Time to back sure-fire winners which matter to our Six Towns

The Sentinel's front page reporting the £20m city council cutbacks.

The Sentinel’s front page reporting the £20m city council cutbacks.

When you’re staring down the barrel of £20 million cuts, every penny really does count.

The truth is that because of the way the squeeze is being applied to local authorities, in a few short years practically all they will be responsible for will be the most basic of statutory services.

What that means is the non-essential stuff inevitably diminishes or is lost altogether.

Departments such as sport and leisure and facilities like museums and libraries will see their budgets scaled back enormously as councillors focus on what they have to deliver by law.

So the street lights will stay on, bins will be emptied, children’s services and adult social care will be ring-fenced. But in all honesty virtually everything else local authorities are responsible for will be up for discussion.

Here in Stoke-on-Trent, where the public sector cutbacks are being felt as keenly as any other city in the UK, councillors have attempted in recent years to protect frontline services as Whitehall has slashed and burned.

Now there’s very little wriggle-room left and how the comparatively small amount of money which doesn’t cover the costs of essential services is spent, will come under greater scrutiny than ever before.

Things like the British Ceramics Biennial (BCB), hosting the Tour Series cycle ride events, the staging of summer pop concerts or the City of Stoke-on-Trent Sports Awards will all have to be carefully considered.

The problem is they cost money. Some cost a lot more than you’d think. And taxpayers will want to know there is a tangible benefit to the city in staging or hosting such events.

They will want to know what is gained from them. They will ask about the benefits of having highlights of a bicycle race which starts in the city being shown on ITV4. Does it really boost trade in the city centre and has there been a huge spike in the numbers of people cycling locally?

Is it better instead to continue with a 39-year tradition of honouring local sportsmen and women and inspiring future stars from our patch with an event which is a fraction of the cost?

Taxpayers will want to know how the BCB, an event which most people in the city don’t understand, don’t know is happening and will never attend, helps to raise the profile of the city.

More to the point, they will ask how pottery manufacturers who employ local people benefit from it in terms of increased sales and new contracts.

They will want to know if it really is worth paying hundreds of thousands of pounds towards the cost of a garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

Does it really help to attract investment? If so, they will say, then show us the money.

We really will have to get down to brass tacks now because the time for gambles and indulgences is over.

It is time instead to back sure-fire winners and to protect the things which really matter to people here in the Six Towns. It is time to safeguard things like free admission to the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery which houses exhibits such as the priceless Staffordshire Hoard, the city’s Spitfire and an unrivalled, world-class collection of ceramics.

Now isn’t the time to start charging admission fees for somewhere like this. Instead, let’s make the museum the best it can possibly be – somewhere tourists marvel at and people boast about.

Let’s put in place plans to protect the fabulous Mitchell Youth Arts Centre, The Regent theatre, the Victoria Hall and Bethesda Chapel because, let’s face it, without them there would be no such thing as a ‘Cultural Quarter’.

Let’s protect the libraries which have chronicled local life for decades – places where the less well-off, the students and mums with young children can congregate to laugh and learn.

Let’s invest in the people of the Potteries – from better pitches for the Ladsandads leagues and better facilities for am-dram productions to making the tradition that is the Potters’ Arf bigger and better.

Let’s shout about Robbie Williams and Sir Stan and Reginald Mitchell and Arnold Bennett and all the greats our city has produced.

Let’s be proud of our history and heritage and fight to protect buildings like the deteriorating Wedgwood Big House in Burslem or the under-threat Fenton Town Hall with its unique Great War memorial.

Personally, I‘d far rather money be spent on giving the people of Fenton a focal point for events in their town than paying a company from outside the city to create a short-lived garden in London that none of us will ever see.

To my mind, if we want others to invest in our city then we need to polish what we have across the Six Towns rather than putting all our eggs in Hanley’s basket and spending money on vanity projects which yield little in the way of results.

It’s time we started looking after our own and trumpeting the wonderful assets Stoke-on-Trent has which other cities would be making a virtue of.

One thing’s for sure: If we don’t, no-one else will.

Read my Personally Speaking columns in The Sentinel every Friday.

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It’s good that local people can be bothered to take a stand

The March on Stoke protesters.

The March on Stoke protesters.

Politically-speaking, Stoke-on-Trent has been a basket case for so long that a good many people have stopped caring about who runs the local council and don’t bother to vote.

That’s if they ever did, of course.

I’m convinced this isn’t just a case of common or garden voter apathy.

I think people are now so battered by town hall scandals and cock-ups – such as the Dimensions debacle – that they view politics locally as broken.

That doesn’t mean they think everyone who works for the city council is rubbish. Far from it.

It simply means that there is a perception that some of the people voted in to represent taxpayers in Stoke-on-Trent either aren’t up to the job or have displayed self-interest time and time again.

They can’t understand why the same people – tarred with the brush of failed plans and media exposés – are still involved in local politics.

Taxpayers can’t have been too enamoured either with the bizarre decision to advertise incompetence and a simple lack of humanity via the BBC mockumentary The Year The Town Hall Shrank.

I think we can also add in to the mix a general feeling of ‘it’s pointless voting because Labour will get in anyway’ – never a healthy status quo at any level, irrespective of the party involved.

These are perhaps the reasons that an extremist group like the BNP was able to gain a foothold in recent years.

Once it did, the unpalatable truth is that some of the party’s members proved to be decent ward councillors – irrespective of what people may think of the BNP’s stated policies and aims.

Ultimately, at a local level, I can well understand why a pensioner in Longton or Meir might eschew voting for mainstream parties if someone else came along who seemed only too willing to listen to their problems and make sure his or her bin was emptied and that the street lights were working.

I don’t doubt that Ukip will be eyeing the Potteries as somewhere it can legitimately expect some success at the next elections in 2015.

But, for me, what is more significant as we look to the future is that people who have shown no interest in climbing the greasy pole before are becoming political animals.

It is perhaps this threat which the ruling Labour group would do well to heed in the coming months.

Galvanised, among other things, by the decision to relocate the city council’s Civic HQ from Stoke to Hanley, protesters are turning to the polls in order to effect change.

The Potteries Towns and Villages Group (PTAV), which will become a formalised body later this week, plans to challenge for all 44 seats up for grabs at the local elections in two years’ time.

Founded by members of the action group March On Stoke, its stated aims include: To regenerate the city more equally (rather than just focusing on Hanley); To increase the number of senior council officials with strong ties to the city; And make local government ‘more open and transparent’.

All are laudable objectives which should play well with the electorate.

The fixation of current and previous administrations with the city centre (Hanley to the rest of us) has started to grate on people across the Potteries.

Yes, they will agree, we do need to have a defined city centre – a beating retail heart with cultural gems like the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, Regent Theatre, Victoria Hall, Mitchell Youth Arts Centre and Bethesda Chapel.

However, they would argue, this nurturing of Hanley need not be at the expense of Stoke-on-Trent’s other five towns.

Moving towards a situation where more of the local authority’s senior staff are born and bred Stokies, or at least have strong links with the city, is more tricky.

The idea of employing more key people who care about Stoke-on-Trent because they have a stake in it sounds good in principle but I’m not sure how this could be achieved in practice.

Making local government more transparent is an even more difficult objective but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be attempted.

Set aside for a moment the tier of bullet-proof senior officers within any local authority, the fact it is very hard to get elected members to admit mistakes or make themselves accountable for their actions.

Although perhaps this is where the members of PTAV, if enough people show interest in standing for the group, may have an advantage.

One of the reasons that local politics, and politics generally, is such a murky business, is that people are constrained by the rosettes they wear – whipped into toeing the party line.

PTAV members, you would hope, are putting their heads above the parapet precisely because they want local people to be represented by others who aren’t afraid to speak their minds.

There is no guarantee that this new movement will sustain its momentum or gain enough support over the next two years to make a dent at the ballot box.

However, the fact that they care enough to mount a challenge bodes well for the future of democracy in our city and will, at least, give the mainstream parties locally food for thought.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel

I’m proud of the latest piece in Hanley’s jigsaw puzzle

Hanley's new bus station.

Hanley’s new bus station.

In April 2001 Stoke-on-Trent was branded the worst place to live in England and Wales in a survey of hundreds of towns and cities.

The Potteries was placed at the bottom of a quality of life league table covering more than 370 council areas.

This damning judgement was made by researchers from global information solutions consultant Experian who pulled together data for the Sunday Times on subjects ranging from housing, jobs, traffic congestion and schools to crime and even shopping.

Other national newspapers then followed this up – with one tabloid even using a picture of Hanley Bus Station at its most depressing to reinforce the report’s findings.

While there was understandable outrage here in the city over the study’s findings, few could argue with the choice of image used by that one paper to represent our city centre.

The bus station looked like what it was – a grim, decaying, concrete carbuncle blighted by vacant shops.

If nothing else it backed up what most people in these parts had been saying for 20 years about the need for a new bus station.

I wonder what picture the red tops would use to show Stoke-on-Trent in a grim light in 2013?

Presumably one of the many areas of cleared land where the RENEW North Staffordshire Pathfinder project bulldozed scores of terraced homes.

Or perhaps some of the emails that were flirting about when certain people wanted to close Dimensions…

It certainly wouldn’t be our brand spanking new £15 million bus station which officially opened this morning.

I, for one, love this iconic piece of architecture which gives a nod to our heritage through the use of materials used in its construction but is also bold and modern in its design.

It’s the kind of development that makes a welcoming statement to visitors as they arrive in Hanley – irrespective of how far they have travelled.

Like I did when the enormous new Tesco opened up, I Tweeted proudly about the new bus station – having driven past it the other night when it was all lit up.

I was inevitably met with derision from those who simply couldn’t understand what I was getting excited about.

That’s because they aren’t from this neck of the woods.

Anyone who travelled on a PMT or Sammy Turner’s bus during the Eighties and Nineties and either arrived at or left from Hanley Bus Station will tell you they couldn’t wait to get out of there.

It was dark, dirty and graffiti-strewn and only the smell of freshly-baked bloomer loaves from the bakery in the underpass could hide the smell of urine.

The bus station, shopping area (I use that term loosely) and the multi-story car park were well past their use-by date and we could all see it.

Yes the powers-that-be have gone and called it Stoke-on-Trent City Centre Bus Station in their quest to airbrush one of the Six Towns out of history but we locals will all still refer to it as Hanley Bus Station.

Whatever its name, we should be proud that another piece of the jigsaw puzzle has fallen into place.

First Tesco. Now the bus station. If we can: Revamp the Potteries Museum to better showcase the Staffordshire Hoard, our Spitfire and our pots; Finish the restoration of Bethesda Chapel; Find a new use for the old Town Hall and secure that oddly-titled new shopping complex we will genuinely have a city centre worthy of the name.

In the meantime, I’m sure Ambassador Theatre Group – which operates The Regent Theatre and Victoria Hall – along with other city centre businesses must be chuffed to bits that a) the bus station work is complete and b) that the new main terminus is hi-tech, clean and safe.

There’s an awful lot of negativity about the city centre at the moment – especially from those campaigning against the council moving its Civic Centre to the new Central Business District.

There are those who feel that Hanley (or the city centre as we’re supposed to start calling it) gets all the cash and all the effort at the expense of Burslem, Fenton, Longton, Stoke and Tunstall.

While I would agree that more needs to be done to help each of the towns develop its own unique selling point I can also understand what the city council is trying to do up ’Anley.

The ambition is to create a powerful brand and, like it or not, Hanley has been the beating heart of the Potteries for many years.

To that end I’m genuinely thrilled to see the new bus station open and I am now looking forward to the completion of the City Sentral shopping centre.

Even if it is a daft name.

Read my Personally Speaking columns in The Sentinel every Tuesday

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.

Festive period is the time to view our city in a new light

Later this week the city is going to throw the kitchen sink at its showpiece Christmas Lights switch-on event.
In addition to the usual trees and decorations, various buildings around Hanley will be lit up or open late as a one-off – showing the city centre in a completely new light.
They are calling it Light Night.
It wasn’t our idea – other cities have beaten us to it. Nevertheless, there’s no denying it’s a great way of showcasing some of Hanley’s architectural gems and opening people’s eyes to places they wouldn’t ordinarily take notice of.
Places like the Mitchell Memorial Youth Arts Centre, or, just up the road, the little-known AirSpace art gallery in that beautiful Victorian building on the corner of Broad Street.
We have a museum housing wonderful archaeological treasures and one of the finest theatres in the country.
Why shouldn’t we show them off?
At this time of grim austerity and in the wake of so many job cuts some may argue that shelling out tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money on free entertainment, carnival costumes and even more baubles is an extravagance we simple can’t afford.
But if you ask me it is money well spent and exactly the kind of event we should be staging to help lift spirits and generate trade.
After all, we can’t consider ourselves to be a proper city if we aren’t able to put on a bit of a show to herald the start of the Christmas shopping bonanza.
So let’s stop moaning about how long the selection boxes have been on sale for.
Never mind how many times you have to listen to Slade on a loop in every shop.
Who cares how much it costs to park on the multi-storey?
The fact is we need the magic of Christmas now more than ever and we should enjoy every twinkling fairy light and every minute of the countdown – no matter how early it begins.
If you are from Stoke-on-Trent and of a certain age then a trip up to Fountain Square on Thursday afternoon should bring back some fond memories.
Yes, I know the other towns will all be having their own switch-on events but the truth is that it is shopping in Hanley that is a huge part of Christmas for generations of Potters.
Like me, you’ll no doubt recall standing in the freezing cold at some time waiting for the Santa parade to go past.
Like me you may also remember queuing for what seemed like an eternity to have two minutes with Father Christmas inside the wonderland that was the toy department at Lewis’s department store.
As much as I love Burslem, so much of Christmas is wrapped up in Hanley for me, and even I can appreciate just how important the success of the city centre is to the local economy.
That is why I’m hoping that Thursday’s shenanigans, coupled with the opening of the mammoth new Tesco superstore, will be just the shot in the arm Hanley needs.
Events like Light Night are what reinforce Hanley’s status as the city’s retail heart and anything which helps to draws the crowds and encourages them to spend money has to be a good thing.
Helpfully, Thursday is also highlighting what work remains to be done in order to create a city centre to be proud of.
If we can finally get the bus station rebuilt, restore Bethesda Chapel and think of a better use for the beautiful Town Hall then we will have a Cultural Quarter worthy of the name and a town capable of attracting shoppers from further afield as well as tourists.
There are those who bemoan the commercialisation of Christmas and urge us to remember the real “reason for the season”.
But why can’t we enjoy both?
For many of us a day-long present-buying expedition to Hanley, a visit to Santa’s Grotto in the Potteries Shopping Centre or a night out to see the Regent Theatre’s pantomime are as much a part of Christmas as turkey with all the trimmings or listening to carols from King’s.

Why all this ‘woe is us’ when the glass is actually half full?

Bethesda Chapel in Hanley.

Bethesda Chapel in Hanley.

If I had a quid for every time someone had written Stoke-on-Trent off, put us down, belittled us, taken the mickey out of us or moaned about our lot during my time at The Sentinel then I’d be a very rich man.

There is one letter writer who starts every missive with ‘It beggars belief’ (honestly) while another uses every possible obtuse angle and off-beat topic as a stick to beat ‘lazy Civic Centre staff’ with.

If you believe the doom-mongers then Whitehall always ignores us, the city council is utterly hopeless and beyond redemption and even our professional, showpiece pantomime is a second class affair.

I’ve come to the conclusion that our default position here in the Potteries is ‘woe is us’.

What’s worse is that we cast around looking for scapegoats while waiting for someone else to ride to the rescue of our economy/local services/The Regent Theatre panto – insert as applicable.

(I am currently picturing one of the Chuckle Brothers or Russ Abbott passing through Hanley on a white horse).

Well, as a journalist for 20 years, I have more right than most to be cynical.

After all, I’ve read and written about the unfairness of central Government funding and the ineptitude of local authorities many times.

As for the aforementioned Christmas show, I grew a beard for it and embarrassed myself in front of 25,000 people and so I know exactly what goes into it.

Today I’m going to set the record straight.

Firstly, there is no cavalry coming over the hill any time soon to create tens of thousands of new jobs to replace those lost in our traditional industries.

By the same token, there is no quick fix to the problem of our sink estates, our poor housing, our obesity problems, our teenage pregnancy rate, our low aspirations or even our propensity to wallow in self-pity.

Basically, to all intents and purposes, we’re on our own and it is therefore time we rolled our sleeves up and started dealing with our own problems.

Gloomy as that sounds, I’m also here to tell you that, despite what others may think, the glass here in North Staffordshire is actually half full.

I believe we stand at a crossroads. We are just a few jigsaw pieces away from the great economic, social and cultural renaissance of our area.

For example, we are only a new bus station, a Bethesda Chapel restoration and a Staffordshire Hoard exhibition away from having a Cultural Quarter worth the name.

I sense a growing momentum for change borne out of decades of frustration and a long-overdue acknowledgement that North Staffordshire has many strengths which are ripe for exploitation.

Yes, occasionally, organisations or individuals must be held to account when they drop a clanger.

But now is definitely not the time to stick the knife in or to be perpetuating this myth that somehow anything and everything that happens in the ST postcode area is either doomed to failure or second rate.

I’m fed up of hearing the negativity and reading about all the things we can’t do.
What about the things we can do?

On Saturday my day spent at the Victoria Hall was filled with pride and optimism in North Staffordshire – or should I say its people?

I watched all ages overcome their nerves and try their very best to reach the finals of this year’s Stoke’s Top Talent competition.

The sheer joy in the faces of the dancers from The Masque Theatre Company summed up just how inspirational this aspirational event, championed by Jonathan Wilkes, truly is.

After judging Stoke’s Top Talent I headed over to a marquee in the Italian Gardens of the Trentham estate for another equally uplifting occasion.

It was the launch of the Realise Foundation – a new regeneration charity backed by Aspire Housing – which, among other things, aims to give young people the skills they need to find jobs while improving the local environment.

If any charity sums up the ethos required to break the cycle of apathy and to get North Staffordshire off its backside then the Realise Foundation is it.

What’s more, it’s a local charity run by local people.

Its patron? Jonny Wilkes.

Yes, our Jonny: The oft-maligned stage star who has single-handedly rescued The Regent Theatre’s Christmas show in the last five years – yet someone who still cops flak from the lazy and ill-informed who are happy to ignore cold commercial reality and the wishes of the majority of paying theatre-goers.

Oh well, you can’t win ’em all.

My mantra these days is pretty simple: Ignore the vocal minority. Stoke-on-Trent is going places – with or without the whingers.

Grand old lady has vital role to play in regeneration

Hanley Town Hall.

Hanley Town Hall.

For all its aesthetic problems, we should always take heart from the fact that the Potteries is blessed with a significant number of architectural gems.

Nowhere are beautiful buildings more prevalent than in the Mother Town of Burslem.

However, the city centre also has one or two special buildings which stand out from the urban sprawl – not least of which is Hanley Town Hall.

New plans to transform it into a hotel might surprise and upset a fair few people, but on this occasion I think the North Staffordshire Regeneration Partnership and Stoke-on-Trent City Council should be commended for their ambition.

Let’s face it, at present the grand old lady is as good as mothballed – barely used and far too big for the few council staff who rattle around inside.

As the local authority scratches about for cost savings, it seems barmy for taxpayers to be maintaining such a huge building for current uses – namely housing the city’s register office and the council’s licensing, tourism and trading standards departments.

If there’s one thing North Staffordshire is desperately short of, it is prestige hotel accommodation and where better to have it located than a cockstride from The Regent Theatre, The Victoria Hall and The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery?

Positioned as it is in Albion Street, the town hall should be one of the jewels of our Cultural Quarter.

As it is, it is like having a Rolls-Royce parked on your drive but never opening the doors.

Make no bones about it, this proposal is nothing like the ill-fated abomination of turning Newcastle’s historic Guildhall into a pub.

Let’s not forget that Hanley Town Hall was originally built as the Queen’s Hotel in 1869 and only became a civic building some 17 years later.

(There is no truth whatsoever in the rumour that the hotel’s owners sold up because they were so fed up of waiting for the bus station to be redeveloped).

Attracting visitors to Hanley and making them want to hang around is not simply a question of having places of interest to visit, good transport links and somewhere for them to lay their head.

It’s about creating the right ingredients for a memorable experience – particularly if we want them to leave with a good impression and talk the place up.

By the same token, us locals want to have pride in our city centre.

In simple terms, that means getting shot of derelict buildings and bringing into use sleeping giants like the town hall.

Of course, to make an upmarket hotel in Hanley viable then we have to present visitors with reasons to stay the night.

With two cracking live entertainment venues and a museum which will soon house the Staffordshire Hoard, this isn’t beyond the realms of possibility.

However, as we’ve seen with the chequered history of The George in Burslem, hotels need more than a grand façade to turn a profit.

I would suggest that key to converting the town hall into a successful hotel would seem to be the transformation of the area around the building.

That means, of course, the great carbuncle that is Hanley bus station has to come down – something which we’ve now been promised (again) will happen.

We are safe in the knowledge that, as a Grade I-listed building, the town hall won’t become a victim of environmental vandalism.

After all, there’s surely only room for one Ceramica in any city.

Urban regeneration is more than simply demolition followed by new-build.

It is about conserving and breathing life into our heritage buildings so that they become more than something nice to look at as you wander past.

That being the case, I am convinced that if we want to create a genuine Cultural Quarter worth the name then buildings like the town hall and poor old Bethesda Chapel have a key role to play.