Top Five: latest happenings!

Graduating, teacher-training and all round required adult-ness have meant my cultural explorations of Stoke-on-Trent have recently taken a bit of a back seat. Nevertheless, I am back with my five most exciting discoveries within our wonderful city…

  1. Piccadilly’s Latest Additions. Bottlecraft, previously located on Marsh Street, are now fully settled in to their new home at number 33 Piccadilly. The new digs offer far more seats, fridge space and keg lines than at their first home, as well as an upstairs space which they’ll be using for all sorts of events including their next tasting evening > http://www.bottlecraft.beer/single-post/2017/08/05/The-Boys-Are-Back-In-Town-A-Tasting-Evening. Having popped in yesterday for a beer-related birthday gift, I can confirm the guys are just as friendly and helpful as ever, even to complete beer-novices such as myself.
    There were also some exciting, DIY-related noises coming out of number 41 Piccadilly – only a few doors down from Bottlecraft – and after 5 minutes of googling, I can confirm that ‘Bar 41‘ will be bringing quality gins and even more craft beer to the city centre later this month.
  2. Well Now You Know. Stoke’s cultural scene is going from strength to strength and as such we are in desperate need of some means to keep track of the goings on across the city. Enter Well Now You Know. A recently launched website with detailed on information on events and venues within the city, as well as a blog and opportunity to submit your own events. If there’s something going on, this will be the place to find out.
  3. New Developments. The beautiful (but long-empty) Bethesda building, on the corner of Albion street and Bethesda street, is set to become a boutique hotel along with a tearoom and restaurant. The rooms will be themed on Stoke-on-Trent’s pottery giants such as Wedgewood – a lovely acknowledgement of the city’s heritage – and provide a quality place to stay at the heart of the cultural quarter.
    In terms of new developments, the building of private-rented apartments on the Smithfield site have just been launched for consultation, not long after the announcement of the proposed Hilton Garden Inn. If we want to retain the young professionals who fleetingly live here while at university, we need to build suitable and affordable accommodation within the city centre and this development is certainly one option! View the proposals here.
  4. 2021 City of Culture Bid. We’ve only gone and made the shortlist for the 2021 title of UK City of Culture!!!!! A more detailed bid is currently being compiled in the hope that we can beat Coventry, Paisley, Sunderland and Swansea for the title. The winner will be announced later this year so watch this space.
  5. British Ceramics Biennial 2017. Having started in 2009, the British Ceramics Biennial returns to the city for the fifth time this September with it’s variety of exhibitions, events and activities. The programme expanses venues across the city, from the Spode Works in Stoke town to Middleport Pottery and Gladstone Pottery Museum – get involved and celebrate the creative potential of ceramics and Stoke-on-Trent alike.
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In the News: An open letter to John Domokos, at The Guardian.

Mr Domokos has made a plea for residents of the city to get in touch and tell him about what matters to them, in attempt to rectify the somewhat skewed image of Stoke-on-Trent that was presented during the recent by-election in February. What challenges are we facing? What projects or ideas are really taking off? Who should he talk to and where should he film? So here is my two pence, for what it’s worth…

Dear John,

You’re not wrong. A huge swathe of Stoke-on-Trent did feel angry and misrepresented by the sudden influx of national reports written in response to our recent by-election, myself included.

Stoke-on-Trent is not a city in decline. We’ve done decline. We’ve done decimating deindustrialisation, a chronic lack of funding and laughable leadership, but that is SO five years ago. It’s behind us, and Stoke is very much on the up.

Piccadilly is undoubtedly the centre of Hanley’s cultural revolution. Tsp., Rawr and The Quarter have now firmly established a quality coffee shop culture; incredible food can be found at Klay Pizzeria and Piccadilly Brasserie and cultural activity is overflowing. Whether it’s the beautiful Regent Theatre, edgy Upstairs Gallery at the 51-53 Store or the wonderful Potteries Museum, ‘culture’ doesn’t stop.

Our ceramics heritage is being rediscovered both by locals and the rest of the nation alike, thanks in small part to the success of BBC2’s Great Pottery Throwdown, hosted by the newly refurbished Middleport Pottery. The Emma Bridgewater Factory is also more popular than ever, especially over a certain weekend in June when it hosts the Stoke-on-Trent Literary Festival, Hot Air.

But the most important thing that the posse of journalists missed back in February is the overwhelming generosity of the city. I suppose this is unsurprising considering the focus of the coverage was the small minority of UKIP thugs who saw no problem in urinating on other people’s garden fences, but that’s an issue for another blog post… Stoke-on-Trent is a compassionate, giving city and this characteristic deserves to be recognised.

Having just finished organising and running the Stoke-on-Trent Churches Community Night Shelter over the past 4 months, which welcomed 82 different guests who were supported by over 100 volunteers, I know this to be true. The project was funded and resourced entirely by the people of this city. I’m talking every sleeping bag, every toothbrush, every home-cooked meal, it was all provided by Stoke-on-Trent. And how many organisations across the country can really attest to the same? No loans or grants from huge groups or celebrity donors, just everyday individuals working together and playing their part in order to care for those in need. Just people helping people, if you will.

So please don’t paint us as a bunch of ignorant and intolerant fools because it’s not, nor has it ever been true, and I’m sure you will reach this same conclusion when you come to explore the city in more depth. I would be more than happy to give you the real tour of Stoke-on-Trent, that which encompasses the new life and community spirit at work within the Potteries.

All the very best,

Carrie.

(ps. Make sure you try a Staffordshire Oatcake – they are not to be missed!)

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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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: Looky Bag

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!

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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/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lookybag/

Twitter: @lookybag

 

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

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