives people something they think they might not deserve”.  

Additional funding in 2020

In the 2020 Community and Connection grants programme, Maudsley Charity gave additional funding to Bethlem Handmade to launch Re: Surface. This is a therapeutic vocational arts project which supports individuals to gain a better sense of identity through the art of craft. For many people who have been on an inpatient mental health ward, being discharged back to the community can be a time which challenges self-confidence and self-worth. 

With a specific focus on surface design and the transferability of printmaking to ceramics, participants will use imagery from their recovery stories to adorn a vibrant collection of ceramic wares, showcasing their ability and skills.