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Stoke CEP Tea Party: Cultural Organisations Show Their Dedication to Young People

So the deadline is fast approaching – this Thursday we will find out if Stoke-on-Trent’s bid to become UK City of Culture 2021 has been successful. There is some tough competition, but what is clear is that promoting the cultural offerings of Stoke-on-Trent is something that people in the city are fiercely passionate about. This was clearly evident this week at the first Stoke-on-Trent Cultural Education Partnership (CEP) event at Middleport Pottery.

Exactly one week prior to the City of Culture bid announcement, Stoke CEP gathered together many creative and cultural partners in one space to showcase what they have to offer the educational institutions of the city. There were big names, such as Wedgwood, mixed in with individual makers all coming together to show that there is not just a commitment to furthering the cultural agenda of the area, but also to ensuring that young people are fully involved and aware of their heritage and the benefits of creative pursuits.

It was apt that the ‘Govian’ reign on the curriculum, referring to Micheal Gove as Education Secretary, was mentioned during the opening speech by Nicky Twemlow, Chair of Stoke CEP and Community Manager at YMCA North Staffs. Because for those of us involved within the education sector the effect of this marginalisation of creative subjects has been deeply felt. It impacts upon children in myriad ways, from their physical and mental well-being, to their critical development. What is clear to those who were brought up in creative environments, is that it has benefits well beyond that of being able to paint and draw. I have written here about the tangible impact a good creative education can have.

It was not just the full room of creative individuals and businesses that agreed with this, but also the vast number of teachers from local schools that turned out to see what was on offer and how they could incorporate it into their school’s stretched timetable. In my short time working with the British Ceramics Biennial in Stoke-on-Trent it is clear that there is a vast appetite from teachers to engage their pupils with creative and cultural aspects of their education. This is even more keenly felt within the city because of its rich ceramics heritage.

Full house of creatives and educators at Middleport Pottery for Stoke CEP Tea Party

And this feels like a crucial junction in the history of Stoke-on-Trent to keep the cultural narrative alive. As many of the older generations know, Stoke-on-Trent is not just a place that is known for producing ceramics, it is an international pioneer of the trade. You find pottery from the area all over the world, and a Stoke-on-Trent back stamp is an internationally recognised symbol of quality. Yet, many young people are unaware of this.

I was recently invited to speak on BBC Radio Stoke on behalf of the BCB to comment on this. Out of the hundreds of school children that came through our doors at the China Hall in Spode during the BCB festival, only a tiny minority said they had a family member working in the ceramics industry. Had this question been posed a generation ago, then the answer would have been a stark contrast. As the majority of children in Stoke-on-Trent would have known someone, be it family member or friend, who worked in the ceramic industry. Yet, with the decline in manufacturing, this is now sadly not the case. And with it, we have the first generation of children who have lost that tangible connection to their cultural heritage.

What this means is that the children of Stoke-on-Trent are being deprived of not just knowledge of their heritage, but also a pride in their surroundings. How many know that products produced on their doorstep are internationally renowned? How many appreciate the impact of the innovation and design of ceramics produced in their city? How many are aware of their families connections to these landmarks of industry?

With this in  mind, it was so refreshing to see the amount of people, organisations and enthusiasm behind the Stoke CEP event. Here people were gathered to show their belief in the importance of cultural heritage and creative practice. But more importantly, there was an emphasis on how that can be passed on to the next generation. A gathering of people who are seeking to better the lives and expectations of the young people within the city and demonstrate that there is so much more to be offered than the current school curriculum provides.

This event punctuated why Stoke-on-Trent have such a strong claim to the UK City of Culture title. The people involved in the cultural landscape of this city are not just working with introspective intentions. This is not a bid to showcase the egos of the creative elite. The cultural landscape of Stoke-on-Trent and the people that populate it share a passion and enthusiasm to spread the word. To engage more people. To introduce young people to the benefits of a rich and vibrant cultural atmosphere. It is about raising aspirations and opinions of themselves, their heritage and the city.

Whether the title is awarded to Stoke-on-Trent or not, as a city it can move forward knowing that while the accolade of City of Culture would have been fantastic, the hard work of the people will remain. This is not just a group of individuals brought together for the bid, but movement that has gained an unstoppable momentum. The trajectory of Stoke-on-Trent as a cultural capital is assured, it just remains whether we get the much needed boost that City of Culture will undoubtedly bring its winner.




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