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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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/