Local hero: Francesca Anfossi

Local hero: Francesca Anfossi

February 2020
Francesca Anfossi, co-founder of Rochester Square

In the first edition of our Local Hero series, we met Francesca Anfossi, a talented Ceramicist and Co-Founder of Rochester Square, a unique community garden project and creative studio space located in the heart of Camden. Formerly derelict for over a decade, Rochester Square is now a versatile hub, serving the community via weekly gardening sessions and monthly supper clubs, that are open to all.

We met with Francesca on a sunny Wednesday morning, to find out a little more about her work and gathered a few precious local tips along the way.

What inspired you to start the Rochester Square initiative?

Since I started working with clay, I realised what an adaptable, inclusive and non-hierarchical process it is. For a start, we use it every day in one of our most basic activities: in the form of tableware for eating. From children’s education to making art, from architectural experimentation to crafts therapy, clay can be both a very humble and highly sophisticated material. Furthermore, ceramics, like many crafts, is inherently communal: technical progress on an individual level is often obtained through the exchange of practical knowledge from others.

However, my main vision for Rochester Square came from a trip to India I made some years ago. I was fascinated by the system there of recycling clay teacups: they are fired at very low temperatures, making them so fireable that they can easily be turned back into soil when smashed to the ground after use. The soil is then used again to make new teacups. This image really stuck with me and it guides me in my approach to Rochester Square: a sort of creative earth cycle from soil (clay) to plants (food) to plates (eating).

Can anyone visit Rochester Square?

Yes, but only by appointment. However, we are open to the public during special events and activities.

What's the most rewarding part of your job?

I always had the impression that the site was separating worlds, rather than bringing them together as a classic square would do. Since we acquired the site, our idea has been that we could turn it into an engine for local social life. I have had people telling me that they had never met their neighbour before they came to one of our communal dinners, and I just love that we can make this happen. For us, there is great meaning in creating a space that can become a catalyst for people to meet each other through the powerful yet simple tool of making things together or sharing a meal.

Rochester Square, Camden

Do you have any future plans for Rochester Square?

My long-term dream is to create a contemporary, more interactive version of a sculpture garden. A place where art installations, plants and crafts can offer recreational and artistic activities to people of all ages.

Can you tell us about your ceramic work?

My interdisciplinary practice takes the tradition of crafts as a starting point to make and collaborate, using ceramic as a core material. Inspired by the very nature of clay, my projects are conceived in direct collaboration with communities and evolve according to their needs. Most of my work takes the form of workshops, cooking classes or communal events, and offers an opportunity to the participants involved to learn new skills and form new social bonds. By putting other people’s creations and interests forward, my work aims to remove the barriers between art and craft, professional and amateur, work and leisure. My projects intend to create a space for experimentation and exchange, based on some of our most basic activities: cooking, playing and sharing.

Do you live in Camden?

Yes, since 2006. I’ve worked here for twelve years.

If you left Camden, what would you miss most?

Rochester Square and my neighbours.

What are your favourite places in the area?

Hampstead Heath, The Lord Stanley, Bread by bike, Sunday Cafe, Camden Square Play Centre, Storestore in Coal’s Drop Yard and Screwfix!

Where’s your go-to place for an evening drink?

The Lord Stanley and Spiritland in Kings cross.

What do you always buy locally?

Bread, eggs from my chickens (free), olives from Phoenicia in Kentish Town and plants from the Camden Garden Centre.

Where do you go for dinner in Camden?

Our communal dinner every Saturday, every other month. Asakusa for some amazing sushi, Ramo Ramen and again The Lord Stanley pub.

Find out more about upcoming events at Rochester Square here.