Top Five: latest happenings!

Graduating, teacher-training and all round required adult-ness have meant my cultural explorations of Stoke-on-Trent have recently taken a bit of a back seat. Nevertheless, I am back with my five most exciting discoveries within our wonderful city…

  1. Piccadilly’s Latest Additions. Bottlecraft, previously located on Marsh Street, are now fully settled in to their new home at number 33 Piccadilly. The new digs offer far more seats, fridge space and keg lines than at their first home, as well as an upstairs space which they’ll be using for all sorts of events including their next tasting evening > http://www.bottlecraft.beer/single-post/2017/08/05/The-Boys-Are-Back-In-Town-A-Tasting-Evening. Having popped in yesterday for a beer-related birthday gift, I can confirm the guys are just as friendly and helpful as ever, even to complete beer-novices such as myself.
    There were also some exciting, DIY-related noises coming out of number 41 Piccadilly – only a few doors down from Bottlecraft – and after 5 minutes of googling, I can confirm that ‘Bar 41‘ will be bringing quality gins and even more craft beer to the city centre later this month.
  2. Well Now You Know. Stoke’s cultural scene is going from strength to strength and as such we are in desperate need of some means to keep track of the goings on across the city. Enter Well Now You Know. A recently launched website with detailed on information on events and venues within the city, as well as a blog and opportunity to submit your own events. If there’s something going on, this will be the place to find out.
  3. New Developments. The beautiful (but long-empty) Bethesda building, on the corner of Albion street and Bethesda street, is set to become a boutique hotel along with a tearoom and restaurant. The rooms will be themed on Stoke-on-Trent’s pottery giants such as Wedgewood – a lovely acknowledgement of the city’s heritage – and provide a quality place to stay at the heart of the cultural quarter.
    In terms of new developments, the building of private-rented apartments on the Smithfield site have just been launched for consultation, not long after the announcement of the proposed Hilton Garden Inn. If we want to retain the young professionals who fleetingly live here while at university, we need to build suitable and affordable accommodation within the city centre and this development is certainly one option! View the proposals here.
  4. 2021 City of Culture Bid. We’ve only gone and made the shortlist for the 2021 title of UK City of Culture!!!!! A more detailed bid is currently being compiled in the hope that we can beat Coventry, Paisley, Sunderland and Swansea for the title. The winner will be announced later this year so watch this space.
  5. British Ceramics Biennial 2017. Having started in 2009, the British Ceramics Biennial returns to the city for the fifth time this September with it’s variety of exhibitions, events and activities. The programme expanses venues across the city, from the Spode Works in Stoke town to Middleport Pottery and Gladstone Pottery Museum – get involved and celebrate the creative potential of ceramics and Stoke-on-Trent alike.

In the News: An open letter to John Domokos, at The Guardian.

Mr Domokos has made a plea for residents of the city to get in touch and tell him about what matters to them, in attempt to rectify the somewhat skewed image of Stoke-on-Trent that was presented during the recent by-election in February. What challenges are we facing? What projects or ideas are really taking off? Who should he talk to and where should he film? So here is my two pence, for what it’s worth…

Dear John,

You’re not wrong. A huge swathe of Stoke-on-Trent did feel angry and misrepresented by the sudden influx of national reports written in response to our recent by-election, myself included.

Stoke-on-Trent is not a city in decline. We’ve done decline. We’ve done decimating deindustrialisation, a chronic lack of funding and laughable leadership, but that is SO five years ago. It’s behind us, and Stoke is very much on the up.

Piccadilly is undoubtedly the centre of Hanley’s cultural revolution. Tsp., Rawr and The Quarter have now firmly established a quality coffee shop culture; incredible food can be found at Klay Pizzeria and Piccadilly Brasserie and cultural activity is overflowing. Whether it’s the beautiful Regent Theatre, edgy Upstairs Gallery at the 51-53 Store or the wonderful Potteries Museum, ‘culture’ doesn’t stop.

Our ceramics heritage is being rediscovered both by locals and the rest of the nation alike, thanks in small part to the success of BBC2’s Great Pottery Throwdown, hosted by the newly refurbished Middleport Pottery. The Emma Bridgewater Factory is also more popular than ever, especially over a certain weekend in June when it hosts the Stoke-on-Trent Literary Festival, Hot Air.

But the most important thing that the posse of journalists missed back in February is the overwhelming generosity of the city. I suppose this is unsurprising considering the focus of the coverage was the small minority of UKIP thugs who saw no problem in urinating on other people’s garden fences, but that’s an issue for another blog post… Stoke-on-Trent is a compassionate, giving city and this characteristic deserves to be recognised.

Having just finished organising and running the Stoke-on-Trent Churches Community Night Shelter over the past 4 months, which welcomed 82 different guests who were supported by over 100 volunteers, I know this to be true. The project was funded and resourced entirely by the people of this city. I’m talking every sleeping bag, every toothbrush, every home-cooked meal, it was all provided by Stoke-on-Trent. And how many organisations across the country can really attest to the same? No loans or grants from huge groups or celebrity donors, just everyday individuals working together and playing their part in order to care for those in need. Just people helping people, if you will.

So please don’t paint us as a bunch of ignorant and intolerant fools because it’s not, nor has it ever been true, and I’m sure you will reach this same conclusion when you come to explore the city in more depth. I would be more than happy to give you the real tour of Stoke-on-Trent, that which encompasses the new life and community spirit at work within the Potteries.

All the very best,

Carrie.

(ps. Make sure you try a Staffordshire Oatcake – they are not to be missed!)

Scattering Kindness: #piesnotlies

Yesterday, I woke up to find that Stoke-on-Trent Central ward elected Labour’s Gareth Snell as their MP, simultaneously sticking a metaphorical two fingers up to Paul Nuttall’s UKIP. I was ELATED, especially considering the extensive (and largely condescending) coverage that the national media had given the city, and the underlying fear that the rest of the UK were just waiting for us to mess up. Nuttall’s campaign office was unmissable in Hanley, purple and yellow from head to toe and usually surrounded by several old, white men. I wondered what would become of it, whether the banners and posters would be left to fade as a reminder of the disaster we averted, but I came across an answer to my question late last night…

PIES NOT LIES is a kickstarter campaign that’s just been launched, aiming to reclaim the UKIP campaign office that’s perpetuated so many lies and fear, and transform it into a real community space. According to the project description, this venture will include a pop up pie shop selling all manner of meaty, vegetarian, vegan and fruit pies with seating areas to enjoy your purchases. There will also be a huge emphasis on making PNL a real community project, with profits going to local charities and a hope to harness the talent of local musicians to play in the venue and the skills of Stoke’s street art scene to decorate.

However,  £7,500 needs to be raised in order to secure and pay for the lease of the building as well as buying the necessary equipment and so this idea needs the support of the whole city in order to be successful! Nevertheless, we are a generous city of roughly 250,000 people and if we each donated 3 pence, we could hit the target in no time. Of course, if you are able to pledge more than 3 pence, there are some fantastic rewards on offer – including having a pie named after you or getting your name on the wall of supporters inside the shop.

Pies not Lies epitomises Stoke-on-Trent’s culture: transforming the old; our unbreakable community spirit and a love for good, hearty food. Rejecting UKIP’s divisive rhetoric is only the first step in putting Stoke-on-Trent back on the map for the right reasons; let’s continue to do so by supporting projects that bring us together and celebrate our city.

Find the Pies not Lies Kickstarter project here, and get pledging!

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Top Five: Reasons why Stoke-on-Trent should become City of Culture 2021

As soon as we revealed our intention to campaign for the City of Culture 2021 title, I’m sure many folk around the country (who have never actually set foot inside Stoke-on-Trent) snorted and guffawed at the idea. In the national press, our city has rarely been discussed in reference to a rich cultural scene; instead, we are reduced to a poor, uneducated and overweight city. Yes, we are still struggling with the lasting impacts of the total destruction of our industries and yes, education in Stoke-on-Trent needs to improve, but none of these things can take away the cultural activity that is currently subsuming the city. Here are five examples illustrating why Stoke-on-Trent deserves the 2021 title:

  1. Festivals. Stoke-on-Trent hosts a plethora of different festivals of all shapes and sizes. At the larger scale, there’s the Hot Air Literary Festival. Hosted at the Emma Bridgewater Factory for the past 3 years, we’ve seen huge names from the literary world pootle down to Stoke to share their thoughts and experiences including the likes of Nick Hornby, Joanna Trollope and Michael Palin! The British Ceramics Biennial is another wonderful example, celebrating everything pottery in the old Spode Factory. Another Stoke-based extravaganza, The London Road Festival, returns this year with more arts and music activities while Appetite Stoke’s Big Feast has showcased world-class theatre across the city in recent years.
  2. Art. It’s everywhere! We’ve got perceptive street art from the likes of Doddz; regular celebrations of urban style at Upstairs Gallery; local artists on display at One One Six and more classical pieces at the PMAG. Art is taking shape as I type this with the resident artists at the newly opened ACAVA studios, art classes at Burslem School of Art and the incredible student artists studying at Staffordshire University. Perhaps most importantly, the community art scene is growing at breakneck speed. The hugely successful Portland Inn Project saw members of the community coming together to learn and create while Art Stop Stoke hosts regular crafting and art sessions.
  3. Independent Businesses. The Cultural Quarter in particular is now home to a mix of innovative independent businesses, each demonstrating their own creativity in different ways. Tsp, for example, have just opened their upstairs seating area along with their take on a traditional afternoon tea, except their “high tea” includes mini bagels and cupcakes with a scone on top. AMAZING. Rawr, on the other hand, give a whole new meaning to healthy eating with their delicious smoothies, juices and sandwiches and Klay Pizzeria and Bar encourage the best kind of creativity with their make your own pizza menu. Not forgetting new kid on the block, The Quarter, who continue to host a range of performances from local musicians, comedians and poets.
  4. Pottery. You can’t talk about Stoke’s culture without mentioning its pottery industry – we are built on clay for goodness sake! Plenty of folk are quick to condemn the pottery business as a dead duck, but they couldn’t be more wrong. Take Emma Bridgewater for example, her designs continue to grace the shelves of middle class families up and down the country and Steelite is supplying the hospitality industry all over the world. Moreover, smaller pottery businesses like Black Star Ceramics and Emma Bailey Ceramics are enjoying huge success too. Of course, our own Middleport Pottery is also home of The Great Pottery Thrown Down, which has just hit our screens for the second series.
  5. Individuality. Our city is the home of the mighty North Staffordshire Oatcake – surely that in itself is worthy of the 2021 title? The Stokie dialect is still alive and well, whether it’s “ay up Duck” or “nesh” or “look to rhyme with Luke” and our reputation as a generous community remains in tact – you only have to look at the city’s foodbank or the community night shelter project for evidence. Finally, we might be the only city who consistently turn over our crockery to see where it’s made. We are creative and caring and unique, and we deserve to be recognised as such by winning the 2021 City of Culture title.

Review: The Quarter, Hanley

Another recent addition to Hanley’s emerging food and drink scene, The Quarter can be found just opposite Pockets on Piccadilly. If (Tsp.) and RAWR appeal to the hipsters of the six towns with their psychedelic cupcakes and quirky superfood creations then this venue is their cosy older cousin, offering home comforts and the perfect place to relax. After hearing about its launch, Mum and I decided to investigate for a mid-Christmas shopping lunch and I’m delighted to say we certainly weren’t disappointed.

Mismatched furniture and a variety of decorative signs filled the large, open-plan ground floor, including my personal favourite, “I like big cups and I cannot lie.” We chose a small table by the window and were greeted with warmth and enthusiasm as one of the team brought over our menus. Having deliberated over all the options, I finally settled on the The Quarter Bagel- stuffed full of smoked salmon, cream cheese, avocado and rocket, while Mum opted for bacon and cheese oatcakes. I ordered our food and coffees at the till and paid on a very snazzy card machine.

Back at the table and looking out of the window, I was struck by the progress the city is making. I could see another fabulous cafe, a quality menswear store, an art gallery and a theatre all in my line of sight, and The Quarter felt like a natural addition to the scene.While you certainly wouldn’t feel out of place just popping in for a coffee, they also open throughout the evening for food, cocktails and even prosecco. The Quarter themselves will also be hosting a range of entertainment each week, making it an ideal spot for a Saturday night too.

Our food arrived promptly and my bagel exceeded expectations. Smoked salmon and cream cheese will no longer be enough for me – I’m going to need that avocado and rocket in there too and Mum was also very contented with her oatcakes. Accompanied by good quality coffee, we had a wonderful meal and will definitely be returning to support this local business again soon.

First Look: The Cultural Quarter’s new independents

Considering today is ‘Small-business Saturday,’ this presents the perfect opportunity to discuss the explosion of independent businesses that have opened up in Hanley’s Cultural Quarter. Our independent game is already going strong with the likes of tsp, Klay, 51-53 Store, Bottlecraft, The Art Department and RAWR so it’s fantastic to see even more places that can be added to the list! Here’s where you need to be heading next time you’re in town…

Piccadilly Brasserie

This restaurant is a real broad church when it comes to cuisine, clearly influenced by all sorts of European cultures. The menu boasts a range of grills, fish dishes, pastas and burgers as well as daily specials and they cater for “brunch, lunch and dinner.” You can find them just opposite the Regent Theatre, making Piccadilly Brasserie the perfect spot for a pre-theatre meal. However,they also offer coffee, cake and a Christmas Afternoon Tea so there’s something for all occasions. According to their website, the owners have 25 years of experience in the business so you’ll certainly be in safe hands.

The Quarter 

Opening on Monday 5th December, The Quarter brings something entirely different to the city centre. You can expect a cosy cafe by day and a bistro-style eatery by night, along with a delicatessen which is open right through their trading hours; but best of all, they will be hosting regular live entertainment from every genre you can imagine. Comedy shows, poetry reading, music to suit all tastes; customers will be able to enjoy events that they perhaps won’t find anywhere else. I had a quick peek inside their window last time I was in town and I can’t wait to bag a sofa and try out their food!

Sweet. 

I fear I might be pushing the boundaries of ‘small businesses’ by including this new venture, as there are already three other branches across the country, but I’m going to go ahead and include it anyway because folk need to hear about it! Sweet is a desserts bar like no other – you name it, they’ve got it! We’re talking waffles, crepes, classic puds, cookie dough, milkshakes and gelato to name a few, along with an extensive drinks menu and speciality hot chocolates. Launching next Friday 9th December, you can find them on Stafford Street for all your sweet-tooth needs.

My Christmas holidays start just at the right time to give these new businesses a try, so keep your eyes peeled for reviews in the next few weeks.

First Look: TEDx Stoke

“Ideas worth spreading.” That’s a strap line I can get on board with. TED Talks have been making great ideas accessible for over 30 years now and on Saturday 3rd December, TED comes to Stoke-on-Trent.

The day will be held at my own stomping ground, Stoke Sixth Form College, and has been organised by Dave Murray who teaches English at Stoke SFC. The conference line up features speakers on all sorts of topics, from local projects to broader arts and technology themes but all under the umbrella theme of ‘Facing the Future.’ Here are a couple of talks that have caught my eye so far…

James Adams. It was James that told me about TED talks coming to Stoke in the first place, although he failed to mention that he’d been shortlisted as a speaker himself. ‘Kickstart your dreams: 99 doors but you only need 1’ will focus on his “golden rule for launching projects.” [That is a quote straight from the horse’s mouth, as it were!]

Sally Smith. Sally heads up Sanctus, an incredible organisation working tirelessly to support asylum seekers and refugees within our city. In ‘The Wealth of Nations,’ she will be drawing on her own experiences of working with Sanctus and how this work fits in with transforming our city.

Stewart McNicol. Stewart teaches English at Stoke SFC and I think he may have even taught my first A Level English Language taster lesson. His talk, entitled ‘Future Englishes’ will be exploring the intricacies and quirks of the English Language and what constitutes ‘correct English.’

Stoke-on-Trent is becoming more exciting by the minute, whether it’s authentic new businesses opening up in the cultural quarter or grassroots arts movements in Stoke town; TEDx Stoke will undoubtedly be an ideal forum to discuss the future of our city and keep the great ideas flowing…

Find tickets at http://tedxstoke.com/tickets/ 

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More information at : http://tedxstoke.com/

Find out more about Sanctus: http://www.sanctusstmarks.co.uk/about_us