It is a good time to be a creative working in Stoke on Trent. The City of Culture bid looms large on the horizon, a bid that in my opinion, we can secure. There is a common goal uniting artists regardless of their medium; we all want the spotlight to be shined on us.
Moreover, why not? Why is our city not deserving of such a title?
A friend of mine recently told me that Stoke on Trent has always been a city of culture. Our city was founded on the thriving pottery industry, that at one time was the envy of the world. Aside from which, we are home to one of the finest writers of the Edwardian Period in Arnold Bennett, (a literary hero of mine), and I am pleased to have contributed to the founding of an award for local authors in his name. Our history is riddled with individuals who have contributed culturally, and I believe so is our future.
In my short career I have been fortunate enough to work with a diverse selection of local artists and creatives, collaborating on numerous projects, and lately, those chances seem to be appearing more frequently.
For example, I attended my first fringe event this month. “Speak Out” was a politically motivated scratch night, hosted by Official Culture, and it attracted a larger crowd that most events I’d travelled to London to be a part of. This is to be applauded, and as a local playwright, I can only implore more of the theatre/drama groups in the city to host similar events. It is great travelling to London/Bath etc. to see my work performed, but I (as well as many other aspiring playwrights) would much prefer to see my work appear on local stages. I have a good feeling with regards to the Stoke fringe circuit and feel that infused with the positivity of the bid and the new student blood seeping into the arts community; we are on the cusp of what could potentially be a colossal wave of new theatre nights.
As I work predominantly as an author, I must highlight the work of a couple of writers groups. City Voices (based on Hanley Library) are a fantastic and friendly group. I had the privilege of working with them last year and was impressed by their commitment and output. Emma George (who works at the City Central Library) is a motivated promoter of the written word and is an absolute credit to the city. She has introduced several author events that welcome new and established writers and give them the chance to read snippets of their work to an eager and supportive audience. Again, I can see more of these types of groups/events cropping up as momentum builds for the City of Culture bid.
I am all too aware of those writers (myself included) who busy ourselves, hidden away from the world, striving to create in solitude. Writing can be an isolating experience, and I want to make you all aware that there are plenty of talented writers and publishers working in the area.
Having only limited experience with filmmaking, I do feel that as an area we are seriously lacking. Yes, several talented individuals are working locally in the medium of cinema, but we, as a city seem to offer little in the way of support. I was fortunate to win an award for Best UK Short at the Stoke Your Fires Film Festival, which is now, unfortunately, defunct. In my opinion, our bid is significantly weakened by its absence, and I can only hope that the council see fit to reinstate it shortly. Such a festival would inspire a new generation of filmmakers to try their hand, as well as highlight the efforts of those already working in the area, locally and beyond.
I have always been proud to promote literacy and the arts locally, having visited several schools and community groups and seeing at grass roots level, the enthusiasm and desire to read and to be read. That passion will never fade, and as the city prepares its final bid, I can only see more opportunities for like-minded creatives to get involved, feeding what is already a fledgeling scene, strengthening it into one that we can all be proud.
The creatives of Stoke on Trent are coming, and the wider world is in for a surprising treat.