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Norfolk Potters Guild and Studio finds challenge in new location

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“Reality has kicked in” for the Norfolk Potters Guild and Studio, says president Linda Ball.

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That reality involves finding a new space for the guild after nearly 50 years in the Adult Community Building (ACB) on Pond Street in Simcoe.

The search hasn’t been going well, so much so that the 63-member guild is hoping a White Knight steps up and throws it a lifeline.

The good news is the guild has identified a new location with adequate space and rental arrangements that are reasonable. This space is located in an unidentified building at the Norfolk County Fairgrounds.

The bad news is the space is a blank slate that will have to be renovated. Costs identified so far total $60,000 and counting.

“Even if we manage to renovate this space, membership fees will have to go from twice to three times their current level,” Ball said.

The challenge for the guild, which came together 56 years ago, began in 2019 when Norfolk County indicated the ACB was surplus to its needs and would be sold.

After years of talking about it, the county got moving on the 19th-century manufacturing facility when structural issues and mould were identified in the Simcoe Seniors Centre at the north end of the sprawling complex.

The 550-member seniors club has been relocated to the former arena at the Simcoe Recreation Centre. The club will begin its new routine there once the COVID-19 pandemic is over. But the situation for other occupants of the ACB remains unresolved.

The guild’s lease arrangement with the county included a floor area of 1,800-square-feet. Therein, says past president Sandy Doomernik, lies the issue.

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“The problem is we need a large amount of space,” she said Tuesday. “We can’t expect a commercial space to rent it to us cheap because that’s how they make their money too.”

Meanwhile, transition costs are piling up. This includes $10,000 alone for architectural and engineering drawings. And with the cost of construction materials and contractors soaring due to pandemic adjustments, the guild is scared to ask how high the final price tag might climb.

“That’s part of our problem,” Doomernik said. “We were subsidized so we were charging our membership accordingly. The county was very generous.

“The cost of materials has gone through the roof, so that’s going to be an issue. This is a really, really horrible time for this to happen.”

The guild’s membership stood at 86 pre-pandemic. As members drift away during the prolonged shutdown, the fear now is that higher costs going forward will fall on fewer and fewer shoulders. Both Doomernik and Ball acknowledge that the current situation is an existential threat to the guild’s continued operations.

Ball added that some guild members are suffering now that they’ve lost contact with their colleagues and can no longer practise their craft.

“It helps their mental well-being to be in here creating and now they don’t have that,” she said. “They say it is affecting them.”

The guild has tried a GoFundMe campaign but that didn’t gain much traction. The guild has someone with expertise in this area putting together a grant application to the Ontario Trillium Foundation. The guild would also welcome expressions of support from the community.

Those wishing to learn more can do so by sending an email inquiry to norfolkpottersguild@gmail.com .

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