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!)

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: The Cultural Quarter’s new independents

Considering today is ‘Small-business Saturday,’ this presents the perfect opportunity to discuss the explosion of independent businesses that have opened up in Hanley’s Cultural Quarter. Our independent game is already going strong with the likes of tsp, Klay, 51-53 Store, Bottlecraft, The Art Department and RAWR so it’s fantastic to see even more places that can be added to the list! Here’s where you need to be heading next time you’re in town…

Piccadilly Brasserie

This restaurant is a real broad church when it comes to cuisine, clearly influenced by all sorts of European cultures. The menu boasts a range of grills, fish dishes, pastas and burgers as well as daily specials and they cater for “brunch, lunch and dinner.” You can find them just opposite the Regent Theatre, making Piccadilly Brasserie the perfect spot for a pre-theatre meal. However,they also offer coffee, cake and a Christmas Afternoon Tea so there’s something for all occasions. According to their website, the owners have 25 years of experience in the business so you’ll certainly be in safe hands.

The Quarter 

Opening on Monday 5th December, The Quarter brings something entirely different to the city centre. You can expect a cosy cafe by day and a bistro-style eatery by night, along with a delicatessen which is open right through their trading hours; but best of all, they will be hosting regular live entertainment from every genre you can imagine. Comedy shows, poetry reading, music to suit all tastes; customers will be able to enjoy events that they perhaps won’t find anywhere else. I had a quick peek inside their window last time I was in town and I can’t wait to bag a sofa and try out their food!

Sweet. 

I fear I might be pushing the boundaries of ‘small businesses’ by including this new venture, as there are already three other branches across the country, but I’m going to go ahead and include it anyway because folk need to hear about it! Sweet is a desserts bar like no other – you name it, they’ve got it! We’re talking waffles, crepes, classic puds, cookie dough, milkshakes and gelato to name a few, along with an extensive drinks menu and speciality hot chocolates. Launching next Friday 9th December, you can find them on Stafford Street for all your sweet-tooth needs.

My Christmas holidays start just at the right time to give these new businesses a try, so keep your eyes peeled for reviews in the next few weeks.

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