Gary Topp, the new Chair of Trustees at the Leach Pottery muses on his new role

Gary Topp

As the new Chair of Trustees at the Leach I wanted to share a few thoughts on the role and the organisation and introduce myself to colleagues, supporters and the many people that contribute to keeping the organisation and the legacy alive. As with everything it’s a team effort and myself and fellow trustees always recognise and support the many ways that people support the Leach every week of the year both past and present.

I’m also aware, as both an experienced Trustee and a CEO of a variety of organisations, that the role of the Board of Trustees can often seem distant from the everyday business and challenges of the organisation itself. 

I like to think of the role of Trustee as having two parts; the joy of the association with the pots and the ‘making’ and the history of the organisation and the necessary experience of running and leading organisations to help guide them along the most successful path possible. Combining these two things makes it a privilege to be asked to Chair the Leach Pottery. In the same way that it is a joy to eat every meal, and to start each day, handling and using my own collection of studio pots that inform and enliven our domestic life. Bernard left this extraordinary legacy; part aesthetics, part history and part philosophy that continues to inform so many areas of our personal and professional lives. 

The Leach Pottery today is committed to sharing, continuing and developing this legacy as a Charity in recognition of the contribution he, and his many co-workers, colleagues and associates, made to the cultural life of the twentieth century. Of course, when Bernard opened the pottery he did so as an independent business and it’s fair to say that, like many small enterprises, it was not always easy to make the ‘mission’ and the ‘money’ match up. 

These same challenges remain for Leach today and as Trustees of the Charity our main role is to keep the balance of all of these things heading in the right direction. In keeping with the long history of the pottery we also have to balance economics and aesthetics, morals and pragmatics. And, in my experience, this is always much easier to do if you also hold onto the sheer joy of the craft and  maintain an everyday delight in the work of the many exceptional studio potters currently working in the UK and internationally that now form part of this meandering craft tradition variously known as the ‘Leach’ and ‘mingei’ way of working. 

The Leach Pottery is a heritage attraction, a learning space, a working studio, a retail space, a community asset, a tourist destination and a gallery. It is also an employer, a regional economic driver, a custodian of a tradition, a collection of buildings and part of the wider ecology of the cultural sector. I am sure it is also a place of friendships and debate, of joy and consternation. Whilst this can often seem like a lot of ‘bags’ to carry it is actually in the ability to combine all of these elements that the real value and vital importance of the Leach (and other cultural institutions) comes to the fore. These places are not ‘optional’ and our role as custodians of them has never been so important or necessary.

Of course, I have also become Chair during these very challenging and strange times as we deal with the impacts of COVID 19. In recent weeks Libby and the team have begun to navigate the Leach out of lockdown and as a Trustee group we have had to meet more frequently and collectively than at other times to offer the support and guidance required to keep everything moving in the right direction. During May, June and July we met frequently on Zoom to review the situation and its impacts on our staff team, our finances and to put in place a plan that would give us the best chance to thrive going forward. We originally thought that 2020 was going to be a great celebratory ‘centenary’ for Leach but instead we have learnt to adapt and survive and we will continue to do so for many more months yet. We are still hoping to do some centenary celebrating next year!

A quick reading of the history of the Leach will reveal that it has faced many challenges before and yet, somehow, this extraordinarily powerful mix of creative vision and ‘brown’ pots has kept going. It has informed a worldwide movement, influenced generations of potters and brought joy and utility into many homes. Our plan, as a staff and Trustee team, is to keep this energy and magic going for many years yet.

Gary Topp is a CEO with both UK and international experience. He is currently Director of Arnolfini – Bristol’s International Centre for Contemporary Arts. He was previously CEO of Culture Central, Yorkshire Culture, Curzon Community Cinema and Greening Australia.  He began his career as a visual arts curator and maintains a strong interest in contemporary ceramics. He is a FRSA and Inaugural Arnolfini Fellow of UWE, Bristol.

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