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.

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.

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