Moving From The NHS To Self-employment

I met lots of interesting and lovely people at my “artist on site” day at the Dock Museum a couple of weeks ago. Everyone grabbed the opportunity to play with the spare balls of clay I had and said they enjoyed it. It felt like I spent a lot of time talking to people rather than demonstrating but it was great to share my passion with many children and adults so hopefully I have inspired people to take up this exciting activity. So, what got me into ceramics?

At school I wasn’t interested in art, I couldn’t paint or draw but I liked to cook, making things with my hands and playing with papier-mâché. The messier the better!! After leaving college I got a job in the NHS but wanted to continue to learn in some format so got in touch with our local adult education service and found that they ran evening courses in pottery. Something I hadn’t done before, but thought would be fun. Each week I couldn’t wait to go to the local college after work to play about with what was essentially mud. I learnt a lot from Amanda, our tutor, we played with different types of clay (earthenware, Askam brickworks clay).

All set up for my demonstration

I remember spending a lot of time throwing on the wheel, making cabbage leaf plates and bowls, slip casting and creating coil pots. My favourite at the time was going on the wheel because by the end of the class I would be covered in clay. I didn’t feel I had achieved anything unless I was plastered in the stuff.

For me my hobby was a stress relief from work where I could escape for two hours a week and immerse myself in expressing my thoughts and emotions in clay. Over the years Amanda took us on trips to pottery suppliers in Stoke on Trent and to the Potfest in the Pens near Penrith where we could see a wide variety of work and techniques. We even went to a fellow tutor’s garden to learn to do Raku which I found particularly exciting, using an old metal dustbin as a kiln. Due to health and safety issues I don’t think we were able to do Raku on the college grounds, so it was definitely a rare treat, certainly not an opportunity to be wasted.

I wanted to be in more control of my professional life so I decided that instead of working for someone else, I would set up my own business. I would be able to decide what hours I worked so for example I could work in the evenings or when it was raining so that I could benefit from enjoying the sunny weather. The thought of setting up my own business from scratch would be such an achievement to be proud of. Last year I enrolled on a three day training course provided by our local council with the help of European funds, to support people to set up their own businesses. Everyone on the course had previously been employed by an organisation or working for someone else, so we were all in the same boat looking to move into self-employment. The training course was provided by people who had previously attended the course as participants and who were now running their own successful businesses, which inspired us all to succeed. We were each allocated a mentor who we met monthly to support us through the process. Although moving to self-employment was daunting I was surprised how working in the NHS had prepared me and how my skills were transferable. Speaking to other professional potters they were less comfortable with finance, business planning and commercial aspects of business. For me I had thirty years of working in the NHS to call upon.

I am enjoying my new journey as a professional artist and have had to learn new skills along the way which I am very proud to have achieved as well as pushing myself in situations I have previously been uncomfortable. Twelve months ago, I was hesitant to sell myself, now I have to and really put myself out there. Whilst working in the NHS I wore many hats but running my own business has taken that to a whole new level! Being a business owner is not easy and is a constant juggling act to get everything done but doing something that you love makes it a whole lot easier. The sense of pride I have in what I do is so satisfying and helps me on those difficult days.

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