In the News: An open letter to John Domokos, at The Guardian.

Mr Domokos has made a plea for residents of the city to get in touch and tell him about what matters to them, in attempt to rectify the somewhat skewed image of Stoke-on-Trent that was presented during the recent by-election in February. What challenges are we facing? What projects or ideas are really taking off? Who should he talk to and where should he film? So here is my two pence, for what it’s worth…

Dear John,

You’re not wrong. A huge swathe of Stoke-on-Trent did feel angry and misrepresented by the sudden influx of national reports written in response to our recent by-election, myself included.

Stoke-on-Trent is not a city in decline. We’ve done decline. We’ve done decimating deindustrialisation, a chronic lack of funding and laughable leadership, but that is SO five years ago. It’s behind us, and Stoke is very much on the up.

Piccadilly is undoubtedly the centre of Hanley’s cultural revolution. Tsp., Rawr and The Quarter have now firmly established a quality coffee shop culture; incredible food can be found at Klay Pizzeria and Piccadilly Brasserie and cultural activity is overflowing. Whether it’s the beautiful Regent Theatre, edgy Upstairs Gallery at the 51-53 Store or the wonderful Potteries Museum, ‘culture’ doesn’t stop.

Our ceramics heritage is being rediscovered both by locals and the rest of the nation alike, thanks in small part to the success of BBC2’s Great Pottery Throwdown, hosted by the newly refurbished Middleport Pottery. The Emma Bridgewater Factory is also more popular than ever, especially over a certain weekend in June when it hosts the Stoke-on-Trent Literary Festival, Hot Air.

But the most important thing that the posse of journalists missed back in February is the overwhelming generosity of the city. I suppose this is unsurprising considering the focus of the coverage was the small minority of UKIP thugs who saw no problem in urinating on other people’s garden fences, but that’s an issue for another blog post… Stoke-on-Trent is a compassionate, giving city and this characteristic deserves to be recognised.

Having just finished organising and running the Stoke-on-Trent Churches Community Night Shelter over the past 4 months, which welcomed 82 different guests who were supported by over 100 volunteers, I know this to be true. The project was funded and resourced entirely by the people of this city. I’m talking every sleeping bag, every toothbrush, every home-cooked meal, it was all provided by Stoke-on-Trent. And how many organisations across the country can really attest to the same? No loans or grants from huge groups or celebrity donors, just everyday individuals working together and playing their part in order to care for those in need. Just people helping people, if you will.

So please don’t paint us as a bunch of ignorant and intolerant fools because it’s not, nor has it ever been true, and I’m sure you will reach this same conclusion when you come to explore the city in more depth. I would be more than happy to give you the real tour of Stoke-on-Trent, that which encompasses the new life and community spirit at work within the Potteries.

All the very best,

Carrie.

(ps. Make sure you try a Staffordshire Oatcake – they are not to be missed!)

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.

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: Northern Quarter, eat your heart out…

During the obligatory 3pm scroll through my Facebook news feed at some point last week, a new Sentinel article caught my eye as they had likened Hanley’s very own Piccadilly to Manchester’s Northern Quarter.

At first, I was thrilled. The Northern Quarter is the epitome of cool. A quick wander around and you will find more hummus, start-up coffee roasters and craft beer than you can shake a stick at. However, you can’t help but notice that the overwhelming demographic roaming the area is bearded, cardigan-clad hipsters. Anyone who’s not wearing a rainbow-coloured, crocheted jumper and carrying a shopping bag full of quinoa and avocados might feel slightly out of place…

And I think here lies my slight objection to the comparison of these 2 places. The difference between Piccadilly and TNQ is that anyone can walk down the former without feeling too ‘uncool.’ Evidently, we have some incredible independent retailers, original galleries and unfathomably good food but I’m not sure we’ll ever be as polished or edgy as Manchester’s creative district…and that is no bad thing.

Part of Stoke-on-Trent’s charm is that it’s messy around the edges. We are a city that has been built with clay, and you don’t have to be a quality potter to know that you will struggle to create something beautiful without getting your hands dirty. Stoke will forever be a work in progress and that truth is what makes us unique. We’re in danger of cities becoming indistinguishable from one another, of one urban sprawl looking very much like any other, so let’s not exacerbate it by constantly comparing their strengths and weaknesses.

So, with this in mind, I’m proposing that we stop these cross-city comparisons and simply celebrate the fantastic things that are happening here. After all, we can have delicious coffee without it needing to compete with a cafe in Manchester and visit quirky pizzerias without worrying about fellow eateries in Birmingham. The atmosphere on Stoke’s Piccadilly is refreshing, welcoming, exciting…let’s just leave it at that!

tsp cafe

(tsp.)

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Klay Pizzeria


The original Sentinel article this post is based on: http://www.stokesentinel.co.uk/Piccadilly-Hanley-s-answer-Northern-Quarter/story-29217287-detail/story.html

My reviews of (tsp.) and Klay which are both featured in The Sentinel’s article:

https://stokeingthefire.wordpress.com/2015/07/18/review-tsp-cafe-hanley/

https://stokeingthefire.wordpress.com/2016/04/05/review-klay-pizzeria-bar/

TOP FIVE: Breakfasts in the Potteries

Breakfast might just be my favourite meal of the day…(but then I say this about lunch and tea so perhaps I’m just a huge food fan all round?) and Stoke & its surrounding areas appear to have developed quite a range of tasty places to start the day. Here are 5 that I think are worth a try…

  1. Chiquito, The Hive

A Mexican breakfast might not be for everyone, but Rach & I are massive fans. There are various dishes on the menu but the Eggs Bravos is truly spectacular: poached eggs sit on top of guacamole and salsa-smothered sauteed potatoes in a spicy tomato sauce. They also serve a range of breakfast burritos as well as more traditional cooked breakfasts alongside coffees and smoothies. With a Student Chiquitos card, you can also receive 25% discount on your bill. ¡Hurra!

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Eggs Bravos & A Veggie Breakfast Burrito

2. (tsp.), Piccadilly

Yes I know I go on about how much I love this cafe, but they’ve got the lighter breakfast covered and most importantly of all, quality coffee. (tsp.) offer lots of pastries, bagels and crumpets- even their toast is absolutely delicious, which I believe is from Live Love Loaf Bakery in Leek. Sitting in the cafe, particularly on a sunny morning, is the perfect way to ease yourself into the day…

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(tsp.)’s trusty coffee

3. Melice, Intu Potteries

If pancakes and crepes are your cup of tea, then this is the place to come. They serve both savoury and sweet options – I can wholeheartedly recommend the nutella, banana & chantilly cream pancake. Melice also have a good range of drinks and with so many different French pastries in their cabinet, I challenge you to visit without taking a Strawberry Tart or a Mille Feuille home for lunch…

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The banana, nutella & chantilly cream pancake

4. High Lane Oatcakes / London Road Oatcakes / Any reputable oatcake shop

It saddens me to think that the rest of the country don’t get to begin their day with some delicious & freshly-made filled oatcakes. Considering I’m a vegetarian, cheese & mushroom are my personal favourite but I know cheese & bacon is another cracking combination. I couldn’t possibly begin to comment on the best place to get your oatcakes, for it is a debate that will continue until the end of time, but High Lane Oatcakes and London Road Oatcakes are always a safe bet.

5. Bailey’s Tea Room, High Street

The first entry from Newcastle comes in the form of Bailey’s Tea room. Their breakfast menu features everything you would expect to find in a British tearoom, from a full English to eggs any way and toasted teacakes. Bailey’s scrambled eggs & smoked salmon is one of my favourites but I can’t deny I’m also partial to a toasted teacake.


Chiquito: http://www.chiquito.co.uk/

(tsp.) : https://www.facebook.com/tspcoffee/?fref=ts & Live Love Loaf Bakery http://www.liveloveloaf.net/ 

Melice: http://www.melice.co.uk/

Bailey’s Tea Room: http://www.baileystearoom.com/index.html

REVIEW: Klay Pizzeria & Bar

Every time I come home from university for the holidays, I try to take my sister out for food somewhere- it’s become a sort of (slightly expensive) tradition- and so when I discovered there was a new kid on Stoke’s independent food scene, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to give it a try.

Klay Pizzeria & Bar offers wood-fired pizza (in their own wood-fired oven!) to eat in or take away “by the slice or circle” and you can find them in a prime location opposite the Regent Theatre on Piccadilly. The decor is refreshing with lots of white tiles, exposed ceilings and wooden stools giving it an industrial look. If you choose your seat carefully, you can watch your pizza being handmade before your very eyes in their open kitchen. Alternatively, you can grab a window seat and watch the world go by on Piccadilly (which I must say is looking quite quirky and cosmopolitan as of late!)

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The interior

So edgy are ‘Klay’ that they’ve even managed to make the food ordering process more interesting. When deciding what to go for, you’re encouraged to customise your menu as much as possible so that your order is exactly what you want; pencils are provided allowing you to scribble, tick and cross out to your heart’s content. Which brings us to the main event…

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The quirky menus…

The pizza. Klay offer a variety of pizzas on their set menu as well as a number of specials. These include old favourites like the ‘Straight up Marg’ (Margherita) and ‘The Pepperlonely’ (Pepperoni) as well as what can only be described as pizza brilliance in the form of ‘The MAC Daddy’ (Macaroni Cheese! On a pizza!) and ‘The Benedicto’ (Eggs Benedict.) Rach and I couldn’t resist giving the Mac Daddy a try and we also opted for ‘The Stavros’: a greek style mix of avocado, feta, olives and balsamic vinegar.

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The Mac Daddy & The Stavros

Unsurprisingly so, they were both heavenly. Some may argue that a mac ‘n’ cheese pizza is an unnecessary step towards complete carbocide [definition: death by carbohydrates] but I would respectfully disagree. The combination of a crispy base, al dente macaroni and a creamy cheese sauce made for a real taste sensation. Similarly, the Stavros was cooked to perfection and with all those greens on top, it could nearly be considered healthy! Prices for 11″ pizzas ranged from £8-£12, which I think is excellent value considering your average pizzas from Pizza Hut/Pizza Express can be even more costly and certainly not as delicious.

In addition to the pizza menu, Klay also offer a range of sides. Pizza cones and Flatbread are definitely on my list to come back and try, as well as the mozzarella sticks and nachos. In all the excitement, I somewhat overlooked the drinks menu but I am a big fan of any establishment that sells soft drinks for just £1. Other reviews have sang praises about their range of beers and wines too- including Brooklyn Beer which my friend Soph raves about- for very reasonable prices and so ‘Bar’ really does deserve to be in their title.

Overall, Klay Pizzeria & Bar makes a tasty addition to the already-amazing Piccadilly strip (thank you (tsp.) and Entrepreneurs et al). They’ve created a flexible space that could cater for all kinds of eating-out, whether it’s a slice and a beer for a quick lunch; a first date or a celebratory meal out and the quality of the pizza must make it one of, if not THE best pizza establishment in Stoke-on-Trent. Oh, and in case you missed it, it also comes highly recommended from Jason Manford & Phil Jupitus, not that you needed another reason to pay them a visit…

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Klay Pizzeria & Bar


 

Find Klay Pizzeria & Bar on Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/Klay-Pizzeria-Bar-961721717231373/  and on Twitter: @klaypizzeria

The Sentinel check out Klay Pizzeria: http://www.stokesentinel.co.uk/pictures/Klay-Pizzeria-Bar-Hanley/pictures-28949519-detail/pictures.html

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