‘Close Ceramica? I thought it shut ages ago…’

It gives me no pleasure whatsoever to say that the writing was on the wall for Ceramica from the moment that eyesore was tacked on to Burslem’s beautiful Town Hall.
When news of the venue’s potential closure broke, The Sentinel’s editorial suggested that Ceramica’s epitaph may read: ‘a good idea, badly executed.”
I have to say that I disagree: It was a flawed concept, badly executed.
Proud as I am of the city’s industrial heritage and even my own family’s role in the pottery industry, I never thought Ceramica would succeed.
While the finished design of the new-build element may have pleased architects and arty types, many of us thought it looked completely incongruous.
In addition, estimates of visitor figures always seemed ludicrously optimistic to me.
‘Experts’ predicted Ceramica would bring in 100,000 visitors a year to the Mother Town. In actual fact, just 7,400 people visited the tourist attraction over the last 12 months. That is an appalling average of 28 visitors per day.
During the last four years the city council has given grants totalling £560,000 to Ceramica while the venue itself has generated just £75,000 in admission fees.
That’s just since 2007. In total, since the venue opened its doors, it has leeched more than £1 million from taxpayers who are still scratching their heads as to what the big idea was.
One wonders how else that money could have been better spent to help breathe life into Burslem.
What’s more, the historic, Grade II-listed Town Hall is depreciating in value by £57,000 a year because of this great white elephant.
So why did I doubt the Ceramica vision?
Because the fact is that a visitor centre and pseudo-museum that is dedicated to the ceramics industry was always going to be dull as dishwater to locals, never mind most visitors from outside North Staffordshire.
Let’s face it, many of us have cupboards full of crockery and – as much as we may be plate-turners at breakfast time in a Costa hotel – most of us can think of better things to do of a weekend than wandering around looking at pots.
When I told a friend of mine that Ceramica could face closure she replied, in all sincerity: “I thought it had shut ages ago.”
Enough said.
On reading that Ceramica was under threat, one newsroom colleague had an idea.
He suggested, given the shape of part of the venue – which is not too dissimilar to the prow of a ship, that it be turned into an exhibition centre dedicated to the memory of Captain Smith of Titanic fame.
You know, we could perhaps have a plaster cast of Celine Dion – arms outstretched – hanging off the pointy bit, that sort of thing.
Joking apart, if Ceramica is to close then the information and exhibits it contains should be retained – perhaps up at the excellent Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Hanley.
More importantly, it is essential that very quickly a new use be found for this iconic building in the very heart of Burslem.
The Mother Town simply can’t afford to have such a focal point standing empty.
I suppose it is too much to expect anyone to hold up their hands and admit that they got it wrong with our three-year late Millennium project.
But the very least we must do is ensure that Ceramica’s legacy isn’t simply to bequeath another empty building to a town that is already flatlining.


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