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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Scattering Kindness: Ruff & Ruby Rooms, intu Potteries

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:

http://www.rubygirluk.com/about/

http://www.ruffandruby.com/

https://www.facebook.com/ruffandruby/?fref=ts

Top Five: Things I really wanted to go to this summer but didn’t quite make it to…

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!

  1. 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…
  2. 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. 
  3. 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.
  4. 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. 
  5. ‘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

Scattering Kindness: Stoke-on-Trent Foodbank AGM & Launch of 100 Friends

I love the foodbank AGM. Is that weird? It sounds a bit odd, and I definitely wouldn’t say the same for any other Annual General Meeting, but this one is different. It’s a real celebration of all the good work Stoke-on-Trent Foodbank is doing in the city…

On Friday morning we kicked off with a signposting marketplace with all sorts of organisations that are working to support those in need within our city. This allows our distribution centre volunteers to find out more information about our partners in order to help our guests with their own individual crises more effectively. From the foodbank stall that I was manning in the corner of the room I could see Saltbox, Gingerbread, ASHA & Changes to name but a few, and with more than 25 organisations represented overall there are obviously far more than those that I’ve mentioned. I felt so humbled to be part of a community that has been such a key facilitator in flexible, multi-organisational working in Stoke-on-Trent, as it is only by working together that we can begin to make real differences in people’s lives.

My favourite part of the event was undoubtedly being able to launch the “100 Friends” campaign. Having worked on the campaign for the past few months as part of Foodbank’s communications team, it was so fantastic (and somewhat of a relief!) to finally get things off the ground. The idea is simple. We are asking our volunteers and supporters to each find one person they can encourage to become a ‘friend of foodbank’ and commit to regular financial giving. We need these commitments in order to become a more self-sustaining charity and to be able to plan more effectively for our future, so please get thinking about the people in your life who might be interested in becoming a friend of foodbank. To get your hands on an information pack, get in touch with the foodbank team at: info@stokeontrent.foodbank.org.uk. 

Finally, to hear during the formal AGM meeting that Stoke-on-Trent Foodbank is now considered to be an example of ‘best practice’ by the Trussell Trust Regional Development Coordinator was the cherry on top of a fantastic day. Our annual report demonstrated that we support our guests with so much more than food; with practical advice through Saltbox’s ‘Money Matters’ for example; with healthy eating & living information through ‘Cook & Eat’ sessions; with Christmas hampers and time and most importantly, a listening ear.

Nevertheless, there is still work to be done. If we want to continue supporting those in the greatest need across the city, we need to engage even more people in the work that we do. So whatever you can do, do it for Stoke-on-Trent Foodbank and help us to support local people in crisis!

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.)

20160405_175132

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/

SCATTERING KINDNESS: An evaluation of Stoke-on-Trent Churches Community night shelter’s pilot project

Stoke-on-Trent Churches Community Night Shelter is a temporary winter night shelter, set up in association with Housing Justice. Our pilot project ran for 9 weeks between mid-January and mid-March 2016, every Saturday night at Swan Bank Church, Burslem. Since the pilot finished, we have had various meetings with volunteers, guests and members of the steering group, aiming to evaluate how the project had gone. The resounding consensus from each of these groups is that it has been an overwhelming success, and I am inclined to agree. Below are just three reasons why I believe this to the be the case…

  1. Firstly, we made a difference in the lives of our guests.

Over the course of the 9 weeks, we were able to provide a safe & warm bed to 16 different individuals-13 men and 3 women-some of whom stayed with us on more than one evening. On each of these Saturdays, our guests received the warmest of welcomes; a hot meal; endless cups of tea; delicious homemade cake; hot showers; opportunities to pick up new clothes and bedding; friendly conversation; a safe space to rest; a hot breakfast; sandwiches to take away and support and advice regarding what to do next.

Obviously, the fact that we were able to serve 16 people in this way is incredible, but the best part is the number of people we were able to help find more stable accommodation. With the help of ARCH, we were able to help one of our guests access temporary accommodation for asylum seekers and we supported 2 other guests to find accommodation through their own contacts. One extremely kind volunteer had these 2 guests staying on different occasions with him at his home as they waited to move into their new accommodation. At present, we are supporting 1 guest while he waits to access the Edward Myers unit and another as he waits to enter a soon-to-open rehabilitation centre. On top of this, we were able to fund some extra nights in B&Bs during the freezing weather thanks to local church donations.

These stories alone showcase the success of STCCNS’s pilot project, and yet I have another 2 reasons to share with you…

2. Secondly, there were no incidents of aggression, violence or threat over the 9 weeks.

None! Zero! Nada! Considering some of our guests had substance abuse issues or mental health challenges or both and considering this can often increase the risk of threatening behaviour, this really is something to celebrate. I think this serves as a testament to the calm and friendly atmosphere that our wonderful volunteers created each week- lots of our guests told us how kind they found the volunteers and how they appreciated having so many of them around as it made them feel safer.

3. Thirdly, the pilot project really did operate as a ‘community-driven’ shelter. 

The amount of support we received since we first announced the idea has been overwhelming. Back in early January when we held our first training event, we waited at the YMCA to see if anyone would actually turn up. By the end of the pilot scheme, way over 30 people had committed their time and volunteered at the Saturday shifts. I know I’ve already mentioned this but our volunteers truly are fantastic. They welcomed and chatted with guests so warmly; made innumerable hot drinks; stayed up late; got up early; cleaned & tidied; gave lifts; put up camp beds…the list goes on and on. And they did all of these tasks with such enthusiasm. Without them, we certainly wouldn’t have achieved what we have achieved. Thank you.

Further evidence of the ‘community’ supporting the shelter is through the sheer number of donations that we received. Again, the list of clothes and bedding and food toiletries is endless, but so greatly appreciated as it meant we could gift each guest with a full bag of toiletries to take away as well as an opportunity to pick up new clothes, rucksacks, blankets and the like. Stoke-on-Trent must be one of the most generous cities going. Thank you.

Finally, the support we received from other agencies and organisations across the city and beyond has been unprecedented. Brighter Futures & The Rough Sleepers Team; the YMCA; Street Chaplains; The Jubilee Project; ARCH; The Macari Centre; The Walk Project; The City Council; Hanley Police; Swan Bank Church & Housing Justice… I’m sure that I’ve probably forgotten some there were that many, but the list just goes to show what can be achieved when we work together. Thank you.

I don’t think there is any more I can say to demonstrate how over the moon we are with how this pilot project has gone. However, we now need to look to the future. Homelessness and rough sleeping in Stoke-on-Trent has by no stretch of the imagination been solved or even reduced. The 18-bed Macari Centre is full most nights and the rough sleepers team continue to meet new people bedding down in the city centre. Over the next few months, we will be working to improve and expand the service that our pilot project provided and will be opening again in November 2016 to continue serving those that need us. Please continue to support us and keep in touch- it’s all hands on deck!

Drawing (1)


 

STCCNS Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/SOTWinterNightShelter/

Housing Justice:  http://www.housingjustice.org.uk/

Scattering Kindness: Stoke’s Street Chaplains

I can’t believe I’ve only just got round to writing this blog post considering I observed a Saturday night through the eyes of Stoke’s Street Chaplains way back in early September, but university has a way of taking over and numerous essays and a few reading lists later, here we are.

Spending the early hours of a Sunday morning with Street Chaplains actually came about through the Winter Night Shelter project. We needed to gather some evidence that there was a real need for a night shelter in Stoke and accompanying Street Chaplains as they provided a peaceful presence in the city centre late at night gave us the opportunity to encounter some of those sleeping rough.

In light of this, my mind was predominantly focusing on the questions that we should ask on the off chance we did find any rough sleepers and how we might be able to help them there and then. However, within a few minutes of leaving The Lounge, Gitana Street (which Street Chaplains use as their base) my attention turned to the rapport that they had clearly been building with those working weekends on Trinity Street. Every promotions team member and bouncer gave Street Chaplains a smile and a “hello”- a very surprising gesture considering the majority of security staff I have interacted with have got a face like a smacked bottom. What’s more, they clearly have the respect of the local police force too, as they also stopped for a chat when they saw us.

After having completed a loop around Hanley, binning glass bottles as we went so as to reduce the potential for injuries, we came back to The Lounge for a brief hot drink and then headed back out on to Trinity Street. This time they brought the backpacks which were filled with bottles of water, flipflops and sweets and we gave them out to anyone that wanted one. Admittedly, the flipflops did confuse me to begin with but Rob (the Team Lead for that evening) explained that they offered them to any of the women who were struggling in their heels. This has got to be one of the best ideas I’ve ever heard of- who wouldn’t want a free pair of flipflops if their feet were sore and achey?- and in practical terms, think how many sprained ankles and grazed knees have likely been prevented!

Perhaps the biggest testament to the work of Street Chaplains is the response they receive from the revellers who are out and about the town. Out of the hundreds of people we walked past, I only saw one lady try and challenge the work that Street Chaplains, and she was so inebriated she would have picked a fight with a jacket potato. Everyone else exchanged pleasantries, asked for hugs and expressed their gratitude for the free lollies.

I experienced first-hand the wonderful work that Street Chaplains are doing and there is no doubt that they are providing the reassurance and peaceful presence that they aimed to give.

Street Chaplains

Image from: streetchaplains.org.uk 


 

Stoke Street Chaplains Website: http://www.streetchaplains.org.uk/ 
Stoke Street Chaplains Facebook pagehttps://www.facebook.com/Street-Chaplains-654749871279259/?fref=ts