Turn off the highway at Fairy Meadow into Daisy Street and you'll enter a buzzing little strip that's undergone a charming transformation over the past few years.
It began when coffee bar the Broken Drum moved in, followed by the obvious choice for a street named after a flower - florist shop Hello Petal.
Across the road from this trendy pair, Black Duck Ceramics Studio quietly opened its doors back in June.
Inside the newly renovated white and wood interior, owner Dianna Watson cuts a slab of clay for Kate*, a regular here and a single mother trying to make it through an unexpectedly dark time in her life.
The 26-year-old emergency services worker has battled with post traumatic stress disorder for the best part of eight months.
Distressing memories from calls she'd been on suddenly came rushing back, triggering a series of panic attacks that last several minutes, rendering her immobile and helpless.
When she first stepped into Dianna's studio Kate didn't realise it would become her safe haven from those storms.
"It felt indulgent, constructive but not necessary," Kate says of her first visit.
"It started as a bit of 'me time' to chill out - a present to myself."
It's still all of those things but it quickly became so much more. It turned into a vital part of her treatment, a form of ''cheap therapy'' as she calls it.
It filled a void left by her inability to exercise. Going to the gym had been her release valve but the anti-depressants she needed to function robbed her of the motivation to get up and go.
"I go to get a nice, peaceful, mindful break," Kate says of her visits to Black Duck.
"Clay is almost as effective as exercise in reducing my stress."
In Dianna's studio, Kate finds relief from the racing thoughts and muscle tension that anxiety sufferers know only too well.
The simple, uncluttered space and tactile process of moulding clay slows everything down so that she can breathe deeply, take in and process what is happening around her.
She focuses on the words she hears from others and then organises her thoughts before she speaks to connect with the people around her. It's a relaxed state of being she describes as "extreme mindfulness".
These stress-reducing benefits have come as no surprise to Dianna. In fact, it's a major reason she opened the studio.
"I wanted to share the benefits of this beautiful craft as it has been my own 'mindfulness' long before the term was coined," she says.
It had been Dianna's long-held dream to turn her passion for pottery into a small business, and she eventually worked up the courage to quit her job and make it happen.
The first thing she needed to bring Black Duck to life was a central and accessible location. Finding that perfect spot in Daisy Street took her about a year.
"The space hadn't been used in years and was in a very poor condition but it had direct sunlight and a north-facing aspect that I desired," Dianna says.
A small crew made up of Dianna, her husband, teen daughters and a colleague from her previous workplace got stuck into the renovations.
They put in a new floor, knocked out one wall and painted the ones left standing, before installing the most important items of all - two kilns.
It now looked the part but she still needed a name. She gave 10 friends a list of seven options - Black Duck was the winner for nine of them.
Dianna was quietly thrilled with the choice.
"Black Ducks are very much a part of the Illawarra," she says, explaining that Wombarra, where she lives, is the Dhurga word for Black Duck, spoken by the Dharawal and Wodi Wodi people.
The name also reminded her of Black Dog, the institute that supports people with depression, which suited the underlying ethos of her fledgling business.
“This is my little part in trying to stem the ripple effect of mental health issues affecting our society, in particular depression, anxiety and social isolation," she says.
"I wanted to create the best possible calming environment and engage people to make something and meet others.”
Black Duck's non-threatening and aesthetically soothing feel is a big part of what keeps 19-year-old Ella* coming back each week.
"It's a beautiful space conducive to relaxation, something I find a little hard," Ella says.
"The ambience is quiet, still and calm with a communal table for safe and non-daunting conversation."
Ella is a vibrant and highly articulate young woman when she feels at ease. That's a state of mind that can be frustratingly fleeting due to a range of issues including social anxiety disorder, depression and OCD.
"Unfortunately it's not the type of OCD that’ll make me clean my room," Ella jokes.
"It sounds like quite the rap sheet, I know, but I’m dealing with them and they're not chronic.
"So hopefully it'll be better. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither will my sanity be."
Ella's grandmother spotted the ceramics studio while she was at the florist and suggested her grand-daughter "try the pottery thingy". She's been trying the "pottery thingy" ever since. Like Kate, she has found that it's helping her live a better life.
After a few creative mishaps, Ella has made a bowl, two cups and a Christmas ornament.
"I had the enthusiasm of a bottle rid of its cork, however I had the masterpiece that seemed to be worse off than when I had started," she laughs, of her steep learning curve with clay.
"I have learnt that poor construction is fatal and can lead to an explosion in the kiln, but I now take great pride and effort in the early manufacturing stage."
In ceramics she has found another outlet for her creativity, making her a braver, more confident and productive person with every new creation.
"Becoming involved in activities outside the house, like Black Duck Studios, has allowed me to be more externally expressive, and I'm now able to accomplish things," she says.
"Small goals like watering the plants, doing the dishes and even getting out of bed in the morning. These seem simple but at times have been unobtainable."
Most importantly, Ella says she has become more open to the positive experiences that pop up in her daily life.
"Actively being open to the day increases recovery tenfold. Along with medication, therapy and exercise, I find that I’ve achieved a holistic and robust plan for my health."
Unless they decide to tell her, Dianna doesn't usually know which customers have a mental illness. So she looks to create a calming vibe for everyone who walks through the door.
"It is important to me to provide a welcoming and inclusive environment to everyone who comes in so they can feel comfortable and forget their worries," Dianna says.
"I may have a high school student having anxiety around the HSC, a paramedic with PTSD and an elder with social isolation and depression."
Sue, a 48-year-old high school teacher and "recovering lawyer", is another ceramics convert, thanks to Black Duck Studio.
When she made the trip down from Coogee to visit the shop shortly after it opened, it was to support Dianna, a close friend she met years ago.
Sue describes herself as a "creative dunce" but thought her three teenaged children might enjoy a day of art and craft. Instead it was Sue who got the most out of the experience.
She has been dealing with stress and anxiety since she was a teenager - often feeling overwhelmed by mounting workloads at home and in the office. In the past decade, she has experienced bouts of depression, sometimes finding herself debilitated by them.
On Sue's first visit, Dianna offered numerous ideas to get her started and it wasn't long before she became thoroughly immersed in the activity.
"It's a great way to switch off mentally and concentrate on doing something new and creative," she says.
"We were able to chat to Dianna and each other if we felt like it or concentrate on our creative activities without interacting, without any social awkwardness."
When she opened in the dead of winter, drawing on some of her savings to keep things going during those slower first few months, Dianna held tight to her dream. Six months on and the studio has surpassed her expectations.
"I have met the most fascinating and inspiring people of every age and from everywhere who just want to relax and have fun building with clay or glazing," Dianna says.
Relax, have fun ... and start the process of healing.
*Not their real names.
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