Potteries won’t restore out fortunes

The contrast couldn’t be more stark. The front page of Saturday’s Sentinel informed us that Burslem’s great white elephant – Ceramica – had finally closed its doors.
Yesterday’s paper then ran with the story that Alton Towers was unveiling a new, multi-million pound white-knuckle ride to pack in even more visitors after a record-breaking year.
Our weekend edition told the sorry tale of an ill-conceived venture, badly executed which had cost an awful lot of public money and never attracted anywhere near as many visitors as was hoped it would.
Monday’s paper revealed plans by a renowned, privately-run business to raise the bar even higher in order to maintain its reputation as the premiere attraction of its kind in the UK.
I appreciate that mentioning Ceramica and Alton Towers in the same breath is akin to comparing crab apples with green D’Anjou pears.
However, the raison d’être of both is to attract tourists.
You see, despite the fact that most of us knew it was doomed from the start, a lot of nonsense has since been talked about Ceramica.
A few people have bemoaned the loss of its hands-on exhibits, pointed out that schools and the disabled used the venue, and asked where people will go now to find out more about the history of the Potteries.
Pardon me, but don’t we have a perfectly good museum in Hanley with a world-class collection of ceramics?
If anyone wants to look at some old crocks or find out a bit more about the grim days of smokey Stoke then they just have to take a trip to the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery or Gladstone Pottery Museum.
The simple truth is that pottery isn’t that exciting – particularly to younger generations.
Imagine the kitchen table conversation in your average home…
“Right kids, it’s a sunny day so we’re off out. We can either go to Alton Towers and have a go on the rides, go to see the animals at Chester Zoo or make a pot at Ceramica. What do you fancy?”
This is what I mean when I describe Ceramica as ill-conceived.
Whoever believed that such an attraction would bring 100,000 plus visitors a year into Burslem must have been having a laugh.
Just 98of the 7,400 visitors in 2009/10 paid the full £4.10 adult admission charge. I rest my case.
Ceramica may have had the best, most committed staff and trustees of any tourist attraction in the UK but if the core product is dull then they were fighting a losing battle from day one.
The closure of this dreadful carbuncle is a wake-up call – not just for Burslem, but for the city as a whole.
We should be rightly proud of our unique industrial heritage but must stop putting too much faith in its power to resurrect our fortunes.
When people travel any distance or shell out their hard-earned cash to visit tourist attractions they want to be wowed, entertained or taken away from the hum-drum of daily life – which is why Alton Towers is such a magical and enormously-successful venue.
People can find cups, saucers, pots and plates on the draining board at home without paying for the privilege.
Whatever new purpose the city council comes up with for the Mother Town’s magnificent, Grade II-listed Town Hall I just hope and pray that is different enough and innovative enough to ensure the old girl is regularly packed out – rather than barely-used as it has been since 2003.
We need to think long and hard about not just the kind of attractions we think will breathe new life into towns like Burslem but also how we can re-brand Stoke-on-Trent to outsiders.
Is the ‘Potteries’ tag a help or a hindrance these days – because we all know that there are precious few people still working in the industry on which our six towns was built.
Alton Towers continues to be successful because it is constantly re-inventing itself while remaining true to its core values.
It strikes me that Stoke-on-Trent could learn an awful lot from this hugely-successful, money-making machine on our doorstep.

One thought on “Potteries won’t restore out fortunes

  1. Jase Lancaster says:

    True in part, but I think we can make much of the pottery industry to move us into the future.

    Large-scale pottery manufacture is never going to be the mainstay of our local economy but there is no reason why specialist production (such as that of Dudson’s, Emma Bridgewater and numerous other companies) and art-pottery should not remain a decent proportion of the area’s output and income, and could be something that makes us different from other post-industrial cities around the country. There are also a lot of fine production and other skills that could be transferred into other high-value industries such as electronics with a little investment and imagination.

    The big problem with Ceramica was not that the idea of celebrating our pottery heritage was weak but that it was based in Burslem (a town that is already pretty much gone) and that it was based on having a few pots in there. A model we should look at for celebrating our heritage is that of Ironbridge which draws a significant number of tourists based on a heritage no more important than ours. However, it does this not by having museums full of different lumps of iron, but by telling the story of iron production through the remaining buildings and artefacts and links it to the modern world. With a little creativity, we could move those historic parts of our city from derelict ruins to integral parts of our past and future. Looking at the model of Alton Towers is a great idea – they demonstrate the sort of vision our city has been lacking for too long.

    I’ll shut up now – you managed to hit on a particular bug-bear of mine! 🙂

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