Supported by Oxford Health Charity funding, Oxford Health Arts Partnership recently completed a 4-week pilot project at Abingdon’s Oxfordshire Stroke Rehabilitation Unit (OSRU), which saw patients, relatives and staff engage in four creative, half-day, pottery sessions.

Led by artist Vickie Kearney*, a practising, registered mental health nurse, each session involved group work as well as 1-2-1 activities. Attendees first enjoyed two sessions manipulating clay, to create pinch and coil pots which, once dry, patients could display at their bedside.


The final two sittings focused on painting and decorating terracotta pots, which would then be planted with a range of colourful and fragrant flowers and herbs to enhance the hospital’s sensory garden space outside the ward.


These creative, therapeutic activities were chosen for this project as a way of providing a range of key benefits to support the physical recovery and mental wellbeing of stroke patients. Sessions, for instance, offered attendees the opportunity to:

  • develop their fine motor skills and hand-eye co-ordination – through using their hands to form and mark the clay (e.g. using circular hand motions while rolling; applying light strength to make a thumb hole; using pincer movements between thumb and fingers; holding and using slim tools to work the clay and apply paint, as well as a pen to write their name).


  • expand their senses – through handling tactile materials (e.g. squeezing the softening clay; feeling its temperature change; rolling it into a ball; pouring water over fingers) and ultimately enjoying the enhanced sensory garden.


  • build their confidence – through working with unfamiliar, creative materials and completing group activities.
  • support their individual choice – through developing their own creations (e.g. with options for different coloured clay, paints, sponges etc. and choosing the overall design).


  • explore new experiences.

These pottery sessions also provided participants with the chance to share a wide range of different life experiences as they worked on creating their shallow dishes; larger, open pots; high-sided pots etc., which had some unexpected and very positive results. 

Angela Conlan, (Oxford Health Arts Partnership Project Lead) explains:

“During the sessions lots of life experiences were discussed. Some participants chose to make something else with their clay, relating to what they had been thinking and talking about. One participant was reminded of Marrakesh and potters who she had met and liked their work.”

Due to the flexibility of these sessions, those with limited time still had the opportunity to get involved and make something, while others chose to make multiple creations with different coloured clay. Even family members had the chance to join in, some enjoying making a basket with food and a teacup while waiting for their visit. 


Following one of the weekly sessions, one service user remarked:

"That was the best two hours! I really enjoyed it – I could have sat here all day!”

Due to the high level of patient and staff engagement in this 4-week pottery project, Oxford Health Arts Partnership is now planning a wider, 8-week programme of these creative arts sessions at OSRU. The focus for this second phase will be on making clay decorations for the festive season, as well as more coil and pinch pots that patients will be able to keep at their bedsides.


These sessions will be led once again by Vickie Kearney and funded by Oxford Health Charity. Speaking to the Charity team after the completion of the pilot, Angela expressed her thanks for their support for this project, noting that:

“It wouldn’t have taken place without charity funding.”

It is hoped that, if future external sources of funding can be secured, this pottery programme will ultimately lead to a longer-term project supporting the treatment and recovery of OSRU service users.

If you would like to support this project, please consider making a donation to our Arts in Healthcare Fund here.

*To find out more about Vickie's work, using creativity to enhance wellbeing, support healing and promote recovery, please visit her website.