It’s time to be positive about our city centre

I’ve often said that we Stokies are far too slow to trumpet our achievements.
There is perhaps something in the water in the ST postcode area which makes us hide our light under the proverbial bushel.
Round here, we are simply not very good at shouting about what we do.
We tend not to get very excited about anything new and, thanks to the many follies and failures inflicted on us in recent years, we view change with a healthy dose of scepticism.
Other cities have mastered the art of maximising their potential.
We have mastered the art of talking ourselves down –preferring instead to whinge on about what what’s missing rather than focusing on what we’ve actually got.
Ever the optimist, I’ve a feeling that all this is about to change.
Why? One word: Hanley.
Even a confirmed Boslemite like myself can’t help but feel excited about the regeneration work taking place in and around the Hanley at present.
A few days ago I was fortunate enough to be taken on a tour around the new Mitchell Memorial Youth Arts Centre by my friend and Sentinel colleague Fred Hughes who is chairman of the trust which runs the ‘Mitch’ as we all know it.
The new £4.3 million venue officially opens its doors on Monday, September 5, to coincide with the start of Battle of Britain week and I can tell you that performers and punters alike are in for a real treat.
It is a piece of architecture to be proud of which walks that fine line of being unashamedly modern and functional while giving a respectful nod to the past.
With its Spitfire wing roof curving out like some protective arm round the shoulder of Piccadilly, the new Mitch is a state of the art venue worthy of the name of the man whose iconic aircraft design helped to turn the tide of the Second World War.
It boasts a revamped theatre/cinema, 1,000 square foot dance studio, updated dressing rooms and toilets, a new roof terrace and a glass-fronted café.
But it is the attention detail which proper Potters will love – such as the original blueprints of Reginald Mitchell’s legendary fighter plane writ large on decorative panels in the auditorium.
I dare say you won’t find a better community and performing arts centre anywhere in the UK and it is a wonderful addition to the Cultural Quarter.
But what excites me is that the new Mitch is just one piece in the jigsaw puzzle which is at last coming together to turn Hanley into something more than just the place where most of us do our shopping.
Just up the road, the renaissance of Bethesda Chapel continues at a sedate pace which rather suits the grand old lady.
But, make no mistake about it, when the refurbishment is completed in 2013, Bethesda will become the jewel in the Cultural Quarter’s crown.
As with the Mitch, the rebirth of the Methodist chapel draws heavily on the city’s heritage.
Together the magnificent Regent Theatre, these buildings will give us three very different venues for the performing arts, exhibitions and civic functions.
At the same time, senior staff at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery are drawing up proposals to bid for funding around the acquisition of the Staffordshire Hoard.
The potential afforded by the transformation of our showpiece museum by this breathtaking archaeological discovery is limitless.
Equally importantly, at long last we are going to get a new bus station. Wonders never cease.
Who knows, maybe soon someone at the Civic Centre will come up with a viable plan to make use of Hanley Town Hall – another architectural gem just waiting to be polished.
What’s more, the city council is spending several million pounds on improving the public realm in Hanley – that’s planner and architect-speak for the space in between private buildings – including pavements, streets, squares and parks.
In other words, they are going to make the city centre a much more attractive place for people to visit and work in which will hopefully help to drive outside investment.
I can’t remember a more exciting time for the heart of our city since the opening of the Potteries Shopping Centre.
Sure, there will be the usual nay-sayers but, just for once, I think we can afford to be positive and be proud of not only what we’ve got, but what is to come.


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