The idea of ClayOven came to us when we were making the drawing shed in the cafe garden of the Forest YMCA with the help of our carpenter and residents – the ‘Y’ sits to the South of the two Hoe St estate communities – many of the Y’s residents aren’t able to cook their own meals due to the lack of kitchens and they expressed really strong feelings about how this denied them connection to a deeper cultural part of themselves, one that is signified by the making and sharing of food.

In fact, the mobile ClayOven came into being for the Big Lunch, June 2010. Launched at this community organised event on the two estates where residents decided that they needed it to bemobile so it can remain safe and unattractive to bored teenagers, this extraordinary ‘gift’ to the community was made by many local families and has now been well and truly understood as valuable, creative and a powerful connector. We still hope to build another small oven in the residents garden of the YMCA.

It has also been at the heart of the ‘cook and eat’ sessions where ‘…AskFreda’ and the drawing shed have invited families to share the cooking of a simple culturally-specific meal together in the open air, and will continue over the winter of 2011 / 12  in each other’s homes as another facet of the dialogues we set up across the estates. This community cooking which is led by local families,  informs the community cookbook that documents the building of the ClayOven and the ritual of food within the everyday, within evolving personal / community identities.

A Print image for  the home will also be created by the family cooks as the project develops, again led and inspired by residents as Art Activators for their own communities. This is the story then of the making of the ClayOven!

base secured ready for building, paving slabs in place

starting to mix clay with water to make a ‘slip’ was child’s play…

mixing the clay donated by Waltham Forest College …

spreading the clay slip onto stone slabs and bricks that become the bottom of the oven

adding subsoil and straw into the mix

starting to create the clayoven structure

making the sand dome

building with sand ….

the dome is ready!

keeping the dome wet with newspaper

more mixing of clay

pink feet pounding

back to main structure

working as a group to pack the sand dome with the clay mix

more clay and straw

adding more sand to the mix

pounding the clay and sub-soil

……more pounding….

pounding more…..

new people joining in….

New ClayOven makers joining in as the atmosphere builds

ClayOven really taking shape now.

taking in the sun.

shaking the clay mixture.

washing hands.

viewing the scene from the flats above…..

and higher….

                           back down again…

The chimney being created using a cardboard tube and the final handfuls of clay are added

ClayOven stage one finally complete!

…some of The ClayOven builders!

At last, back in the studio at the end of a great day!

A few days later we cut out the oven door….

the door created…. using a selection of Sally’s kitchen knives!

Two weeks after the first layer, we set about adding the second outside layer to insulate the oven- this time using clay and sawdust

The mixture! Bobby lost her wedding ring in the mix and we had a community hunt on to retrieve it from the clay- took us hours, but we finally found it !

Thick and tough work to meld onto the first layer..

Hours later….

…the internal sand mound has been scraped out now to make the ‘hollow’ of the oven …

experienced ClayOven users join in, bringing gifts! …trying his handmade bread ‘paddle’ for size.

Bobby laying the kindling for the first ClayOven firing!

The first flame!

THE FIRST FIRING. ClayOven is drying out in readiness for the first cooking session.

More neighbours join in to chop wood and watch.

Stoking the fire…

…and now we are ready for The Big Lunch round the corner….!

Since making ClayOven the drawing shed and ‘…AskFreda’ community group have had several community feasts all based around local cooking and in the open air. When ClayOven comes out it creates opportunities for local growers to donate vegetables, local cooks to share recipes and their cultural skills with others and an unthreatening casual space for friendships to be forged.

Stories of ClayOvens across the world also get shared and it becomes a space that fires the imagination; on July 1st 2012 ClayOven was used to make over 72 pizzas for a youth arts event, ‘Festival Here’, led by young people taking part in the Performance Project.