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.
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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