Top 5: Latest Discoveries

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…

  1. 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.

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    One of the cubby holes in Abacas Books!

  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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    The Canal in Baddeley Green

  4. 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…
  5. 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…

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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!

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(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: 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?


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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