Potter Alex Allpress and artist Blue MacAskill, graduates from Camberwell College of Arts in London in 2008, have realised a dream of owning their own place where they can build a life together and establish a studio.
They have settled in Newbridge-on-Wye, a village nestled in the glorious Wye Valley in Mid Wales where they are bringing up three children and running a successful business.
However, success has not come without a few trials and experiments along the way to discover what works and pays and what doesn’t.
Now Alex and Blue are looking forward confidently to 2020, having developed the Alex Allpress Pottery School to teach individuals, couples, multi-generational family groups and team building corporate groups how to be creative on the potter’s wheel.
They believe their offering will be particularly attractive to staycationers, as an increasing number of British people are opting to holiday on this island rather than damaging the environment by jetting overseas.
The couple’s pottery adjoins a pretty, three bedroomed cottage that can be let with or without a pottery course. The cottage is decorated with handmade art, photographs and, not surprisingly, pottery.
“People want to have unique, creative experiences on their staycation,” explained Blue. “They want to be involved in and part of the experience, rather than watching someone else or staying somewhere that they can’t take home with them.
“The Pottery School celebrates its 10th birthday in 2020 by welcoming people to special weekend creative family pottery stays. They can stay, make and glaze.”
Alex adds: “It’s only when people are laughing and together enjoying the experience that they make such good memories which are poured into their vessel or bowl on the wheel.
“It’s so important to make a holiday of it, to cement more wellbeing and contact time with people you don’t see and talk to often enough.”
The couple’s business and home are located at Lion House and Mill, between the picturesque Elan Valley and Brecon Beacons on the famous Wye Valley Walk.
When Alex and Blue arrived in Mid Wales, they started from scratch, building a reputation for high quality, handmade stoneware.
By also offering free workshops for several organisations, Alex discovered a gift
for teaching children from all sorts of backgrounds and with disabilities or learning difficulties. He describes watching the effects of his teaching as “joyous and special”.
“Rural Wales can be a harsh place to make a living as an artist or creative, but it certainly means that you have a go at everything and have to learn your business quickly or you will sink,” reflects Blue.
“We soon realised that running a pottery school and making what we have that is unique in Wales and the UK was the way forward. We are passionate about what we do and stand up for the experience we think people want and deserve.
“The power of creatives who live and bring up their children in rural Wales is that they have to be truly entrepreneurial and celebrate the arts of creativity in every way they present themselves.”
After various attempts at advertising, the couple started reaching their correct audience by becoming a member of MWT Cymru, an independent tourism company representing more than 600 businesses across Mid Wales, promoting their business on social media, their website and in local specialist booklets.
“The only way people were going to buy into what we were selling was to come and be a part of it,” explained Blue. “People now come to the Mill Studios in Alex’s Studio and are made to feel special when they have a lesson and then make what they want.
“A lesson can be flexible, from two hours to a half day or a full day. Throwing a pot is like magic, watching that ball of mud clay turn into something special and wonderful that you have created with your very own hands.”
Alex has noticed that people buy the experience for someone special, for a family reunion, multi-generational groups or extra special occasions. That’s where the school now sits: a special, creative, safe place where people can be true to themselves and make something that is fired and theirs forever.
“I started teaching because I didn’t want to give up my dream of owning my own studio,” said Alex. “Sometimes, I teach more than I am making, but that’s ok. I love watching people learn and change as they work.
“When they arrive here, they are so tense and stressed out that they want the clay to do what they envisage straight away, but that’s not the way pottery works. They change, relax, work hard and enjoy themselves and then, at the end of the session, they have made something remarkable. It’s wonderful to be a part of it.
“A pottery is a special place. People are looking to make that perfect bowl but what they come away with is a feeling inside that is so good.”
Alex has many satisfied customers including Rachel of Falmouth who said: “Thank you for making our stay in Wales a fantastic one and one which we will always remember with the beautiful items we made.”
The owner of a small company working in the creative industries added: “I would highly encourage anyone looking for a team building day out to book a pottery session with Alex.”