REVIEW: Tristram Hunt at Hot Air 2016

Last Friday night, I made my way to the Emma Bridgewater Factory to hear Tristram Hunt speak at Stoke’s very own literary festival, Hot Air 2016. The factory itself was the perfect setting; the central courtyard had been accessorized with a gazebo-turned-box office and the factory shop was transformed into an author’s book-signing spot. All the while, the cafe continued to refresh each visitor and I even saw some glasses of wine which I’m certain aren’t usually on the menu- how posh!

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The Box Office

Hunt’s talk was held in The Meakin Room; a large whitewashed room with exposed beams and brickwork, albeit a little hot once the 200ish guests were all seated. Matthew Rice, Emma Bridgewater’s husband and author of one of my favourite books, “The Lost City of Stoke-on-Trent” introduced Tristram to the stage with a string of jokes about how he had finally been given the opportunity to host a talk, now there was no one else available…

The session was based on one of Hunt’s books, ‘Ten cities that made an empire’ and together we explored the role that cities as varied as Boston, Mumbai and Hong Kong played in the creation of the British empire. He began with the horrific slave trade triangle of Boston, Bridgetown & Dublin, and then continued on to the opium trade that criss-crossed between the cities of British India and Hong Kong.Both examples continue to reinforce the darker nature of British imperialism and its ruthless pursuit of power and influence. After a trip right across the globe, we finally arrived in Liverpool. Once a crucial part of the British empire, it found itself on the wrong side of the country when the empire collapsed and we looked to Europe. In a particularly bizarre turn of events, Hunt argues that the city now finds itself depending on primarily Chinese and Indian capital to fuel its regeneration effort- the very countries that Liverpool exploited in order to build its wealth!

The discussion was particularly poignant with regard to the EU referendum and the questions from the floor certainly reflected this. Nevertheless, Tristram argued that the original British empire model is not one that can or should be repeated and I fervently agree. The British empire was built on exploitation and destruction, the remains of which can still be seen today all over the globe, whereas the European Union offers hope for the future through open dialogue and problem solving between countries.

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Tristram Hunt’s ‘Ten cities that made an empire’

Overall, I am mightily proud and impressed with Hot Air 2016. It was fantastic to hear one of Stoke’s MPs discussing one of his own interests and the factory was a hive of activity. What’s more, the impact of the festival extended far beyond the factory walls with authors visiting local schools and colleges and festival fringe events taking place all over the city. Sometimes, it feels a real struggle to encourage city-wide engagement with anything other than football, but I’m confident that Stoke-on-Trent’s Literary Festival has captured the imagination of both residents and visitors from further afield.


For more information about Hot Air 2016:

https://www.facebook.com/SOTLiteraryFestival/ 

http://www.stokeliteraryfestival.org/

IN THE NEWS: Jason Manford & Phil Jupitus’s mission to get Stoke off the UK’s “top ten worst towns”

I’m absolutely over the moon with Jason Manford and Phil Jupitus this week- who knew that we three had so much in common?- as they have tasked themselves with a mission to knock Stoke out of the list of “top 10 worst towns in the UK” and champion the city. The pair are currently touring in ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ which has pitched up at The Regent in Hanley until the 9th of April and they intend to fill the next week and half with as many tourist attractions, restaurants, museums, cafes and ‘things to do’ that Stoke has to offer.

The idea has certainly captured the imagination of many Stokies (near and far!), as Manford’s first Facebook status appealing for places to visit in the city received over 2,000 comments and 3,000 shares. They even made it on to the 6 o’clock ITV news! During the item, they argued that after having toured many times and in many different towns across the country, they could certainly think of at least 10 that were far worse than Stoke…

The pair’s twitter feeds reveal what they’ve been up to today, and boy have they crammed a lot in. By the looks of things, they’ve visited (tsp.) cafe (which was my first suggestion, of course!) and popped down the road to the AirSpace Gallery; they’ve tried an Oatie Moston oatcake and browsed around the Potteries Museum where they were particularly taken with the spitfire. The day was all topped off with a visit to Emma Bridgewater with Jason trying his hand at pottery decoration, the success of which I’ll leave for you to decide… Alton Towers, Trentham Gardens and Gladstone Pottery are all still on their to-do list but I’m sure they’d still welcome any other suggestions. Phil & Jason, if you’re reading this, I think my restaurant recommendation for you would have to be Roberto’s Italian. It’s literally a stone’s throw from the Regent and you are definitely in with a chance of ending up on his wall of fame!

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Photo credit: Phil Jupitus’s Twitter @jupitusphillip

Joking aside, perhaps the most poignant observation that they’ve made so far is that some of Stoke’s harshest critics are actually those living in the city themselves. Don’t get me wrong, Stoke-on-Trent drives me absolutely bonkers sometimes (don’t get me started on the snail’s pace that people walk through Hanley at, for instance, or the compulsory police presence that is required across half the city when there’s a Stoke home game on) but even in those moments I’m still proud to be part of such a warm, city-wide community. After all, we can’t lament other people for calling us a top 10 worst town to live in if we ourselves aren’t prepared to shout about our assets. Thank you Mr Manford & Mr Jupitus for highlighting some of Stoke’s best bits! (and break a leg this evening!)


 

The Sentinel’s coverage: http://www.stokesentinel.co.uk/Jason-Manford-appealing-best-places-visit/story-29032241-detail/story.html 

http://www.stokesentinel.co.uk/Phil-Jupitus-Jason-Manford-tuck-oatcakes-taking/story-29033283-detail/story.html 

 

FIRST LOOK: Hot Air 2016, Stoke Literary Festival

I feel like most people across the country would argue that “Stoke Literary Festival” is a bit of an oxymoron. So, if you’re reading this and thinking exactly that, can I politely encourage you to keep an open mind as I think you may be pleasantly surprised, if not a little impressed with this year’s set up. We’ve been a creative city – making beautiful things – for many years, so why would curating a literary festival be any different? Now in its third year, “Hot Air” Literary Festival will be held at the wonderful Emma Bridgewater Factory, Lichfield Street over the 9-11th June 2016. (Giving you the perfect opportunity to visit the factory cafe which, in case you missed it, I LOVE! See my review here)

The website quotes Emma Bridgewater as saying it all began with “a quick discussion with Tristram Hunt”- as so many things appear to do so at the moment, for example, the recently developed scheme to attract more maths teachers to the city. And what is the finished result? An eclectic programme from all sorts of authors, presenters and performers.

Some of this year’s guests are truly enormous names: Nick Hornby will be contributing to the opening session; every middle-aged, middle class woman’s favourite, Kirstie Alsopp will be in conversation with Emma Bridgewater and of course, Tristram Hunt will be making an appearance too. Nevertheless, I find myself, rather oddly, most excited about the children’s line up which includes a workshop based on David Walliams’ “Gangsta Granny” and Cressida Cowell of “How to train your dragon” fame.

The festival finale will feature what can perhaps be referred to as Stoke-on-Trent’s best export of 2015: The Great British Pottery Throw Down. I’m sure I’m not the only one who would secretly love the opportunity to find out a little bit more about the show and hear from some of the contestants… and with a confirmed second series to come, maybe it has the potential to match Bake Off’s success? On a more serious note, this event will also discuss the impact the show has had on the city and the opportunities it could create within the pottery industry. Now, that is a conversation I’d like to hear!

Finally, new to the festival this year is the Hot Air Fringe. Stoke Literary Festival is encouraging groups across the city to organise book/reading/writing-themed events during the run up (April, May & June 2016) to the festival weekend. Anything goes so long as it encourages folks’ interest in literature- the world is your oyster- so if you’ve got something in mind, use the contact form on their website to let them know.

All in all, the varied festival line-up and the newly added fringe look set to make 2016’s “Hot Air Literary Festival” the best one yet. Just make sure you don’t miss out on your tickets…

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Hot Air: Stoke Literary Festival


 

Hot Air Literary Festival Website: http://www.stokeliteraryfestival.org/

Get involved with the Festival Fringe: http://www.stokeliteraryfestival.org/hotair-fringe-get-involved/

Emma Bridgewater Factory: http://emmabridgewaterfactory.co.uk/

Stoke-on-Trent Maths Teachers’ Scheme: http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/feb/23/stoke-council-and-bet365-launch-1m-scheme-to-attract-maths-teachers 

 

In the news: Stoke-on-Trent’s New Years Resolutions

Having ‘liked’ The Sentinel on Facebook usually means I’m bombarded with links to see “who’s been up in court?” (as if that’s an article I’ve been waiting all day to read!) or their photographer’s images of whoever was having a “Big Night Out: Hanley” last night. However, on the odd occasion, something positive appears and this particular article has caught my imagination somewhat.

One of the Sentinel’s columnists, Jenny Amphlett, has dedicated her “Personally Speaking” article to 10 new years resolutions that she hopes Stoke-on-Trent will embrace in 2016 and for the most part, I think I’m inclined to agree with her choices. Here’s my take on Jenny’s hopes for 2016…

1. Give up the booze.” I think the implication here is putting an end to the street drinking that tends to plague the city centre each evening (or earlier!) rather than a universal measure across the whole city and Jenny makes a good point. So many violent and, sadly, fatal incidents have occurred inside and  outside of Hanley’s drinking establishments- just last week the security staff at Fiction were injured in a stabbing. I’m confident that post-10pm Hanley would be a far more enjoyable place for everyone if a couple drinks didn’t always turn sour. A shout out to Stoke’s Street Chaplains seems appropriate here, who continue to provide a peaceful presence and practical assistance (free flip flops for all those struggling to walk in their heels!) on Saturday nights.

2. Healthy eating!” I reckon I’ll be changing this to an all round “Healthy living!”It might seem like a bit of a cop out, as surely everyone in the UK and not just Stokies should be trying to live a healthy life, but we seem to find this particularly challenging as more than 25% of the city’s population is considered obese. This statistic has always confused me somewhat as considering everyone goes absolutely bonkers for football, we clearly aren’t playing enough of it ourselves…however, we’ve still got time to change this. We are officially a European city of Sport for 2016 and free gym sessions are already being planned for January to celebrate this title which sounds like the perfect opportunity to dig out the sports gear and trainers.

3. Get out of debt!” “Using our money more wisely” is perhaps a better resolution for both our city council and ourselves. I’d like to see our council members spending money right across our region rather than just focusing primarily on Hanley which seems to be the trend at the moment. On an individual level, we have such a great range of independent businesses that need our support if they are to keep trading so rather than having a coffee in Starbucks, why not try one of our local cafes (like (tsp.) – see my review elsewhere on my blog) or a meal out at an independent restaurant rather than a major chain? Spending our money locally will help to strengthen our city’s economy and that will have benefits for everyone!

4. Quit Smoking!” I couldn’t agree more with this one. Aside from the obvious health benefits, it would mean actually being able to walk into Hanley Bus Station without having to walk through the thick cloud of stale smoke that seems to linger there 24/7…it’s the little things!

5. Learn something new!” This is another of Jenny’s suggestions I am fully on board with. We have so many museums, galleries and other cultural attractions right on our doorstep that we barely take the time to visit ourselves. Since my family moved back to Stoke, we’ve dragged many of our friends to the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery and each of them enjoyed themselves AND learned something they didn’t already know about Stoke-on-Trent. Alternatively, if you’re fed up to the back teeth of hearing about pottery, why not go along to one of Staffordshire University’s public lectures and learn about something entirely different?

6. Help others!” If I’m being honest, I think that we already do a brilliant job of helping others and looking after one another in Stoke and our foodbank is the perfect example of this, with donations and volunteers coming from right across the city in order to ensure that nobody goes hungry. Nevertheless, new causes continue to spring up (Stoke Winter Night Shelter perhaps?) while others find it harder to continue the work they’re doing (North Staffordshire Adventure Playground, for example), so let’s make 2016 the year in which new projects start with a bang and struggling organisations are rallied round and fully supported.

“7. Spend more time with friends and family.” This one is pretty self-explanatory but in case you needed some ideas on exactly how to spend time with them, looking back over this list gives you plenty of opportunity! Treat your mum to an independent coffee; drag your out-of-town friends round one of our museums or take your children to paint a pot at Emma Bridgewater.

8. Boost your self-esteem!” Jenny highlights my number one pet hate regarding Stoke-on-Trent in this paragraph: we are absolutely outraged whenever Stoke tops negative national lists, yet usually we are the first ones to belittle ourselves and whinge about X, Y and Z. She’s absolutely right in saying that changing the rest of the UK’s perspective on Stoke has to start with us. We’ve got so much to be proud of (and not just Robbie Williams like most people would have you think!) that it’s time we started to let everyone know and perhaps more importantly, believe it ourselves.

9. Make more friends! ” We are no longer 6 seperate towns, we are a city of, collectively, nearly 250, 000 people. There’s no reason to restrict ourselves to operating solely in our tiny little neighbourhood anymore or treat a Burslemite who’s wandering round Longton like a complete outsider. Let’s all work together rather than competing with each other in 2016.

10. Play nicely!” This final resolution refers to the “friendly” rivalry between Stoke City and Port Vale and pleas for a time where each team can both celebrate the successes and mourn the losses of the other, however like Jenny, I think this might be one dream too far…

Happy new year, everyone! I hope 2016 brings you, and Stoke-on-Trent, health, hope and happiness…

 


The original article this post is based on:  http://m.stokesentinel.co.uk/PERSONALLY-SPEAKING/story-28430671-detail/story.html

Street Chaplains website: http://www.streetchaplains.org.uk

Stoke’s obesity crisis: http://m.stokesentinel.co.uk/City-gripped-obesity-crisis/story-20317529-detail/story.html

Free gym classes: http://m.stokesentinel.co.uk/Free-gym-sessions-kick-start-city-s-status/story-28427772-detail/story.html

REVIEW: The Emma Bridgewater factory cafe, Hanley

Don’t get me wrong, there is far more to the Emma Bridgewater Factory than just the cafe. You can book a factory tour or look around the gift & seconds shop and even decorate your own pot in their decorating studio. You can essentially make a whole day of it but the cafe itself is just so quirky that it deserves a post of its own.

The coffee shop can be found overlooking the factory courtyard, sandwiched between the gift shop and the seconds shop, which can be accessed via the front gates on Lichfield street or from the car park round the back. Through the doors of the cafe, the counter lies right in front of you with a mishmash of different tables and chairs to both the left and right. The decor is undoubtedly the first thing that catches your eye- there are trademark Emma Bridgewater spots everywhere! And everywhere is no exaggeration; the cupboards, the shelves, even a giant aga hasn’t escaped the paintbrush! The walls are covered with various prints, including EB designs and wartime posters – the whole room just screams homely.

Once you’ve chosen your table you can settle down with the menu, although I can almost guarantee that it’ll take 10 minutes to decide on what you’re having because you’ll still be looking around the room in awe. All the drinks are served in the iconic EB half pint mugs and are very reasonably priced. A filter coffee is just £1.70 and definitely some of the best in Stoke but there are still lattes and cappuccinos and hot chocolates available too. As for snacks, their toasted teacake is definitely my favourite, not least because they serve it with an overly generous hunk of butter but also because the teacakes themselves are enormous. Their oatcakes are also a good choice with a range of different fillings and the cafe might just be the prettiest place in the whole of Stoke-on-Trent to eat them.

Emma Bridgewater Pottery

Emma Bridgewater Pottery

The Emma Bridgewater afternoon tea is something else altogether. They pile sandwiches, cakes and scones with jam and clotted cream onto one of their patterned cake stands and serve it with tea or coffee for a minimum of two people but it would easily feed four! However, I can’t pretend that it’s not pretty steeply priced so it’s definitely more of an occasional treat than a regular order.

The Emma Bridgewater Afternoon Tea

The Emma Bridgewater Afternoon Tea

All things considered, the Emma Bridgewater Cafe has a lovely, cosy atmosphere and is the perfect place to while away a Saturday afternoon over a hot drink and an excellent slice of something. Be sure to pop in soon, preferably with a big group of friends so that you can nab one of the big kitchen tables and benches!


The Emma Bridgewater Factory: http://www.emmabridgewaterfactory.co.uk/

The Emma Bridgewater Cafe menuhttp://www.emmabridgewaterfactory.co.uk/i/content/cafe_menu.pdf