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: 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

First Look: Appetite’s Summer 2016 programme

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