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!)

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SCATTERING KINDNESS: An evaluation of Stoke-on-Trent Churches Community night shelter’s pilot project

Stoke-on-Trent Churches Community Night Shelter is a temporary winter night shelter, set up in association with Housing Justice. Our pilot project ran for 9 weeks between mid-January and mid-March 2016, every Saturday night at Swan Bank Church, Burslem. Since the pilot finished, we have had various meetings with volunteers, guests and members of the steering group, aiming to evaluate how the project had gone. The resounding consensus from each of these groups is that it has been an overwhelming success, and I am inclined to agree. Below are just three reasons why I believe this to the be the case…

  1. Firstly, we made a difference in the lives of our guests.

Over the course of the 9 weeks, we were able to provide a safe & warm bed to 16 different individuals-13 men and 3 women-some of whom stayed with us on more than one evening. On each of these Saturdays, our guests received the warmest of welcomes; a hot meal; endless cups of tea; delicious homemade cake; hot showers; opportunities to pick up new clothes and bedding; friendly conversation; a safe space to rest; a hot breakfast; sandwiches to take away and support and advice regarding what to do next.

Obviously, the fact that we were able to serve 16 people in this way is incredible, but the best part is the number of people we were able to help find more stable accommodation. With the help of ARCH, we were able to help one of our guests access temporary accommodation for asylum seekers and we supported 2 other guests to find accommodation through their own contacts. One extremely kind volunteer had these 2 guests staying on different occasions with him at his home as they waited to move into their new accommodation. At present, we are supporting 1 guest while he waits to access the Edward Myers unit and another as he waits to enter a soon-to-open rehabilitation centre. On top of this, we were able to fund some extra nights in B&Bs during the freezing weather thanks to local church donations.

These stories alone showcase the success of STCCNS’s pilot project, and yet I have another 2 reasons to share with you…

2. Secondly, there were no incidents of aggression, violence or threat over the 9 weeks.

None! Zero! Nada! Considering some of our guests had substance abuse issues or mental health challenges or both and considering this can often increase the risk of threatening behaviour, this really is something to celebrate. I think this serves as a testament to the calm and friendly atmosphere that our wonderful volunteers created each week- lots of our guests told us how kind they found the volunteers and how they appreciated having so many of them around as it made them feel safer.

3. Thirdly, the pilot project really did operate as a ‘community-driven’ shelter. 

The amount of support we received since we first announced the idea has been overwhelming. Back in early January when we held our first training event, we waited at the YMCA to see if anyone would actually turn up. By the end of the pilot scheme, way over 30 people had committed their time and volunteered at the Saturday shifts. I know I’ve already mentioned this but our volunteers truly are fantastic. They welcomed and chatted with guests so warmly; made innumerable hot drinks; stayed up late; got up early; cleaned & tidied; gave lifts; put up camp beds…the list goes on and on. And they did all of these tasks with such enthusiasm. Without them, we certainly wouldn’t have achieved what we have achieved. Thank you.

Further evidence of the ‘community’ supporting the shelter is through the sheer number of donations that we received. Again, the list of clothes and bedding and food toiletries is endless, but so greatly appreciated as it meant we could gift each guest with a full bag of toiletries to take away as well as an opportunity to pick up new clothes, rucksacks, blankets and the like. Stoke-on-Trent must be one of the most generous cities going. Thank you.

Finally, the support we received from other agencies and organisations across the city and beyond has been unprecedented. Brighter Futures & The Rough Sleepers Team; the YMCA; Street Chaplains; The Jubilee Project; ARCH; The Macari Centre; The Walk Project; The City Council; Hanley Police; Swan Bank Church & Housing Justice… I’m sure that I’ve probably forgotten some there were that many, but the list just goes to show what can be achieved when we work together. Thank you.

I don’t think there is any more I can say to demonstrate how over the moon we are with how this pilot project has gone. However, we now need to look to the future. Homelessness and rough sleeping in Stoke-on-Trent has by no stretch of the imagination been solved or even reduced. The 18-bed Macari Centre is full most nights and the rough sleepers team continue to meet new people bedding down in the city centre. Over the next few months, we will be working to improve and expand the service that our pilot project provided and will be opening again in November 2016 to continue serving those that need us. Please continue to support us and keep in touch- it’s all hands on deck!

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STCCNS Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/SOTWinterNightShelter/

Housing Justice:  http://www.housingjustice.org.uk/

Scattering Kindness: Stoke’s Street Chaplains

I can’t believe I’ve only just got round to writing this blog post considering I observed a Saturday night through the eyes of Stoke’s Street Chaplains way back in early September, but university has a way of taking over and numerous essays and a few reading lists later, here we are.

Spending the early hours of a Sunday morning with Street Chaplains actually came about through the Winter Night Shelter project. We needed to gather some evidence that there was a real need for a night shelter in Stoke and accompanying Street Chaplains as they provided a peaceful presence in the city centre late at night gave us the opportunity to encounter some of those sleeping rough.

In light of this, my mind was predominantly focusing on the questions that we should ask on the off chance we did find any rough sleepers and how we might be able to help them there and then. However, within a few minutes of leaving The Lounge, Gitana Street (which Street Chaplains use as their base) my attention turned to the rapport that they had clearly been building with those working weekends on Trinity Street. Every promotions team member and bouncer gave Street Chaplains a smile and a “hello”- a very surprising gesture considering the majority of security staff I have interacted with have got a face like a smacked bottom. What’s more, they clearly have the respect of the local police force too, as they also stopped for a chat when they saw us.

After having completed a loop around Hanley, binning glass bottles as we went so as to reduce the potential for injuries, we came back to The Lounge for a brief hot drink and then headed back out on to Trinity Street. This time they brought the backpacks which were filled with bottles of water, flipflops and sweets and we gave them out to anyone that wanted one. Admittedly, the flipflops did confuse me to begin with but Rob (the Team Lead for that evening) explained that they offered them to any of the women who were struggling in their heels. This has got to be one of the best ideas I’ve ever heard of- who wouldn’t want a free pair of flipflops if their feet were sore and achey?- and in practical terms, think how many sprained ankles and grazed knees have likely been prevented!

Perhaps the biggest testament to the work of Street Chaplains is the response they receive from the revellers who are out and about the town. Out of the hundreds of people we walked past, I only saw one lady try and challenge the work that Street Chaplains, and she was so inebriated she would have picked a fight with a jacket potato. Everyone else exchanged pleasantries, asked for hugs and expressed their gratitude for the free lollies.

I experienced first-hand the wonderful work that Street Chaplains are doing and there is no doubt that they are providing the reassurance and peaceful presence that they aimed to give.

Street Chaplains

Image from: streetchaplains.org.uk 


 

Stoke Street Chaplains Website: http://www.streetchaplains.org.uk/ 
Stoke Street Chaplains Facebook pagehttps://www.facebook.com/Street-Chaplains-654749871279259/?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

A Christmas Round Up!

Considering Christmas Day is now all but one week away (how is that possible?) I thought it would be a good time for a quick round up of the positive things that have been happening in Stoke in the run up to Christmas.

Having returned home from university for the Christmas break, I couldn’t help but grin after walking into Wesley Hall Church for Monday night Foodbank distribution and finding over 20 Christmas hampers ready to gift to our guests. They were all bursting at the seams with chocolates, biscuits, puddings and crackers and had been wrapped up so fancily in cellophane and ribbon. (Why can I not wrap with cellophane without it ripping or using too much cellotape?) Judging from their facebook page, all kinds of community groups have been helping to wrap these parcels from schoolchildren and churches to the YMCA and Hanley’s firefighters, making the hampers even more special. Setting them down on the table next to the guests’ food parcels and seeing their reaction was wonderful. Stoke-on-Trent Foodbank’s ceaseless support for the guests that we welcome through our doors continues to blow me away, and no time more so than at Christmas.

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Christmas Hampers from Stoke-on-Trent Foodbanks

Another piece of good news in time for the festive period comes in the form of a concrete plan of action for the proposed winter night shelter. Stoke-on-Trent Winter Night Shelter [Pilot Project] will open its doors on Saturday 16th January 2016 at Swan Bank Church, Burslem and continue every Saturday throughout January and February, with the aim of seeing how things progress and where things take us. For further information, including volunteering opportunities, check out the Facebook page (link below) and direct all emails to stokewinternightshelter@gmail.com.

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Stoke-on-Trent Winter Night Shelter

Haywood Academy and Sixth Form have provided one last good news story as only a couple of days ago, they released plans to use the iconic ‘Burslem School of Art’ building to deliver some of their sixth form classes from, including the use of specialist creative facilities like photography areas and art rooms. What a fabulous use for one of Stoke’s heritage buildings!

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For great updates on SOT Foodbank’s Christmas Hampers: https://www.facebook.com/Stoke-on-Trent-Foodbank-379733792038148/?fref=ts

Stoke-on-Trent Winter Night Shelter’s Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/SOTWinterNightShelter/

The Sentinel article on Haywood’s expansion: http://www.stokesentinel.co.uk/Iconic-listed-building-turned-sixth-form-centre/story-28348117-detail/story.html

SCATTERING KINDNESS: Plans for a Winter Night Shelter

When a group of us volunteering at Monday night foodbank distribution began noticing that the number of guests with NFA (No Fixed Abode) was becoming more and more frequent, alongside the number of street homeless guests, we decided something needed to be done. No one should have to make Hanley public toilets or a Middleport Canal Bridge their bed for a night or carry all their possessions around on their backs and setting up a winter night shelter seemed like one way of beginning to make a difference for those sleeping rough.

The statistics suggest that 2,744 rough sleepers can be found on any one night in England (Crisis UK) and 16 of these will be bedding down in the streets of Stoke-on-Trent each night. (JSNA) Of course, it’s quite likely that both these numbers are higher as those sleeping rough tend to hide themselves away for numerous reasons but they certainly give us a mandate to act on this issue. 16 people. That’s 1.45 football teams or One Direction + 3 tribute bands. Surely we can make room for 16 people in Stoke-on-Trent so that they can have the dignity of sleeping in a bed rather than the pavement?

Since that initial concern manifested itself, many meetings have been held and more planned with a variety of passionate folk from across different sectors and areas of the city. Discussion regarding the practicalities of setting up and running a night shelter is well under way. What venue do we use? How do we fund it? Who will staff it? The issues to think about are pretty hefty and there’s not always a clear answer but by no means has this disheartened us. If anything, it’s spurring us on to work harder and faster in order to realise our vision of no one having to sleep rough in our city. Asking these difficult questions has led us to linking up with Housing Justice, a Christian charity that works for action on homelessness and housing issues. They have a wealth of expertise in establishing and running Winter Night Shelters all across the UK and we’re very much looking forward to the help and guidance they can give us.


Housing Justice

Housing Justice


Now, the great thing about this vision is that anyone can get behind it. Everyone has something they can offer in order to help get this project off the ground. Are you a fabulous fundraiser? Why not raise some money to help us buy bedding and toiletries? Enjoy cooking? You could volunteer to make an evening meal for our guests at one of the shelter venues. Perhaps you’re a people person with a heart for reaching out to those that most people ignore…if that’s the case, there’s definitely a role for you to play in Stoke’s Winter Night Shelter.

Colder temperatures appear to have set in over the past few days and winter is definitely on its way. We’re going to need all hands on deck, everything that this generous community can offer, if we’re going to be ready to welcome Stoke’s rough sleepers into a warmer, safer and more supportive environment. If you share this vision; if you want to find out more about our progress or if you want to get involved please get in touch! All emails to: stokewinternightshelter@gmail.com would be greatly received!


CRISIS UKhttp://www.crisis.org.uk/

JSNA report: http://webapps.stoke.gov.uk/JSNA/download.aspx?documentID=184

Housing Justicehttp://www.housingjustice.org.uk/