How the arts can help support addiction recovery - Museums Association

How the arts can help support addiction recovery

Joanne Mills shares a collaborative project in Stoke-on-Trent
Health And Wellbeing
Joanne Mills
ReCast is a collaboration between the British Ceramics Biennial and the Stoke Recovery Service
ReCast is a collaboration between the British Ceramics Biennial and the Stoke Recovery Service Photographer Jenny Harper

ReCast combines creativity, addiction recovery and clay. It is a collaboration between the British Ceramics Biennial and the Stoke Recovery Service, with support from The Rayne Foundation, Arts Council England and Stoke-on-Trent City Council and a budget of £22,000.

ReCast began in 2017 to support individuals going through addiction recovery by supporting them to explore their own creativity, while meeting and working with others, building confidence and learning new skills.

Clay provides rich territory to explore in the context of addiction recovery and has added significance in the context of Stoke-on-Trent as the home of Britain’s pottery industry.

The 12-week programme sees participants attending for one morning per week at the Stoke Recovery Service offices, followed by an intensive residency at the biennial’s ceramics studio. Some then go onto participate in other projects or become studio members. Our work is evaluated externally by the School of Allied Health Professionals at Keele University.

Clay is a medium that’s reliant on timing and touch. When working with clay in a group setting there is opportunity for direct experience of how the clay changes through manipulation or the application of heat or water. When demonstrating, I can have clay available in all states for participants to explore. The recovery professional can read the room and the nuances of body language.

The pandemic challenged these subtleties of delivery and environment and suddenly we were cast adrift, reliant on Wi-fi connections and the positioning of our webcams.


So how did we deliver a tactile, hands-on and safe workshop in an online setting?

During in-person sessions the drop-out rate was low, but attendance online was more intermittent. It was challenging to be at a distance when something didn’t go to plan and I had to find a new way to support clients through this process.

This became one of the positive adaptations to delivery as it created a mindful connection for the participant, fostering an individual appreciation of the experience and encouraging a challenge to perfectionism. My stepping back allowed them to fully appreciate every aspect of the process.

Before each online course clients received a clay kit containing tools and materials. This felt like a valuable gift and having the kit at home meant some of them started to spend more time on their clay work outside the scheduled sessions.

When regulations eased, we organised a four-day, in-person residency at the biennial’s studio, bringing together eight clients with five different artists and a recovery worker.

We worked collaboratively around the theme of “not knowing”, taking risks, trying things out.

The process of Raku ware pottery gave us an immediate and exciting way of working that challenged the more controlled processes the clients had used during the online course.

Being together gave those involved an extraordinary sense of being part of something special.

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