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!)

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IN THE NEWS: Northern Quarter, eat your heart out…

During the obligatory 3pm scroll through my Facebook news feed at some point last week, a new Sentinel article caught my eye as they had likened Hanley’s very own Piccadilly to Manchester’s Northern Quarter.

At first, I was thrilled. The Northern Quarter is the epitome of cool. A quick wander around and you will find more hummus, start-up coffee roasters and craft beer than you can shake a stick at. However, you can’t help but notice that the overwhelming demographic roaming the area is bearded, cardigan-clad hipsters. Anyone who’s not wearing a rainbow-coloured, crocheted jumper and carrying a shopping bag full of quinoa and avocados might feel slightly out of place…

And I think here lies my slight objection to the comparison of these 2 places. The difference between Piccadilly and TNQ is that anyone can walk down the former without feeling too ‘uncool.’ Evidently, we have some incredible independent retailers, original galleries and unfathomably good food but I’m not sure we’ll ever be as polished or edgy as Manchester’s creative district…and that is no bad thing.

Part of Stoke-on-Trent’s charm is that it’s messy around the edges. We are a city that has been built with clay, and you don’t have to be a quality potter to know that you will struggle to create something beautiful without getting your hands dirty. Stoke will forever be a work in progress and that truth is what makes us unique. We’re in danger of cities becoming indistinguishable from one another, of one urban sprawl looking very much like any other, so let’s not exacerbate it by constantly comparing their strengths and weaknesses.

So, with this in mind, I’m proposing that we stop these cross-city comparisons and simply celebrate the fantastic things that are happening here. After all, we can have delicious coffee without it needing to compete with a cafe in Manchester and visit quirky pizzerias without worrying about fellow eateries in Birmingham. The atmosphere on Stoke’s Piccadilly is refreshing, welcoming, exciting…let’s just leave it at that!

tsp cafe

(tsp.)

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Klay Pizzeria


The original Sentinel article this post is based on: http://www.stokesentinel.co.uk/Piccadilly-Hanley-s-answer-Northern-Quarter/story-29217287-detail/story.html

My reviews of (tsp.) and Klay which are both featured in The Sentinel’s article:

https://stokeingthefire.wordpress.com/2015/07/18/review-tsp-cafe-hanley/

https://stokeingthefire.wordpress.com/2016/04/05/review-klay-pizzeria-bar/

IN THE NEWS: Jason Manford & Phil Jupitus’s mission to get Stoke off the UK’s “top ten worst towns”

I’m absolutely over the moon with Jason Manford and Phil Jupitus this week- who knew that we three had so much in common?- as they have tasked themselves with a mission to knock Stoke out of the list of “top 10 worst towns in the UK” and champion the city. The pair are currently touring in ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ which has pitched up at The Regent in Hanley until the 9th of April and they intend to fill the next week and half with as many tourist attractions, restaurants, museums, cafes and ‘things to do’ that Stoke has to offer.

The idea has certainly captured the imagination of many Stokies (near and far!), as Manford’s first Facebook status appealing for places to visit in the city received over 2,000 comments and 3,000 shares. They even made it on to the 6 o’clock ITV news! During the item, they argued that after having toured many times and in many different towns across the country, they could certainly think of at least 10 that were far worse than Stoke…

The pair’s twitter feeds reveal what they’ve been up to today, and boy have they crammed a lot in. By the looks of things, they’ve visited (tsp.) cafe (which was my first suggestion, of course!) and popped down the road to the AirSpace Gallery; they’ve tried an Oatie Moston oatcake and browsed around the Potteries Museum where they were particularly taken with the spitfire. The day was all topped off with a visit to Emma Bridgewater with Jason trying his hand at pottery decoration, the success of which I’ll leave for you to decide… Alton Towers, Trentham Gardens and Gladstone Pottery are all still on their to-do list but I’m sure they’d still welcome any other suggestions. Phil & Jason, if you’re reading this, I think my restaurant recommendation for you would have to be Roberto’s Italian. It’s literally a stone’s throw from the Regent and you are definitely in with a chance of ending up on his wall of fame!

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Photo credit: Phil Jupitus’s Twitter @jupitusphillip

Joking aside, perhaps the most poignant observation that they’ve made so far is that some of Stoke’s harshest critics are actually those living in the city themselves. Don’t get me wrong, Stoke-on-Trent drives me absolutely bonkers sometimes (don’t get me started on the snail’s pace that people walk through Hanley at, for instance, or the compulsory police presence that is required across half the city when there’s a Stoke home game on) but even in those moments I’m still proud to be part of such a warm, city-wide community. After all, we can’t lament other people for calling us a top 10 worst town to live in if we ourselves aren’t prepared to shout about our assets. Thank you Mr Manford & Mr Jupitus for highlighting some of Stoke’s best bits! (and break a leg this evening!)


 

The Sentinel’s coverage: http://www.stokesentinel.co.uk/Jason-Manford-appealing-best-places-visit/story-29032241-detail/story.html 

http://www.stokesentinel.co.uk/Phil-Jupitus-Jason-Manford-tuck-oatcakes-taking/story-29033283-detail/story.html 

 

In the news: “The Sentinel’s 20 unbelievably cool shops and cafes in Hanley”

When people mention Hanley, admittedly I don’t often think ‘unbelievably cool.’ Usually, it’s pigeons and innumerable cigarette butts that first spring to mind., however, having given it some thought the city centre actually has a lot of quirky outlets on offer. The Sentinel recently published their list of the 20 “coolest” shops in Hanley, some of which I’ve already reviewed (like NOM and my all time favourite (tsp.)) and others which are now on my to-go-to list, like Blondie’s Twisted Tearoom.

Inspired by the above list, here are my own top 5 coolest businesses in Hanley (excluding (tsp.) of course, because I’ve blogged non-stop about them already…):

  1. Brassingtons, Picadilly.

Considering they’ve been a family business since 1901, it’s fair to say that Brassington’s should be seen as a Hanley institution by now. They are synonymous with quality shoes and the only place to buy Dr Martens. I had my first pair of Docs for Christmas from this shop & the chap serving me couldn’t have been more helpful. Even if you only pop in to admire the impressive Dr Martens display, you should definitely pay them a visit the next time you’re passing by.

2. Melice, intu Potteries

Melice is still a relatively new cafe on the scene but brilliant nonetheless. The best place in Hanley to tuck into a proper French crepe (possibly the only place in Hanley that serves French crepes?) and they also sell a variety of French pastries which are always displayed so nicely in their window. Undoubtedly, Melice is bringing a touch of class to the Potteries centre and the city’s food scene as a whole.

3. The Potteries Museum Gift Shop, Bethesda Street

This may seem like a weird addition to the list, but they stock a cracking range of Moorland Pottery’s “Stokie-Ware” along with other bits and pieces of Stoke Pottery, local history paraphernalia and postcards. Just as a side note, the actual museum and gallery is pretty cool too.. Even if you’re an avid museum-avoider, you’d be hard-pressed  not to be impressed at Stoke-on-Trent’s story.

4. Roberto’s Italian, Pall Mall

I love this restaurant. It’s like a little slice of of authentic Italy right in the middle of Stoke. Inside the unassuming building, Roberto’s serves delicious cuisine with friendly service. If I was to recommend a particular dish, it would have to be the calamari. I don’t know how they make it so fresh (seeing as we are absolutely nowhere near the sea!) but it’s fantastic. Best of all, they have very reasonable prices. Te Amo Robertos!

5. Webberley’s Bookshop, Percy Street

I know. It’s closed. I’m not over it yet, so this is an ode to perhaps Hanley’s coolest shop of all time. It’s range of books was second to none and I could spend entire afternoons browsing the art & stationary supplies upstairs. I’ll just make a quick plea to anyone reading this with a spare million lying around (is that unlikely?)… please buy the building and develop the concept scheme that an architect has drawn up! The building is too important to stand empty for too long…

webberleys

Webberley’s Ltd. (Image from: webberleys.net

 

It’s true that Hanley might have too many pigeons, but it’s also got some one-of-a kind eateries, cafes and shops. Perhaps it’s about time that they start springing to mind first…


 

The original Sentinel article: http://www.stokesentinel.co.uk/20-unbelievably-cool-shops-cafes-Hanley/story-26514611-detail/story.html

Websites for: Brassingtons  http://www.brassingtons.co.uk/

Melice http://www.melice.co.uk/

The Potteries Museum http://www.stokemuseums.org.uk/visit/pmag/

Roberto’s http://www.robertopizzeria.com/

Webberley’s http://www.webberleys.net/#about

http://www.rightmove.co.uk/commercial-property-for-sale/property-55879574.html

In the news: Stoke-on-Trent’s New Years Resolutions

Having ‘liked’ The Sentinel on Facebook usually means I’m bombarded with links to see “who’s been up in court?” (as if that’s an article I’ve been waiting all day to read!) or their photographer’s images of whoever was having a “Big Night Out: Hanley” last night. However, on the odd occasion, something positive appears and this particular article has caught my imagination somewhat.

One of the Sentinel’s columnists, Jenny Amphlett, has dedicated her “Personally Speaking” article to 10 new years resolutions that she hopes Stoke-on-Trent will embrace in 2016 and for the most part, I think I’m inclined to agree with her choices. Here’s my take on Jenny’s hopes for 2016…

1. Give up the booze.” I think the implication here is putting an end to the street drinking that tends to plague the city centre each evening (or earlier!) rather than a universal measure across the whole city and Jenny makes a good point. So many violent and, sadly, fatal incidents have occurred inside and  outside of Hanley’s drinking establishments- just last week the security staff at Fiction were injured in a stabbing. I’m confident that post-10pm Hanley would be a far more enjoyable place for everyone if a couple drinks didn’t always turn sour. A shout out to Stoke’s Street Chaplains seems appropriate here, who continue to provide a peaceful presence and practical assistance (free flip flops for all those struggling to walk in their heels!) on Saturday nights.

2. Healthy eating!” I reckon I’ll be changing this to an all round “Healthy living!”It might seem like a bit of a cop out, as surely everyone in the UK and not just Stokies should be trying to live a healthy life, but we seem to find this particularly challenging as more than 25% of the city’s population is considered obese. This statistic has always confused me somewhat as considering everyone goes absolutely bonkers for football, we clearly aren’t playing enough of it ourselves…however, we’ve still got time to change this. We are officially a European city of Sport for 2016 and free gym sessions are already being planned for January to celebrate this title which sounds like the perfect opportunity to dig out the sports gear and trainers.

3. Get out of debt!” “Using our money more wisely” is perhaps a better resolution for both our city council and ourselves. I’d like to see our council members spending money right across our region rather than just focusing primarily on Hanley which seems to be the trend at the moment. On an individual level, we have such a great range of independent businesses that need our support if they are to keep trading so rather than having a coffee in Starbucks, why not try one of our local cafes (like (tsp.) – see my review elsewhere on my blog) or a meal out at an independent restaurant rather than a major chain? Spending our money locally will help to strengthen our city’s economy and that will have benefits for everyone!

4. Quit Smoking!” I couldn’t agree more with this one. Aside from the obvious health benefits, it would mean actually being able to walk into Hanley Bus Station without having to walk through the thick cloud of stale smoke that seems to linger there 24/7…it’s the little things!

5. Learn something new!” This is another of Jenny’s suggestions I am fully on board with. We have so many museums, galleries and other cultural attractions right on our doorstep that we barely take the time to visit ourselves. Since my family moved back to Stoke, we’ve dragged many of our friends to the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery and each of them enjoyed themselves AND learned something they didn’t already know about Stoke-on-Trent. Alternatively, if you’re fed up to the back teeth of hearing about pottery, why not go along to one of Staffordshire University’s public lectures and learn about something entirely different?

6. Help others!” If I’m being honest, I think that we already do a brilliant job of helping others and looking after one another in Stoke and our foodbank is the perfect example of this, with donations and volunteers coming from right across the city in order to ensure that nobody goes hungry. Nevertheless, new causes continue to spring up (Stoke Winter Night Shelter perhaps?) while others find it harder to continue the work they’re doing (North Staffordshire Adventure Playground, for example), so let’s make 2016 the year in which new projects start with a bang and struggling organisations are rallied round and fully supported.

“7. Spend more time with friends and family.” This one is pretty self-explanatory but in case you needed some ideas on exactly how to spend time with them, looking back over this list gives you plenty of opportunity! Treat your mum to an independent coffee; drag your out-of-town friends round one of our museums or take your children to paint a pot at Emma Bridgewater.

8. Boost your self-esteem!” Jenny highlights my number one pet hate regarding Stoke-on-Trent in this paragraph: we are absolutely outraged whenever Stoke tops negative national lists, yet usually we are the first ones to belittle ourselves and whinge about X, Y and Z. She’s absolutely right in saying that changing the rest of the UK’s perspective on Stoke has to start with us. We’ve got so much to be proud of (and not just Robbie Williams like most people would have you think!) that it’s time we started to let everyone know and perhaps more importantly, believe it ourselves.

9. Make more friends! ” We are no longer 6 seperate towns, we are a city of, collectively, nearly 250, 000 people. There’s no reason to restrict ourselves to operating solely in our tiny little neighbourhood anymore or treat a Burslemite who’s wandering round Longton like a complete outsider. Let’s all work together rather than competing with each other in 2016.

10. Play nicely!” This final resolution refers to the “friendly” rivalry between Stoke City and Port Vale and pleas for a time where each team can both celebrate the successes and mourn the losses of the other, however like Jenny, I think this might be one dream too far…

Happy new year, everyone! I hope 2016 brings you, and Stoke-on-Trent, health, hope and happiness…

 


The original article this post is based on:  http://m.stokesentinel.co.uk/PERSONALLY-SPEAKING/story-28430671-detail/story.html

Street Chaplains website: http://www.streetchaplains.org.uk

Stoke’s obesity crisis: http://m.stokesentinel.co.uk/City-gripped-obesity-crisis/story-20317529-detail/story.html

Free gym classes: http://m.stokesentinel.co.uk/Free-gym-sessions-kick-start-city-s-status/story-28427772-detail/story.html

A Christmas Round Up!

Considering Christmas Day is now all but one week away (how is that possible?) I thought it would be a good time for a quick round up of the positive things that have been happening in Stoke in the run up to Christmas.

Having returned home from university for the Christmas break, I couldn’t help but grin after walking into Wesley Hall Church for Monday night Foodbank distribution and finding over 20 Christmas hampers ready to gift to our guests. They were all bursting at the seams with chocolates, biscuits, puddings and crackers and had been wrapped up so fancily in cellophane and ribbon. (Why can I not wrap with cellophane without it ripping or using too much cellotape?) Judging from their facebook page, all kinds of community groups have been helping to wrap these parcels from schoolchildren and churches to the YMCA and Hanley’s firefighters, making the hampers even more special. Setting them down on the table next to the guests’ food parcels and seeing their reaction was wonderful. Stoke-on-Trent Foodbank’s ceaseless support for the guests that we welcome through our doors continues to blow me away, and no time more so than at Christmas.

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Christmas Hampers from Stoke-on-Trent Foodbanks

Another piece of good news in time for the festive period comes in the form of a concrete plan of action for the proposed winter night shelter. Stoke-on-Trent Winter Night Shelter [Pilot Project] will open its doors on Saturday 16th January 2016 at Swan Bank Church, Burslem and continue every Saturday throughout January and February, with the aim of seeing how things progress and where things take us. For further information, including volunteering opportunities, check out the Facebook page (link below) and direct all emails to stokewinternightshelter@gmail.com.

Drawing (1)

Stoke-on-Trent Winter Night Shelter

Haywood Academy and Sixth Form have provided one last good news story as only a couple of days ago, they released plans to use the iconic ‘Burslem School of Art’ building to deliver some of their sixth form classes from, including the use of specialist creative facilities like photography areas and art rooms. What a fabulous use for one of Stoke’s heritage buildings!

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For great updates on SOT Foodbank’s Christmas Hampers: https://www.facebook.com/Stoke-on-Trent-Foodbank-379733792038148/?fref=ts

Stoke-on-Trent Winter Night Shelter’s Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/SOTWinterNightShelter/

The Sentinel article on Haywood’s expansion: http://www.stokesentinel.co.uk/Iconic-listed-building-turned-sixth-form-centre/story-28348117-detail/story.html

IN THE NEWS: Stoke-on-Trent makes it into PWC’s ‘Good Growth for Cities’ report

Stoke-on-Trent has made it onto a list detailing the best and worst cities in the UK for quality of life and economic performance…but this time it’s sneaked into the BEST CATEGORY as our city was ranked 19th out of 39 cities detailed in PWC’s ‘Good Growth for Cities Report.’ We’ve managed to surpass some of the UK’s core cities including Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester and perhaps most surprisingly of all, London. But what does this ranking actually reveal about the city of Stoke-on-Trent?


stokeRoadMap

PWC (the fifth largest privately-owned firm in the USA) in partnership with Demos (a cross-party think tank) have released an annual “Good Growth for Cities Report” for the past 3 years and 2015 is no different. While PWC as a corporation appear to have made a few questionable decisions regarding ethical operating, this report provides a comprehensive summary of what economic success looks like beyond traditional indicators like GVA (Gross Value Added) by taking a more holistic analysis of a variety of variables.

For example, in the case of Stoke-on-Trent, the only indicator for which the city is below average compared to other UK cities is skills, yet it has exceeded the national city average in areas like ‘jobs,’ ‘owner occupation’ and ‘sectoral balance.’ In other words, we’re currently succeeding in terms of jobs provision and maintaining a balance of industrial sectors across our local economy but need to pay particular attention to increasing and broadening our skill set and qualifications. The ‘Implications’ chapter of the report highlights the importance of improving the skills of a city’s population as not only do they contribute to a higher economic performance overall, but they also help to build the resilience of a city and better its response to periods of economic uncertainty.

Good Growth for Cities 2015 goes on to propose a number of different actions that can be taken in order to consolidate and further the economic growth seen in UK cities. The focus on ‘the investment in the assets of a place’ seems to be particularly relevant for Stoke. We have so many ‘assets’ that we could capitalise on and share with the rest of the UK- it’s about time we started blowing our own trumpet! Beautiful pottery is still made here (another plug for Emma Bridgewater!) and remnants of our industrial heritage contribute to a truly unique landscape, to name but a few!

For me, this publication serves as the perfect reminder that Stoke-on-Trent has a lot to offer and that we should be proud of the significant progress that we’re making as a city.


To access a copy of the Good Growth for Cities Report 2015: http://www.pwc.co.uk/industries/government-public-sector/good-growth/good-growth-for-cities-our-report-on-economic-wellbeing-in-uk-urban-areas.html 

To access a copy of the Midlands highlights of the GGCR 2015http://pwc.blogs.com/files/good-growth-for-cities-2015-midlands-factsheet-3.pdf