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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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/
Admittedly, it doesn’t feel much like summer as I write this considering there is rain lashing down against my window and I’m wearing a jumper. Nevertheless, I’m sure we’ll soon see enough sun to be able to wheel our BBQs out for the final time this year, before returning them to the back of the garage and waving goodbye…
For the most part, I will be spending my summer in Stoke this year as I am required to carry out my dissertation research over the holiday period and this bizarre city is my topic of choice. It doesn’t sound quite so interesting when you compare it to the 6 weeks my housemate is currently enjoying in Mexico researching sea turtles, but each to their own eh?
I imagine when it comes to transcribing my interviews and analysing data, boredom will become my greatest friend and so as a preemptive measure, I’ve been investigating what the area has to offer in terms of events and activities over the next couple of months…it would appear we are spoilt for choice! Here are my top 5 things to do this summer:
- Stoke-on-Trent’s Big Dance Festival: This weekend will see Hanley alive with a huge dance extravaganza! With outdoor performances along the ever-more-quirky Piccadilly, an evening show at the Mitchell Arts Centre headlined by Company Chameleon and dance workshops at The Regent, it will be difficult NOT to get involved. More information at https://www.facebook.com/events/1214643235213535/
- Appetite’s Big Feast 2016: In case you are yet to encounter Appetite Stoke, they are an organisation seeking to get more people in Stoke interested in the arts, as research found Stoke-on-Trent to be one of the most ‘culturally-deprived’ areas of the UK. ‘The Big Feast 2016’ will undoubtedly be one of their programme’s highlights, bringing a vast array of predominantly free events right to the city centre. Across the August bank holiday weekend you can expect to find dance, theatre, music, comedy and even cabaret- there really is something to suit people of all ages and tastes. Take a look at their website for more details: http://www.appetitestoke.co.uk/
- Middleport Pottery’s Summer Programme: Ever since its regeneration efforts – led by the Princes’ Trust- Middleport Pottery has been going from strength to strength. Monthly craft fairs, clay courses and specific school holidays activities are all on offer throughout July and August and if this isn’t enough to tempt you over, they also have a cafe and a lovely canal-side location. Find out more at: http://www.middleportpottery.org/
- The ‘Costumes from Downton’ exhibition at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery: Until the beginning of October, our very own PMAG will be home to a collection of costumes worn in series’ 1 & 2 of ITV’s Downton Abbey. For Downton-enthusiasts and fashionistas alike, this exhibition will provide an interesting afternoon of both re-living the series and appreciating the design work. For ticket info and opening times: http://www.stokemuseums.org.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/
- Back the bid for Stoke-on-Trent to become the 2021 UK City of Culture: Hull is the latest city to win this award for 2017 with Londonderry enjoying it before that in 2013. The title is awarded every 4 years and brings real benefits to the winning cities in terms of jobs, growth and quality of living. Various organisations across the city have began discussing Stoke’s bid and they need everyone to get behind it and bring their own ideas to the table. Head over to sot2021.com to pledge your support.