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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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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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.

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

 

Review: RAWR juice & superfood bar

I first clapped eyes on RAWR a couple of months ago on Twitter, when I stumbled across their Kickstarter project for a second store in Hanley. Their first shop has been open in Newcastle for a good while now but I have still failed to pop by for a visit thus far…

Such was my joy when I heard that the Hanley store had opened this week! Before we’d even made it down Piccadilly, we were greeted by two smiling staff members who were laden with free samples. Their ‘Super Green Machine’ was highlighter-bright but absolutely delicious, which was unexpected to say the least as they assured me there were 81 different greens hidden in there.

When we eventually made it inside, we were encouraged to head upstairs and take a seat, where we found a lovely room flooded with light. The food menu had so much choice and each option had a witty little title [Case Example #1: “All the feta for it.” Genius.] I settled on a Mexicana wrap stuffed with avocado, chilli jam & hummus and while there were a million and one juices and smoothies on offer, I had to give their coffee a go.

Now I usually don’t give a monkeys about how my food looks so long as it tastes good, but RAWR’s presentation was on a whole new level. Like food-magazine-worthy. I tucked in right away and it tasted even better; the hummus was particularly delicious and why isn’t chilli jam a bigger deal? My cappuccino was also excellent and after investigating the Climpson & Sons coffee that RAWR serve, it was encouraging to see that the Hackney-based coffee roasters are striving to build “sustainable & ethical relationships” during the sourcing of their coffee beans.

RAWR’s attention to detail has really brought their Hanley store to life, whether it’s through the book exchange that’s lining the upstairs windowsill or the free tasters or the dinky little boards that each coffee is served on. What’s more, the team were super friendly & welcoming throughout our visit. And why wouldn’t they be, they’ve crafted an establishment to be proud of!

Go see them soon at 31 Piccadilly, Hanley!


 

More info at: http://www.bemorerawr.co.uk/

https://www.facebook.com/bemorerawrhan/?fref=ts 

Climpson & Sons Coffee: http://www.climpsonandsons.com/

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