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Congratulations, Stoke-on-Trent – Shortlisted for City of Culture 2021!

Stoke-on-Trent has been shortlisted for City of Culture, 2021!


It was with nervous anticipation that I sat waiting for the 10pm special show on BBC Radio Stoke to start on Friday night. Usually at this time the station would be streaming shows from the wider area as their own local programming had finished for the evening. But this was no ordinary day. And Stoke-on-Trent was waiting for a very special announcement.

Why the DCMS (Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport) had decided to announce the City of Culture shortlist at 10.30pm on a Friday night is a mystery – most people are out fully submerged in such culture at this time! But as someone who has been following the bid process of Stoke-on-Trent for some time, I was eager to hear the news as it happened. 

The show started with a brief history of how the bid started. It was a blog by Paul Williams, Head of the Business School at Staffordshire University, that originally noted the potential for Stoke-on-Trent as a strong City of Culture candidate. This was then picked up by local BBC Radio Stoke journalist, Sarah Robertson, who contacted Williams to ask about the real possibility of this proposition. The idea has gained momentum from there, with local artists, businesses, organisations, and members of the public all getting behind the bid and championing the rich cultural history of their beloved city.

I wrote a while back about how my recent experiences in Stoke-on-Trent, experiencing its rich cultural landscape first-hand, have made me an ardent advocate for the City of Culture bid (read about that here). But what became clear listening to the show on Friday night, is that there are many other ways in which Stoke-on-Trent meets the criteria to be a worthy contender.

One of the callers emphasised that a major aspect of the City of Culture is the notion of history and regeneration. Well, if it’s cultural history you want, Stoke-on-Trent has it in droves! Its ceramic industry has international prestige. The moniker of ‘the potteries’ is well-earned, and many of the best-known and respected ceramics companies were formed and established in the six towns that make up the city of Stoke-on-Trent.

Yet, despite this international reputation, as with many industries, increased outsourcing and mechanisation led to the closing of many of the iconic ceramics factories of the city. Recently I have been working at Spode, one of these prestigious ceramics brands. Since the factory site closed in 2008, there has been a lot of work behind the scenes to ensure that the legacy of Spode is not lost. The factory itself, sits on the same site acquired by Josiah Spode in 1776 to start his business, in the heart of Stoke. It is one of the only original industrial revolution factory sites to still remain, so is not just of cultural importance to Stoke-on-Trent, but also national historical significance.

The site is currently undergoing some much needed renovation, after many areas remained unused since the factory closure. Like Middleport and Wedgwood, the ambitions for the Spode site are a creative hub; a family destination where people can experience myriad aspects of Stoke’s vibrant cultural output. This is only possible, however, with the dedication and hard work of the MiddleportTrustees. Often the starting point for this involves securing the appropriate funding to see the vision for the future of the site realised.

Spode just the type of place that would benefit exponentially from Stoke-on-Trent achieving City of Culture in 2021. Yet, this is only one example. As a recent series of exhibitions in the city highlighted, there are many architecturally significant and beautiful buildings that need the investment to secure their future (Read how Dust used old buildings within the city to for its exhibition series here). With many of these historic buildings being unused and in need of attention, it seems that the appointment of Stoke-on-Trent as City of Culture in 2021 could be crucial to saving these places from disrepair and dereliction.

That is, while Stoke-on-Trent certainly embodies the cultural history needed to qualify it for City of Culture, it is also vital that it receives the regeneration promised by the award as well. While it is true that the groundswell of people who have taken on many of these tasks themselves to rejuvenate the city, and come together to back the  bid, has been hugely successful, the benefits seen by Hull from its current City of Culture status would only boost these efforts further.

As the shortlist was announced on Friday evening the excitement of the city was plain to see. If you needed any more proof that Stoke-on-Trent was serious about its City of Culture bid, then you only had to look to Twitter, where the #SoT2021 was the only one of the shortlisted cities to feature in the top UK trends. This is not a bid envisioned by a small group within the chambers of the city council, this is a ground-roots movement of artists, businesses, arts and culture organisations, and members of the public who love the city they live in and value its cultural heritage and future.

So, while I am looking forward to learning about all of the other cities on the shortlist, Coventry, Paisley, Sunderland, and Swansea, I am still firmly backing Stoke-on-Trent as they start their next phase preparing their City of Culture bid. So look out for more Stoke-based cultural greatness on here in the months to come!

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