I've lived in Stoke for virtually all of my life, I went to primary school in Trent Vale, high school in Longton and have studied at Staffordshire and Keele universities. I’m from here, but I've never felt from here. If I'm honest I can take or leave oatcakes, I don't care about football, and I'm not a fan of Robbie Williams’ work;in my mind at least, that was enough to make me a stranger in my own home city.
Like many in this city and beyond, I had a long held impression of this city as being not worth the effort of believing in it – it was dated, looked into the past, and hung up on past wounds. Whenever there was talk of new building or regeneration project the naysayers would make themselves known, muttering at bus stops or setting the world to rights from their keyboard via the website of the Sentinel. I was lucky enough to have a job that involved a lot of travel, and paid enough for me to do more, so as much as I had an address in Stoke, I’d never ‘lived’ in the city.
That all changed when the desire to do a masters, and the part time job that I was forced to take meant that I was in Hanley every morning. Strolling from work to the bus station I would pass a newly opened coffee shop named tsp. As weeks passed and my weekly treat turned into a daily breakfast stop I started to get to know the owners Gav and Heather and admire not only the setup that they have – but their determination to open a quality coffee shop in Stoke-on-Trent. As people who spend a lot of time in large cities with a coffee culture will understand, the coffee game in Stoke has been off for a long time. As tsp. is as much a drop in centre for all that is great as much as it’s a coffee shop I soon started to see familiar faces, Rob and Andy from Entrepreneurs, Tom and Chris from Bottlecraft and Benedict from Wavemaker amongst others.
Through these people I discovered a love for Stoke that I never knew I had. I've been to a couple of the local Beers and Ideas sessions that are supported by Weather (with Bottlecraft kindly taking care of hydration) and mixing with like-minded folk has been the perfect antidote to doubting the local area. Spending time (and money) in local businesses, and at groups like Pilgrims Pit has convinced me of what's great about this city.
So yes, the pavements in Longton probably need a bit of work and Tunstall high street might have seen better days, but I don’t care; and I don't think any of us should care, beyond looking at all the towns as constituents of the city. City of culture 2021 gives the city, and the talent within it, the chance for exposure on a national scale. Having pride in your community is a wonderful thing - it is this passion that will allow us to build the momentum behind the City of Culture, but we need to move past a town mentality. Be as proud of living in Fenton as you want to be, but tell people that you’re from Stoke-on-Trent. Tell people that you're from a city of talented artists, ceramicists and musicians, bursting with creativity and full of pride. And be proud of it.
A couple of months ago I wrote a blog post about the city, and marvelled at the self-doubt that one city can possess. People from Stoke talk about failed projects, derelict bus stations and teenage pregnancy when we could be talking about stunning ceramic design work, a burgeoning EDM and Indie music scene, free independent festivals, independent businesses, two fantastic universities and the resilience of a people who despite thirty years of economic and political knocks are still determined to have their day. Over one hundred years ago, those who came before us developed the technical skill to mass produce a luxury product, market it, ship it worldwide and turn a profit – turning the name of our city into a synonym for excellence in design while they were at it.
It's taken me 36 years to discover how much I love Stoke, I don't want anybody else to wait that long, because it turns out that oatcakes, football and former Take That members don't even scratch the surface of what we’ve got.