Potteries doing well in the Potteries

Potteries across Stoke-on-Trent seem to be doing well and increasing profits in what is thought by many to be the biggest recession since the late 1800’s.

Steelite, Churchill & Portmeirion have all reported good profits recently and Emma Bridgewater looks set to double its predicted sales this year. Continue reading

Stoke-on-Trent to host Halfords Tour Series 2012

Stoke-on-Trent has just been announced as the venue for the grand finale of the Halfords Tour Series 2012 cycling event.

Thursday 14th June will see the 10 leading british teams going head to head in a team trial event around the city centre circuit in Hanley in a spectacular final day of racing.

2012 will be the fourth time that the Halfords Tour Series has visited Stoke-on-Trent and the first time that it has hosted the grand finale.

In addition to the season closing circuit race, the unique televised, team based Series will also feature a team time trial for the first time ever on the final day of racing, named in honour of one of Stoke-on-Trent’s famous sons, cyclist Tommy Godwin. Continue reading

Spode Museum Trust Awarded Lottery Grant

The Spode Museum Trust has been awarded a £50,000 Heritage Lottery grant for a two year project to operate a Spode history centre in one of the historic buildings on the former Spode factory in Church Street, Stoke.

The project is provisionally entitled On this Historic Site The project will include exhibits from the Trust’s collection, a quantity of archive material and will focus not just on the 200 year history of the company and its products, but also on the stories of some of the generations of people who worked at Spode, their skills and their working conditions in past centuries.

Among the objectives of the history centre are its engagement with the local community in Stoke, many of whom once worked at the Church Street site, or whose parents or grandparents did, and for whom the Spode heritage is of considerable pride.

A spokesman for the trust said,

We are particularly grateful to all those who have supported us in our application for the grant, and especially to Stoke-on-Trent City Council, who have been so supportive in providing the premises for us. We expect the Centre will open in Spring 2012. Quite a lot of refurbishment is first necessary for the building – like many others on the site, it is in poor condition at the moment. The total cost of the History Centre will be well in excess of our £50,000 grant and we are looking to raise an additional £20,000 through sponsorship and donations. If you would like to help us by making a donation please contact us through our website.

Stoke-on-Trent Potteries Lose Out To China For Royal Wedding

It seems that the proud heritage of Stoke-on-Trent, or in fact UK, potteries doesn’t matter for our next royal wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton.

Reuters are reporting that rather than favour some or one of the fine historic potteries on home soil, the soon to be wed royal couple have selected Guangxi Sanhuan Group from Beiliu China, to produce some 16,000 items of pottery, which will either be used at the royal wedding in April, or will be given to guests as gifts.

The royal couple sourcing tableware from a company based some 5,800 miles away does seem to fly in the face of the views of Prince Charles who said at the annual Richard Dimbleby lecture in July 2009 that we had ‘just 96 months to save the world’

We face the dual challenges of a world view and an economic system that seem to have enormous shortcomings, together with an environmental crisis ““ including that of climate change ““ which threatens to engulf us all.

But for all its achievements, our consumerist society comes at an enormous cost to the Earth and we must face up to the fact that the Earth cannot afford to support it. Just as our banking sector is struggling with its debts ““ and paradoxically also facing calls for a return to so-called ‘old-fashioned’, traditional banking ““ so Nature’s life-support systems are failing to cope with the debts we have built up there too.

If we don’t face up to this, then Nature, the biggest bank of all, could go bust. And no amount of quantitative easing will revive it.

Design

It was reported in the Sunday Mirror that designers from Stoke-on-Trent working on the authorised collection of souvenirs for the Royal wedding noticed that the royal couples initials of W & C could leave them open to be the butt of ‘WC’ jokes.

The royal couple were informed and agreed a change of design to C & W. This makes them the first royal couple where the bride had had her initial above that of the groom.

One can only hope that the designers in China are as diligent in their work..

Stoke-on-Trent – In A Nutshell?

The Guardian feature Stoke-on-Trent in the latest article in their series ‘Where Else Can I Go’.

The article makes interesting reading, especially to those who live outside of our city.

But what about those who live in the Potteries and surrounding areas? What do we make of the facts listed in the article?

Where else can I go? – The Guardian

What they said about Stoke-on-Trent

”Despite going through some of the most difficult times in the history of this council our staff continue to work hard for the people of this city and we are eager for that to carry on.”

”Charles Dickens once described Stoke as ‘a picturesque heap of houses, kilns, smoke, wharfs, canals and river lying as was most appropriate, in a basin,”

Population District

240,636.

Local politics,strong/>

Stoke-on-Trent city council is a unitary authority with no overall control, led by Labour as a four-party coalition.

MPs Three, all Labour.

Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent South); Joan Walley (North) and TV historian Tristram Hunt (Central).

Local authority

The council “performs adequately” but does not deliver consistent value for money. Teenage pregnancy rates are among the highest in England. The different political groups on the council make it more difficult for the council to conduct its business smoothly. Adult social services are “performing well.” Children’s services perform “adequately”.

Job prospects

The council wants to shed 700 jobs. Priority for applying for any vacancies is going to staff on the “at risk” list.

Health service

University hospital of North Staffordshire NHS trust runs North Staffordshire Royal Infirmary, the City General and the Central outpatients hospitals. A new £370m hospital on the City General site is due to open next year. North Staffordshire combined NHS healthcare trust, the mental health and learning disability trust, runs Harplands hospital. Stoke-on-Trent primary care trust and other trusts all qualify for a licence under the new Care Quality Commission standards regime.

Central government

HM Revenue and Customs and Cafcass have offices in the city.

Environment/regeneration

The council wants to install solar panels in all suitable council properties as it tries to become one of the country’s first sustainable cities. A new £20m transport/bus interchange redevelopment is going ahead next year. A planned £270m shopping complex will create 4,000 new jobs.

Voluntary sector

There are 23 international, 43 national and 271 local charities in the district with a combined income of £68m; 1,642 charitable trustees live here.

Commuter links

M6 junctions 15 (three miles); A50/A516 to Derby (34 miles); A50/A453 Nottingham (50 miles). Trains: London Euston (93 mins); Manchester (43 mins); Birmingham (47 mins).

Property prices

Two-bed flat: £60k- £150k; three-bed semi: £65k-£185k; four-bed detached: £150k-£699k.

Would the above information make you want to uproot your home and/or your business and relocate to Stoke-on-Trent?

Do the above headline facts hide the reality of the socio-economic prospects for the city?

Stoke-on-Trent – Political Leadership and City Regeneration Part 1

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been on a short adventure in city regeneration policy. A fortnight ago I was down at Portcullis House in the Big Smoke for a morning discussion on ‘Rebuilding Britain’s Cities: Lessons from the UK and US’.

The Friday before saw a day conference at Keele on the ‘Socio-Political Challenges of Medium-Sized Cities’ concentrating on neighbourhoods, health, and political leadership. The changes to health policy and the persistence of areas associated with deprivation, unemployment, crime, high morbidity were discussed in some rigorous detail, but I would like to concentrate on that day’s final paper by former MEP and council leader, Mike Tappin. His topic not only serves as a bridge to the Portcullis House discussion but is one of crucial importance for all cities negotiating the treacherous rapids of regeneration: the problem of political leadership.

Mike’s paper, ‘The Governance Challenge for Stoke-on-Trent: A Study of System, Economic and Political Failure’ didn’t pull any punches. It really was look at the multiple contributors to Stoke’s decline. First, Mike flagged up the spatial dimension. Rather than following the “traditional” centre/periphery model of cities, Stoke is a polycentric city. It is as if drawn out along a South East to North West axis. It comprises the six towns that federated to form Stone-on-Trent in 1910, but in practice (according to previous work undertaken by Mike) the city is sub-divided into 56 more or less discrete “villages”, which lends The Potteries a very strong cultural and political localism. This is reinforced by the bypassing of Stoke-on-Trent by the M6, poor internal road networks (for example, Potteries Way – the inner city ring road – has been only half built for over 20 years), and a not altogether praise-worthy public transport system. When 34% of city households are without a car this is a big problem.

Like many medium-sized industrial cities Stoke has suffered economic decline. In the 1950s 70,000, 10,000+, and 20,000+ were employed in ceramics, steel, and mining respectively. By 2001 those figures stood at 6,000, 200, and zero. In the 1971-81 period (before Thatcherism began to bite), that decade saw the loss of 28,000 manufacturing jobs and the closure of two local collieries. Also because of the dependence on the potteries, Stoke possessed a counter-cyclical economy. When Britain entered into recession the devaluation of sterling boosted Stoke’s exports abroad, allowing it to buck the trend. Since 1981, for all intents and purposes the potteries are the only significant economic survivor of the early period. Manufacturing – including ceramics – accounts for below 20% of local employment. Distribution and retail have taken up the slack of private employment.

The unemployment figures more explicitly tell the story of Stoke’s decline. In the 50s and 60s unemployment averaged at around 3% – roughly 2,500 people. Through the 70s to most of the 1990s it hovered around the UK average, but in this last decade it has become a major problem. In February 2009, at the start of the recession, 24.1% of the workforce were unemployed, and 43% of that jobless total had been out of work for five years or more. Taking together JSA, incapacity benefit, and income support 55,550 people were dependent on benefits in some way in North Staffordshire. For Mike, this has bred a ‘culture of contentment’ whereby aspirations are atuned to the income one receives from benefits, therefore helping to culturally lock Stoke into a perpetual cycle of economic water treading. This can be seen in educational attainment. Whereas the West Midlands average for NVQ levels 2, 3 and 4 are 61.6, 42.3 and 24.5 for the working age population, in Stoke it’s 53.8, 32.3 and 14.4.

Mike argues the city’s economic problems are exacerbated by its political difficulties. From 1977-96 Stoke was governed by the County Council situated in Stafford, reducing the Potteries to the status of a district council. This led to a two-tiered political culture where the brightest and the best “went south” while the “b team” remained at home. In 1996 the city was made a unitary authority (Mike would have preferred a broader N Staffs authority commensurate with the city’s economic footprint) and off the back of the national wave against the Tories, Labour romped home that year with 60 councillors to nil. From 2000 on the Labour party begins imploding, seeing its vote collapse from 40.75% at the start of the decade to just 25% in 2008. Matters aren’t helped by a switch to an elected mayoral system in 2002, only for it to switch back six years later. Independents and the BNP started making inroads at Labour’s expense, but were checked at the 2010 local election. Labour gained 13 councillors off the back of the general election turn out, and has since recruited another councillor who crossed the floor. Labour now governs in a coalition with Conservatives and Independents alliance, LibDems and the City Independent group.

So much for the form of local politics. What of their content? Mike identified five interrelated problems. One, the poor quality of local councillors. Two, a clear lack of bold strategic thinking in any of the local parties. Three, the culture of localism. Fourth, the absence of a civically-minded educated middle class. And lastly, the tendency of the system and parties to store up long term political animosities.

On top of political instability, there has been a constant churn in the city’s administration. Between 2001-10, the council got through six chief executives, five directors of social services, and three finance officers. This lack of inbuilt expertise has seen the council pay out (on average) £6m annually to various consultancies. Even worse, up until the government’s bonfire of the quangos, city governance was parcelled out among the city council, the Renew Housing Partnership, the N Staffs Regeneration Partnership, and Local Strategic Partnerships. It’s pretty clear who was responsible for the traditional functions of local government, but which body was in charge of the regeneration process?

These problems have been partially addressed by a governance commission that was appointed in 2007. Its brief was:

1) To consider options about future governance arrangements for Stoke-on-Trent Council to deliver that strong, effective and accountable leadership that the city needs to address the economic, social and cohesion challenges which it faces.
2) To give consideration to governance across the wider public/private sector and to the importance of economic regeneration and community cohesion.
3) To consider the relationship between Stoke-on-Trent and the wider sub-regional/regional/national bodies including other Local Authorities and their partners within the region.

It recommended the setting up of a further body – the ‘transition board’ – to make further recommendations for sorting out the city’s governance. It concluded by favouring all-out four-year elections, single member wards, fewer councillors, member development, more devolved decision-making, working to improve the council machinery, and improving community engagement. After much wrangling councillors will be reduced from 60 to 44, and council ward boundaries redrawn with the majority of them becoming single member (owing to behind the scenes fudges, some will move to two member wards, and one will remain three member). For Mike this strikes at the root of many of the petty rivalries that have grown up between councillors representing the same patch, and the move to four-yearly allows the necessary space for longer term strategic planning.

But this doesn’t go far enough. He would like to see the council concentrate on core functions and facilitate voluntary organisations and social enterprises take over some of the ancillary services it currently provides. He wants to see a drive to develop the civic capacity of Stoke’s communities to produce the ambitious and competent cadre of politicians the city needs.
And Mike also called for more cooperation between N Staffs councils, businesses, quangos and other interested bodies to deliver a proper plan for the city and its hinterland.

While I didn’t agree with all of Mike’s presentation, it did provide plenty of food for thought. Regards ‘civic capacity’ this is where political parties come in. At the moment Stoke Central CLP is in the process of renovating itself. For the first time in years it’s been conducting regular political work inbetween elections, which is starting to reap the benefits from in terms of new recruits and, for want of a better word, “reconnection”. Similarly internally the party’s rolling out a programme of political education in conjunction with activism to develop all members’ strengths. The culture of bureaucracy and deference is slowly being eroded, allowing space for new members to grow and assume responsibilities. But this process is long, slow and painstaking.

A civic culture is, according to Will Hutton, one of the “soft” cultural props a successful and sustainable capitalism depends on (and, I would argue, an essential component for socialism too – but we’ll leave that by the by for now). Its absence in Stoke is one of the contributing factors to a generalised lack of internal capital accumulation that could see the city out of its doldrums. Therefore this isn’t just a problem that can be boiled down to atomised working class communities and privatised individuals: it’s one that afflicts existing business elites too. I don’t want to say much more as I’m involved in a couple of projects on the issue of civic culture and political participation, but as we shall see in the next post, there are important lessons that can be drawn from American experiences of declining cities.

Lastly, one cannot disagree with Mike’s view of time-scale. Whatever regeneration strategy tickles your political fancy it has to be long-term and consistently pursued. I grew up in and around Derby. Though it has its own set of problems and advantages, 20 years of consistent and tenacious pursuit of a coherent regeneration strategy has transformed the city to the point where it has the highest workplace wage base outside the South East. While Stoke’s situation is such that it’s unlikely to achieve parity with its more affluent neighbour, it is a useful exemplar of what vision and determination in local government can do.

Opportunity Knocks ““ Full Council 9 December 2010

A lot of things were discussed at full Council last Thursday and I could blog about many of them, but I thought I’d blog today on something that was just a bit different.

Petitions are often submitted to full Council, and the petitioner can request they are looked at by a relevant commitee ““ usually the petitions are to do with straight forward issues ““ parking problems, potential loss of services, or potentially controversial new services in particular areas ““ however we had one yesterday that was a suggestion, and specifically a suggestion to erect statues of two internationally-renowned heavy rock musicians somewhere in the City.

A suggestion has wafted around that this was a bit of a tongue-in-cheek petition, not really serious and a bit of a joke. Well, maybe it is, but I actually think it’s quite a good idea. The musicians in question ““ Slash, former lead guitarist with Guns’n’Roses and latterly of Slash’s Snakepit and Velvet Revolver, and Lemmy from Motorhead ““ both spent their early years in the City, and have large respective followings. Yes, another “Ëœfamous son’ of the Potteries, Robbie Williams, was not mentioned, and I have heard it said that this exclusion means it wasn’t a “Ëœserious suggestion’, but I don’t think we should discount it just because someone didn’t come with a fully costed, planned out idea ““ big oaks from little acorns grow!

We have a great many names who could feature in a Walk of Fame or a Park of Celebration, with names such as Gertie Gitana, Havergal Brian, Nick Hancock, Arnold Bennett alongside Lemmy and Slash, all celebrating the many creative individuals from Stoke-on-Trent who have gone on to feature in the popular culture of their time. It doesn’t have to be with formal statues, and would be an ideal use for one of the many smaller parks in the City.

No doubt some naysayer somewhere will doubt the pull of such a park ““ but in my defence, I hold up the famous Paris cemetery of Pere Lachaise, which is a tourist destination in its own right. Who would ever think a graveyard would attract hundreds of thousands of visitors, who wander between the graves of Jim Morrison, Noel Coward and George Bizet, amongst many many others? The cemetery was originally considered too far from the centre of Paris to be viable, but careful marketing began to attract people to the handful of “Ëœcelebrity’ graves; it now has over 330,000 “Ëœresidents’. Perhaps a bit morbid, but I think it illustates the influence of popular culture.

Of course, as a City we are not great at celebrating our own. Perhaps this should be a twin project, with a Park of Pottery also? So little celebrates the many great potters that gave us our name, and with the exception of the Potteries Museum, nowhere can you see the greats all together. Maybe we should just have a Park of the Potteries, celebrating all who have passed this way and gone on to make a great mark on the world? We could then include Reginald Mitchell, Oliver Lodge and others? A few statues of famous Potteries folk already exist around the City ““ Josiah Wedgwood outside Stoke Station, Sir Stanley Matthews in the City Centre and also outside the Britannia Stadium ““ and there is no reason why these can’t remain in their landmark positions, but a site that brought them altogether would really be something special and also probably a UK-first.

But then, perhaps our lack of properly celebrating the people who have made Stoke-on-Trent the place it is, is the problem? We are so unassuming that we think “Ëœour’ heroes don’t really figure on the national stage ““ and our history is “Ëœnothing special’, despite people like Matthew Rice of Emma Bridgewater highlighting that despite the industries that made places like Hull and Northampton, nowhere else is known by its main trade as we are ““ the Potteries.

We need to learn to love our City again ““ don’t get me wrong, I’m not pretending everything in the garden is rosy, but we have a lot of great things going for us and we need to see them as the opportunity they are, as other cities have done (look at Liverpool and the Albert Docks for a similar rags to riches story). We are blessed with fantastic parks all across the City, and now a suggestion that we celebrate two sons of Stoke who have made it (albeit that Slash and Lemmy may have only spent less than 20 years between them here, in their formative year). Let’s put the two together, take the opportunity, who knows where it might lead?

Full Steam Ahead For Titanic Charity Challenge

Customers will drink to their local’s favourite charities during a Cider Festival across five Staffordshire pubs.

Licensees at the Titanic Brewery pubs in Stoke-on-Trent, Stone and Stafford have each chosen a favourite charity to support during the festival this weekend.

Customers will be asked to support the good causes and the Potteries based brewery has agreed to match the money raised.

Landlady Cherryl Poppit of the Royal Exchange, Stone, has chosen to support a fund set up in the memory of a teenager from the town.

Joe Gilligan, a friend of a Royal Exchange employee, died last year at the age of 20 after suffering a brain tumour.

The Joe Gilligan Trust (www.joegilligantrust.com) has been set up in honour of the former pupil of St Joseph’s College, Trent Vale, to support and raise funds for children and young adults suffering cancer.

Other charities being supported are the RNLI (the Bulls Head, Burslem), the Douglas Macmillan Hospice (the Greyhound, Hartshill Road, Newcastle), Animal Lifeline (the White Star, Stoke) and the Katharine House Hospice, Stafford (the Sun Inn, Stafford).

“I will also be taking part in a series of fund raising challenges against my co-manager Steve, such as pork pie eating, bar billiards and blind beer tasting.”
“The pub has had a long association with the RNLI and will once again raise money for this vital cause this weekend.

“Port Vale are at home to Accrington Stanley on Friday and I am hoping supporters will come in on their way to and from the match to help us become the most charitable Titanic pub.”

The festival begins on Friday night and runs throughout Saturday and Sunday. A range of craft brewed ciders will be available alongside Titanic’s range of award winning real ale.

Eleanor Heath Exhibition Comes To Burslem’s Old Post Office Gallery

The Old Post Office Gallery Burslem is proud to introduce Eleanor Heath, the new contemporary Artist that has taken residency within the gallery’s studios.

Eleanor’s exciting paintings are a contemporary mix of colour and design. Incorporating both floral and geometric ideas.

After graduating in 2002 from Liverpool John Moore’s University with a degree in Fine Art, Eleanor worked at the Victoria and Albert Museum. She has since returned to The Potteries to become a full time artist.

Throughout her career she has sold paintings to Swiss Life and the NHS.

Eleanor takes her inspiration from nature, investigating the forms and colours that we can find within our surrounding environment. Furthermore she investigates the sense of mood and emotion that influence these perceptions. Drawing influence from the likes of Bridget Riley, Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and Damien Hirst, she is successful in creating evoking minimalist pieces, pieces that contain a subtle mix of varying emotions and natural forms. Her use of complimentary tones and simplistic shapes has allowed her to develop into an exciting contemporary artist.

This exhibition is the perfect chance to buy the work of a local emerging artist, perfect for interior design and anyone with a love of minimalist art. Both original works and prints will be available.

The exhibition opens on 23rd July at 6:30pm and runs until 1st August. General opening times: Monday ““ Saturday, 10am ““ 4pm

For more information please visit www.oldpostofficegallery.co.uk

Stoke-on-Trent Opens Up For London 2012 Open Weekend

Four events, including a torchlight night, at the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery form part of London’s 2012 Open Weekend (23 ““ 25 July 2010).

The events in the city are part of a series of activities across the country which will take place to celebrate the final two years until the London 2012 Olympic Games and to provide access to excellence in the arts, culture and sport.

London 2012 Open Weekend enables everyone to share in the excitement of the Games, be inspired, get involved, unleash creativity and challenge themselves to try something new. In Stoke-on-Trent visitors can challenge themselves to:

* Explore the Staffordshire Hoard by torchlight. Join staff at the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery on Friday 23 July at 7pm until 8.30pm. Visitors will also experience traditional Saxon storytelling and riddling and have the opportunity to discuss the latest theories about the Hoard. The all ticket event costs £5 and includes a glass of wine or soft drink. Please book in advance as places are limited telephone 01782 232323.

* Walk get fit and have fun. The walk organised by the Federation of Stadium Communities takes place on Friday 23 July. Walkers should meet at 1pm outside Burslem Park Pavilion, Moorland Road. The activity is free.

* “ËœGo for Gold’ by trying your hands at the new children’s trail on the theme of gold at the Potteries Museum & Art Galley. Throughout the weekend of 24 and 25 July youngsters can also meet a Saxon and on Saturday listen to storytelling. These activities are free.

* Discover and identify a variety of plants and animals on a Wildflower Meadow Safari at Park Hall Country Park. This fun family activity will introduce adventurers to some of the wildlife that can be found in and around the beautiful wildflower meadows at Park Hall. Meet at Park Hall Country Visitor Centre, off Hulme Road, Weston Coyney at 1.30pm. The event will last approximately two hours. To book your place on this free activity call the visitor centre on 01782 331889.

The Open Weekend, supported by BP, is an annual UK wide celebration counting down to the start of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
It will include hundreds of events across the UK from sport to art, dance to exhibitions. Each event features a special challenge.

Councillor Hazel Lyth Cabinet member for Sport said:

“London 2012’s Open Weekend is a brilliant initiative which gives people in Stoke-on-Trent the chance to take part in the London 2012 experience right here where they live. It also provides an opportunity to do something new as we mark the two year countdown to the beginning of the Games in 2012. There are lots of engaging events across Staffordshire already signed up for Open Weekend but there will be even more by the time the weekend arrives ““ something for everyone to join in with.”

All London 2012 Open Weekend events taking place in North Staffordshire are listed. Residents can join the celebrations across the region and plan their weekend at www.london2012.com/openweekend.