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.

Top 5: Latest Discoveries

As you may have gathered, I am currently in the middle of my university dissertation research and my focus is Stoke-on-Trent. Walking interviews are a key part of my methodology and I have therefore been exploring entirely unfamiliar areas of Stoke-on-Trent, as well as seeing places I know like the back of my hand with fresh eyes. Approximately 2 weeks into my data collection, here are my top 5 latest discoveries in The Potteries…

  1. Abacas Books, Milton.
    How I’ve managed to be back in Stoke-on-Trent for nearly 4 years and not visited this bookshop I do not know. Its collection of second-hand books is second to none and they cover just about every topic imaginable. Classics, Foreign travel, Biographies, Cars, Leather-binded copies, Local history, Modern Fiction; you name it, they’ve got it. However, the thing that makes Abacas a truly fantastic place for browsing has got to be the layout. What looks like 3 terraced houses side-by-side have been converted into the shop floor and yet all of the little nooks and crannies have been maintained, so cookery books can be found in a back room while literature classics are housed in what appears to be a cupboard once under the stairs. Finally, like all good second-hand bookshops , the prices are more than affordable so you don’t even need to feel bad when you leave with 10 new summer reads.

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    One of the cubby holes in Abacas Books!

  2. The (tsp.) cafe makeover, Hanley.
    As I was moving from one interview in Stoke town to another in Central Forest Park, I thought I’d pop in to (tsp.) and grab some lunch. (Having walked for an hour with the midday sun beating down I was in desperate need of a strawberry milkshake before I fainted) I walked into the shop to find a completely new arrangement: the window benches have been newly replaced and a swanky new counter runs along the left hand side of the floor, with updated menus sitting on top. Needless to say, (tsp.) 2.0 looks fantastic and the upstairs seating (which, rumour has it, will hopefully be finished by the end of the year) will bring even greater improvement.
  3. Our hidden canals.
    Some of my participants have taken me on walks along or past Stoke’s canals and what an eye-opener that has been. I’ve obviously explored the canal down in Norton Green, guarded by the Foaming Quart pub, but aside from that tiny stretch I’ve always thought the city’s canal network was quite grimy and industrial. Earlier today I explored the waterway as it runs past Milton which looked particularly glorious in such great weather and on Monday evening I found the canal in amongst Baddeley Green’s fields.The Trent & Mersey network has some truly beautiful walks and I hope it hasn’t taken everyone else in Stoke as long as me to enjoy them.

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    The Canal in Baddeley Green

  4. Stoke City’s Victoria ground.
    Everyone knows that Stoke City’s current home is Britannia Stadium and most will remember it’s previous home, the Victoria ground, with perhaps even fonder memories, but I didn’t quite grasp the impact that Stoke City’ s relocation had until I explored it earlier this week. Another participant accompanied me down Lonsdale Street and then Boothen Old Road, describing exactly how they remembered walking to a game. The sandwich shop; the ladies sat on their steps; the ever-growing throng of fans advancing to the stadium. The atmosphere was described so vividly that I could almost imagine it too and I therefore felt that same sense of profound sadness when we finally reached the once-inspirational motherland of Stoke football. I cannot believe that St Modwen have been able to leave the site to decay for the last 19 years, and the back end of Stoke town along with it. It’s evident that the Victoria ground was its lifeblood, surely it’s about time that some soul was pumped back in…
  5. There’s more to Stoke than meets the eye.

    Like most folk in Stoke-on-Trent, I thought I had the city pretty much pegged. I was confident I knew the most picturesque places to visit and the local history and the areas to be avoided, and yet only 2 weeks into my research I couldn’t have been more wrong. Cobridge (just the name of which makes most people wrinkle their nose!) was once a thriving, community-spirit-filled neighbourhood; nearly every town and suburb has a green space to call their own and the hump in the centre of Church Street, Stoke is entirely man-made as a result of building right on top of disused canals. If I, a born and semi-bred Stokie, can discover this much about my own city in a fortnight, then the rest of the UK have got a lot to learn about about us…

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 

 

Interview: Professor Pigment (ProPig)

Professor Pigment (or more commonly known as ProPig) has been making quite a name for himself around the city as he continues to create his pieces of ‘positive vandalism’ across Stoke-on-Trent. Now graffiti and stenciling might not be to everyone’s taste but to neither is renaissance art or impressionism, and I for one am a big fan of the way in which ProPig is using street art to draw everyone’s attention to the things that make our city great. After emailing ProPig’s communications team with a few questions in order to find out a bit more about this elusive character, I was delighted to see that they had been answered. Here’s what I found out about the Potteries’ Painter…

Firstly, he tells me that he has always been interested in street art. Using the bus regularly and looking out the window gave him ample opportunities to observe other graffiti tags and in his own words, after thinking to himself “How the hell did that get up there?” he decided he should probably find out. ProPig has been using Stoke as a canvas for about 2 years now and is still enjoying working on new ideas in the studio.

When I asked which of his pieces is his favourite, he gave me two examples. (See photos below) ‘Fortress Britannia’ because it was “fun to put up” (although I’m not sure dangling above the canal by a rope would constitute “fun” for everyone…) and the second piece is ‘Victoria’, which people have made a real connection with as it “reminds people of their own lives.” I think my personal favourite might be ‘Go home Cupid, we’re drunk’ just because it couldn’t have been painted in a more perfect location (Trinity Street, Hanley).

Turning to the question of inspiration, ProPig cited the city’s rich heritage as the main source of ideas for his work as he is “spoilt for choice” when it comes to choosing pieces of Stoke’s history that are worth celebrating. Events in his personal life have also caught his imagination: “We all have the same problems so I find this an effective method of connecting with people.” 

Finally, I asked ProPig where he thinks Stoke is headed in the future, and he concluded that Stoke is “definitely on the up” mentioning the European City of Sport title that Stoke has been awarded and the bid for UK City of Culture 2021.

So there we have it, ProPig on his artwork, his inspiration & his hopes for the city. I think Professor Pigment’s positive vandalism is an asset to have on our city streets and who knows, maybe his work will encourage other budding street artists to start trying out their own ideas too. (See Below?)

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Bryan Street, Hanley. A new piece of Street Art? Artist Unknown.


 

Professor Pigment’s website: http://www.propig.org/

Professor Pigment’s facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/ProfessorPigment/?fref=ts 

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

IN THE NEWS: Stoke-on-Trent makes it into PWC’s ‘Good Growth for Cities’ report

Stoke-on-Trent has made it onto a list detailing the best and worst cities in the UK for quality of life and economic performance…but this time it’s sneaked into the BEST CATEGORY as our city was ranked 19th out of 39 cities detailed in PWC’s ‘Good Growth for Cities Report.’ We’ve managed to surpass some of the UK’s core cities including Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester and perhaps most surprisingly of all, London. But what does this ranking actually reveal about the city of Stoke-on-Trent?


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PWC (the fifth largest privately-owned firm in the USA) in partnership with Demos (a cross-party think tank) have released an annual “Good Growth for Cities Report” for the past 3 years and 2015 is no different. While PWC as a corporation appear to have made a few questionable decisions regarding ethical operating, this report provides a comprehensive summary of what economic success looks like beyond traditional indicators like GVA (Gross Value Added) by taking a more holistic analysis of a variety of variables.

For example, in the case of Stoke-on-Trent, the only indicator for which the city is below average compared to other UK cities is skills, yet it has exceeded the national city average in areas like ‘jobs,’ ‘owner occupation’ and ‘sectoral balance.’ In other words, we’re currently succeeding in terms of jobs provision and maintaining a balance of industrial sectors across our local economy but need to pay particular attention to increasing and broadening our skill set and qualifications. The ‘Implications’ chapter of the report highlights the importance of improving the skills of a city’s population as not only do they contribute to a higher economic performance overall, but they also help to build the resilience of a city and better its response to periods of economic uncertainty.

Good Growth for Cities 2015 goes on to propose a number of different actions that can be taken in order to consolidate and further the economic growth seen in UK cities. The focus on ‘the investment in the assets of a place’ seems to be particularly relevant for Stoke. We have so many ‘assets’ that we could capitalise on and share with the rest of the UK- it’s about time we started blowing our own trumpet! Beautiful pottery is still made here (another plug for Emma Bridgewater!) and remnants of our industrial heritage contribute to a truly unique landscape, to name but a few!

For me, this publication serves as the perfect reminder that Stoke-on-Trent has a lot to offer and that we should be proud of the significant progress that we’re making as a city.


To access a copy of the Good Growth for Cities Report 2015: http://www.pwc.co.uk/industries/government-public-sector/good-growth/good-growth-for-cities-our-report-on-economic-wellbeing-in-uk-urban-areas.html 

To access a copy of the Midlands highlights of the GGCR 2015http://pwc.blogs.com/files/good-growth-for-cities-2015-midlands-factsheet-3.pdf