Looky Bag is described by Nicola Winstanley & Sarah Nadin, its creators, as a seasonal bagazine (what a fabulous word!) focusing on Stoke-on-Trent’s exciting cultural scene. Imagine a magazine, only the adverts and contributions are neatly packed into a brown paper bag and rather than reviewing a play that’s only showing in London’s West End or Brighton’s latest coffee shop, everything featured is happening right here in our city.
I grabbed my copy when I popped into RAWR’s newly-opened cafe in Hanley, but Looky Bags are freely available in all sorts of establishments within the city centre, as well as Burslem, Newcastle-under-Lyme and Leek . I tipped the contents straight out onto the table and eagerly sifted through each feature.
A postcard of the Spode Works by local artist Frederick Phillips is heading straight for my bedroom wall and I thoroughly enjoyed Rob Amos’s ode to the North Staffordshire Oatcake. I encountered some familiar faces too with adverts for Appetite Stoke‘s Roundabout Festival (more to come on this later!) and a snippet from one of Rebel Culture‘s latest articles. However, perhaps best of all, I found a whole raft of exhibitions, performances and local businesses that I desperately need to explore. ‘Women’s Work’ at The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery at the end of this month has been penciled into my diary; I must pop into Valentine’s Curious Closet the next time I’m in Stoke town and the story of Lidice & the North Staffordshire Miners has just been captured in the newly published ‘A Ray of Light.’
For me, 2016 seems to be the year in which Stoke-on-Trent has really found its feet. I thought I was beginning to keep track of the cultural goings on in our city but Looky Bag has shown me that I have so much left to discover, and I cannot wait. If you want to get exploring too, go pick up a copy!
The Autumn/Winter 2016 edition was sponsored by ‘Stoke-on-Trent for City of Culture 2021.’ Back the bid at http://www.sot2021.com/
More information on ‘Looky Bag’: http://www.winstanleynadin.uk/lookybag/
I first clapped eyes on RAWR a couple of months ago on Twitter, when I stumbled across their Kickstarter project for a second store in Hanley. Their first shop has been open in Newcastle for a good while now but I have still failed to pop by for a visit thus far…
Such was my joy when I heard that the Hanley store had opened this week! Before we’d even made it down Piccadilly, we were greeted by two smiling staff members who were laden with free samples. Their ‘Super Green Machine’ was highlighter-bright but absolutely delicious, which was unexpected to say the least as they assured me there were 81 different greens hidden in there.
When we eventually made it inside, we were encouraged to head upstairs and take a seat, where we found a lovely room flooded with light. The food menu had so much choice and each option had a witty little title [Case Example #1: “All the feta for it.” Genius.] I settled on a Mexicana wrap stuffed with avocado, chilli jam & hummus and while there were a million and one juices and smoothies on offer, I had to give their coffee a go.
Now I usually don’t give a monkeys about how my food looks so long as it tastes good, but RAWR’s presentation was on a whole new level. Like food-magazine-worthy. I tucked in right away and it tasted even better; the hummus was particularly delicious and why isn’t chilli jam a bigger deal? My cappuccino was also excellent and after investigating the Climpson & Sons coffee that RAWR serve, it was encouraging to see that the Hackney-based coffee roasters are striving to build “sustainable & ethical relationships” during the sourcing of their coffee beans.
RAWR’s attention to detail has really brought their Hanley store to life, whether it’s through the book exchange that’s lining the upstairs windowsill or the free tasters or the dinky little boards that each coffee is served on. What’s more, the team were super friendly & welcoming throughout our visit. And why wouldn’t they be, they’ve crafted an establishment to be proud of!
Go see them soon at 31 Piccadilly, Hanley!
More info at: http://www.bemorerawr.co.uk/
Climpson & Sons Coffee: http://www.climpsonandsons.com/
I’ve heard rumours, seen social media updates and even read articles about the fab things happening in a particular first floor unit of intu Potteries shopping centre, but today was the first time I ventured inside the Ruff & Ruby Rooms for myself.
As you walk in, you’re welcomed by a cafe counter on the left hand side with some uplifting messages on the wall behind it. The menu offers very reasonably-priced hot drinks as well as free cuppas five days a week and lots of squishy sofas to drink them on. At the back of the store there is a super snazzy sewing workshop (called Sew Cool which must be a 10/10 for pun-iness!) featuring 6 top quality sewing machines. This facility enables them to offer a variety of workshops in textile customisation and more general DIY skills which I, for one, am very excited to attend.
For younger visitors, there is a free ‘Just Kidding’ soft play area and those using it today sounded like they were having a whale of a time. A wide range of second-hand clothing is also on sale throughout the shop along with a handful of original and customised items. Reading their leaflet on the bus home fills me in on the things that I missed, including a beauty bar, DJ booth and bike workshop on the upper floor where bicycles are “customised and personalised” and can then be reinvested into the city.
Somehow, the Ruff & Ruby Rooms have found the perfect balance between retail store and community space and nothing evidenced this more than the varied mix of people that were using the venue earlier this afternoon. The team were lovely too and patiently answered all the questions we bombarded them with. Nevertheless, perhaps the most impressive aspect of this project is everything that’s happening behind the scenes. There are 1:1 mentoring sessions and employability skills programmes to give just a few examples, all making such a positive difference in the lives of young people within Stoke-on-Trent.
Overall, it’s so encouraging to see such an innovative venture here in Stoke, and all with the aim of raising the aspirations and self-belief of the young people in our city. The Ruff & Ruby Rooms are totally sound. Or wicked… (I think I’ll work on my Ruff & Ruby lingo…) Go check them out when you’re next in town – and if you’ve got any clothing or bike donations, take them with you!
For more information:
Has anyone else spent the last 4 days saying “How is it already September???” or is it just me? I swear it was the start of July just a few days ago and I don’t even know where August went. At the end of June, I wrote an article detailing my top five plans for the summer in Stoke so I thought I’d finish the season with a different list of stuff that I really wanted to get to but somehow failed to do so. If you managed to get to any of these events, let me know what you thought!
- Potters Soup
I first heard about Birmingham ‘Soup’ so I was thrilled to find out the idea had reached The Potteries. The idea is so simple which I think is what makes it so successful: you pay £5 on the door for soup, salad, bread & a vote. Everyone listens to a couple of different pitches by different people & organisations and you vote for the project you think will benefit the local community the most. The winning pitch then takes home the cash raised from the evening to plough straight into their project. IT’S GENIUS! I can’t believe I couldn’t be there to see it in action but I will be ready and waiting with my fiver next time. I might even give pitching a go…
- The Enchanted Chandelier
This magical performance by Transe Express was Appetite Stoke‘s summer headline event. The floating chandelier filled Central Forest Park and while I’m sure the photos don’t even do it justice, the lights and acrobatics looked completely mesmerising. There were food and drink stalls available too which definitely makes it my kind of evening.
- Deliveroo Launch Party @ The Exchange
Stoke’s independent food scene is getting better and better by the minute, and the launch of Deliveroo in the city now means you can eat KLAY pizza at home in your onesie or a Portofino risotto with none of the effort. I only wish I’d been at the launch considering they were giving out free goody bags and I LOVE goody bags.
- Entrepreneurs Store 2nd Birthday
I have become a major fan of the entrepreneurs store, and their upstairs gallery even more so. The Famous When Dead exhibition was the first I went to see and the whole building has such a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere. They celebrated their second birthday in style by the looks of it with a bbq, DJs and some limited edition second birthday merchandise.
- ‘We are all at home’- Musicians Against Homelessness
Musicians Against Homelessness is a nationwide campaign aiming to raise money for the national homelessness charity, Crisis. The ‘We are all at home’ gig was hosted at Pilgrim’s Pit in Stoke town and featured a variety of local artists as along with a Bottlecraft-run bar. What a fantastic way to both encourage local musicians and build support for such a worthwhile cause, and there are still a couple more gigs coming up in Stoke-on-Trent!
For more information:
POTTERS SOUP: https://www.facebook.com/potterssoup/
APPETITE STOKE: http://www.appetitestoke.co.uk/
DELIVEROO HANLEY: https://deliveroo.co.uk/
ENTREPRENEURS & UPSTAIRS GALLERY: https://ntrprnrs.com/
MUSICIANS AGAINST HOMELESSNESS STOKE: http://rebel-culture.co.uk/national/2016/8/31/musicians-against-homelessness
Appetite Stoke cropped up on the blog very briefly a couple of posts ago, so it’s definitely about time that they take centre stage as their jam-packed summer programme has already began.
Their headline show, The Enchanted Chandelier, is a performance not to be missed. On Saturday 13th August (and Sunday 14th too!), French company ‘Transe Express‘ will completely transform Central Forest Park as it hosts a mesmerising ensemble of acrobats and musicians performing with their giant chandelier. Their weekend in Stoke-on-Trent is followed by visits to Budapest, Strasbourg & Belfast, having also previously performed in world class cities like Singapore and Sydney. How wonderful that we now have the opportunity to watch such a top quality show too! To fully complete the evening, a range of food will be on offer and the brilliant Bottlecraft will be in charge of the bar (so you are in good hands!) Very reasonably-priced tickets can be purchased via Appetite’s website or at the New Vic Theatre’s Box Office with doors opening at 6.30pm each night, supporting acts from 7.15pm and The Enchanted Chandelier itself at 8.30pm.
The following weekend, Saturday 20th August, you can find Appetite down at the Spode Works in Stoke. In association with the British Ceramics Biennial, Appetite are celebrating International Clay Day as part of their ‘Taster Tour 2016.’ With things to make, eat & watch throughout the day – including ‘home-inspired’ ceramics and superhero-inspired dance – the Taster Tour: Stoke has something for everyone. Best of all, everything is entirely free so get down there and join them from 11am.
Bank Holiday weekend sees Appetite’s Big Feast takeover the city centre, bringing all manner of performance to various locations for very little or no cost. The cabaret nights are likely to be a highlight, filled with 1920’s dance and- direct quote- ‘fat opera singers’ along with Company Chameleon’s ‘Of Man & Beast.’ I was lucky enough to see Company Chameleon perform at Stoke’s Big Dance Weekend back in July and can confirm they are enthralling to watch. Nevertheless, cabaret and dance are by no means the extent of what the Big Feast has to offer so check out the full line up on the Appetite website.
Appetite Stoke aims to encourage people within the city to create and participate in more arts-based activities as research shows we have generally had fewer opportunities to access such events than other places within the UK. Their work is so important so please support them and get involved with their summer programme if you can. Take your grandma for a day out or entertain the kids or just go along yourself…who knows, you might discover you have a secret passion for marching bands or tea dances, but you won’t know until you try!
More information on Appetite’s Summer programme can be found on their website: http://www.appetitestoke.co.uk/whatson
Bottlecraft is now a well-established kid on the Piccadilly/Marsh Street South block, so I know my review will hardly be groundbreaking but up until now I’d never had a reason to pop by. (After all, I’m not the biggest fan of beer – I know, I know I’m sorry!) Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Stoke’s first (and only?) craft beer shop and came away very pleased with my purchases.
I was in need of a gift as part of my boyfriend’s 21st birthday present and even my limited knowledge (“Err, I think he likes Amstel a bit?”) wasn’t a problem for the chap behind the counter (“Ah. You’ll be wanting to look at the continental lagers then and possibly the pale ales as well.”)
I was shown maybe 15 different bottles and that was just from the UK-brewed stuff- there were even more overseas options available too! After a few minutes of browsing I selected 3 different bottles: an ‘East India Pale’ from Freedom; a ‘Collapsed’ from Front Row Brewery and a ‘Pail: Mosaic Calypso’ from Shiny. (I know it’s meant to be about the taste and not the branding but those are some cool names for beer you can’t deny it!) For an extra 20p they were packaged in a swanky ‘BottleCraft’ gift box, making for a really great gift for well under a tenner.
Towards the back of the shop, BottleCraft even has a tasting room where you can enjoy one of your purchases or a range of their beers on tap, and while I may not be back to enjoy an ale anytime soon, I would definitely like to give one of their ciders a whirl. Great staff, great products and a great atmosphere are clearly their key to success – get down there and check it out for yourself.
Beers in a box
For more information on opening times & beer: http://www.bottlecraft.beer/ & https://www.facebook.com/bottlecraftsot/?fref=ts
As you may have gathered, I am currently in the middle of my university dissertation research and my focus is Stoke-on-Trent. Walking interviews are a key part of my methodology and I have therefore been exploring entirely unfamiliar areas of Stoke-on-Trent, as well as seeing places I know like the back of my hand with fresh eyes. Approximately 2 weeks into my data collection, here are my top 5 latest discoveries in The Potteries…
- Abacas Books, Milton.
How I’ve managed to be back in Stoke-on-Trent for nearly 4 years and not visited this bookshop I do not know. Its collection of second-hand books is second to none and they cover just about every topic imaginable. Classics, Foreign travel, Biographies, Cars, Leather-binded copies, Local history, Modern Fiction; you name it, they’ve got it. However, the thing that makes Abacas a truly fantastic place for browsing has got to be the layout. What looks like 3 terraced houses side-by-side have been converted into the shop floor and yet all of the little nooks and crannies have been maintained, so cookery books can be found in a back room while literature classics are housed in what appears to be a cupboard once under the stairs. Finally, like all good second-hand bookshops , the prices are more than affordable so you don’t even need to feel bad when you leave with 10 new summer reads.
One of the cubby holes in Abacas Books!
- The (tsp.) cafe makeover, Hanley.
As I was moving from one interview in Stoke town to another in Central Forest Park, I thought I’d pop in to (tsp.) and grab some lunch. (Having walked for an hour with the midday sun beating down I was in desperate need of a strawberry milkshake before I fainted) I walked into the shop to find a completely new arrangement: the window benches have been newly replaced and a swanky new counter runs along the left hand side of the floor, with updated menus sitting on top. Needless to say, (tsp.) 2.0 looks fantastic and the upstairs seating (which, rumour has it, will hopefully be finished by the end of the year) will bring even greater improvement.
- Our hidden canals.
Some of my participants have taken me on walks along or past Stoke’s canals and what an eye-opener that has been. I’ve obviously explored the canal down in Norton Green, guarded by the Foaming Quart pub, but aside from that tiny stretch I’ve always thought the city’s canal network was quite grimy and industrial. Earlier today I explored the waterway as it runs past Milton which looked particularly glorious in such great weather and on Monday evening I found the canal in amongst Baddeley Green’s fields.The Trent & Mersey network has some truly beautiful walks and I hope it hasn’t taken everyone else in Stoke as long as me to enjoy them.
The Canal in Baddeley Green
- Stoke City’s Victoria ground.
Everyone knows that Stoke City’s current home is Britannia Stadium and most will remember it’s previous home, the Victoria ground, with perhaps even fonder memories, but I didn’t quite grasp the impact that Stoke City’ s relocation had until I explored it earlier this week. Another participant accompanied me down Lonsdale Street and then Boothen Old Road, describing exactly how they remembered walking to a game. The sandwich shop; the ladies sat on their steps; the ever-growing throng of fans advancing to the stadium. The atmosphere was described so vividly that I could almost imagine it too and I therefore felt that same sense of profound sadness when we finally reached the once-inspirational motherland of Stoke football. I cannot believe that St Modwen have been able to leave the site to decay for the last 19 years, and the back end of Stoke town along with it. It’s evident that the Victoria ground was its lifeblood, surely it’s about time that some soul was pumped back in…
- There’s more to Stoke than meets the eye.
Like most folk in Stoke-on-Trent, I thought I had the city pretty much pegged. I was confident I knew the most picturesque places to visit and the local history and the areas to be avoided, and yet only 2 weeks into my research I couldn’t have been more wrong. Cobridge (just the name of which makes most people wrinkle their nose!) was once a thriving, community-spirit-filled neighbourhood; nearly every town and suburb has a green space to call their own and the hump in the centre of Church Street, Stoke is entirely man-made as a result of building right on top of disused canals. If I, a born and semi-bred Stokie, can discover this much about my own city in a fortnight, then the rest of the UK have got a lot to learn about about us…