Building connections through art and creativity – Rebecca Cottrell

Rebecca Cottrell is a Learning Support Assistant and ceramics artist. She is married to Stephen who is Bishop of Chelmsford. Rebecca will be attending the Lambeth Conference 2020 where using art and creativity will be an important part of the joint programme at the event. Rebecca shares more about the importance of art and creativity and her hopes for the Lambeth Conference 2020.

How would you describe your vocation and ministry?

My vocation, my career, has been diverse in the many different stages of my life. I trained as a potter and that has been a constant occupation. I have set up many studios in the various places we have lived, seven different houses in six different parts of England.

We have three children, now young men. As they grew up I started working in schools as a Learning Support Assistant, working with children with social and emotional needs. However, when we moved to Reading, I started working in a college of Further Education teaching ceramics to adults in mainstream system as well as adults with learning disabilities.

I really enjoyed this work but soon it was another move to another part of the country, so a new job. I now work part time as a Learning Support Assistant in a church school. I have my studio at home where I work on my ceramics and teach students in the evening. I sell my ceramics in a local gallery and at craft fairs. As I got a bit bored(!), I have also started exploring Art Therapy and have just attended a foundation course in this.

How would you describe your ministry?

Over the last 35 years that Stephen and I have been married (we got married the same year he was ordained deacon) we have moved a lot. Having to say goodbye and building new lives in unfamiliar places hasn’t been easy. Coping with change, especially when our children have found it hard, we have done as a family. Holding it together and supporting each other is what we do. So maybe that is where my ministry is. Travelling alongside Stephen and being there for the family. Being a mum and a wife. At the same time, helping children with disadvantages and using my creative gifts for others and myself, is my ministry.

What do you love about art and creativity?

It feeds my soul. I can’t imagine a life without making things, without having a project to work on.  It is a wonderful gift that was given to me, it is part of who I am. It can calm me. It can excite me. It has taken me to interesting places. I can take it wherever I am. I can use it in diverse ways, in different environments. I have seen how it can affect others, to bring something to their lives. To look at things differently, from another perspective or a clearer perspective.  It can be playful; it can be fun. It can hurt and it can be difficult.

Can you tell us about a couple of your creative projects that you have undertaken recently?

Over the years I have experimented with different firings, this is when you heat the finished pot to make them permanent. This summer I tried an experimental firing called Tee Pee with my evening class students. We spend a Saturday digging a pit, filling it with sawdust, dried clay pots and different colouring oxides. Around this we built a wooden structure in the shape of a Tee Pee. This was covered with magazines coated with wet clay. We set fire to this structure, it took a few hours to burn through. We then sifted through the ash to find our pots that had been transformed into greens and pinks and the inevitable blackness due to the flames and oxides.

I also have worked with schools on art projects. Last year the school I work in wanted to make a memorial art installation, remembering all those killed in the 1st World War. All the children made poppies out of plastic bottles. We then used a wooden cross covered with chicken wire to weave some of the poppies into. This was then attached to the handrail at the front of the school on which we fixed the rest of the poppies.

From attending the Lambeth Conference in 2008, how did you find art and creativity enabled people to connect?

 During the Lambeth Conference in 2008 I was part of a small group which lead all the spouses in a project to make a large tree of life installation. The leaves were made by the spouses. We sat on tables sewing and sticking, making the leaves to cover the tree. It was a safe environment, one where we talked, laughed and sometimes cried together. We shared our stories and cemented friendships. This we hope can also be experienced in different ways during the 2020 programme.

How will the Lambeth 2020 programme use art to help people share their stories?

During Lambeth 2020 we will be having different experiences of creativity. Not only will we have an art installation we also have music workshops, creative writing, oral story telling. There will be a popup garden to enjoy. Here spouses can sit together and share, get to know each other, become friends.

People attend the Lambeth Conference from all around the world. What did you enjoy about the diversity of this global gathering in 2008 and what did you learn from it?

 What I enjoyed about the Lambeth Conference in 2008 was meeting so many different people from around the world was listening to their stories. Hearing about their lives, their different experiences their troubles and their delights. I learnt to love the diversity, and to live with the differences.

What are your hopes for Lambeth 2020 and how do you hope it will make a positive impact on the life of the Anglican Communion?

I hope that my experiences from the last Lambeth will be mirrored in this Lambeth Conference. That we will have a positive and fulfilling time, sharing and listening to others, and that differences will be accepted.


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