Mission accomplished: It seems there really is no place like home…

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I’ve learned a thing or two in the last three months. Firstly, The Sentinel’s Managing Director has something of an eye for (obsession for) interior design.

Thus I have been forced to sit through discussions involving feature walls, carpet colours, kitchen splash backs and dishy chairs (I confess I had to look the last one up).

Choosing the decor and the furnishings was, of course, a very small but important part of the process of relocating to our new offices in Hanley – which we finally did over the weekend.

I’ve lived and breathed this project since July.

It’s the reason calls to my phone have gone unanswered, emails still await replies, meetings have been cancelled and I’ve dodged catch-ups with my best contacts.

It’s also the reason I’ve had precious little dad time which was why on Saturday I made sure my girls were among the first to see The Sentinel’s new home.

Apologies to all. I’ll make it up to you. Promise.

I’ve been well and truly out of my comfort zone and up to my eyes in seating plans (changed eight times), parking permits, grant applications and all manner of stuff involved in moving more than 100 staff (including almost 50 journalists) and a seven-day a week business into the heart of the city centre.

In truth there are still bits ‘n’ bobs to do. Some furniture and white goods have yet to arrive, there’s more carpentry and painting to do, we’re missing some plastic cups. A couple of the screens in the newsroom aren’t yet showing the digital analytics we’d like them to do. But, to borrow one of the gaffer’s phrases: ‘It’s just detail’.

He’s right. To all intents and purposes The Sentinel is up Hanley, duck, and fully operational.

As I sit here now looking out over a newsroom that you can’t help but feel proud of, there’s an enormous feeling of satisfaction and relief.

The move had to be completed over a weekend – four days technically – without any disruption to the newspaper or our website.

In that regard it’s mission accomplished. But what went on during those four days will long live in the memory.

Things such as my dad fixing shelving and coat hooks and making benches and desks for our precious archive room.

Or the sight of The Sentinel’s Editor manfully carrying an extremely heavy ceramic wall bust of this newspaper’s founder across the newsroom to see where it would sit best.

Or our MD carefully placing lime green coasters and purple cushions in offices and break-out areas.

Or yours truly lugging furniture around and unpacking crate after crate of beautiful leather bound volumes of The Sentinel and creating an impressive new library in the newsroom.

Plenty of people played their part in an exercise which showed that this is far more than just a workplace – it’s the home of a heritage brand that we’re all extremely proud to be associated with which has just refurbished a landmark.

In six years’ time the former Bethesda Sunday school which we now occupy will celebrate its 200th anniversary and it’s more than appropriate that ours is the business which has breathed new life into such an historic and iconic building.

Indeed the man who designed the interior of our new offices described it as the most satisfying (if stressful) project he has ever worked on – and the best building.

It’s easy to see why. Two of my colleagues told me, unsolicited, on Sunday that they came into work with a spring in their steps having seen the completed ground floor a few days earlier.

Even the most cynical, hard-bitten hacks in the newsroom struggled to grumble when they saw the beautiful sash windows, the high ceilings, the plasma screen and – yes – the lovely new carpets and furnishings.

It’s certainly a more inspirational place in which to work than our former home at Etruria and in keeping with a business that’s almost 160 years old itself.

It goes without saying that working for a newspaper (I’m supposed to say digital publishing business) isn’t a nine to five, Monday to Friday job and it doesn’t half help when your working environment is stunning and the front of your building looks like a Victorian postcard scene.

It’ll be nice to be able to wander over to the Potteries Museum to view the Staffordshire Hoard and the Spitfire gallery of a lunchtime. (Occasionally we have one).

It’ll be nice to stroll up Piccadilly to see my mum on the oatcake stall in the market or to have a coffee with Jonny Wilkes and Christian Patterson during rehearsals for panto at The Regent. It’ll be nice to be able to do a bit of Christmas shopping when we’re working late one night.

Most importantly, of course, we hope our readers and customers like the new place too.

I’ve already promised two readers who used to attend Bethesda Sunday School a personal tour of the building to stir the memories.

A few readers popped in at the weekend – past the crates and the teams of removal people – to have a nosey before we’d even opened. It was great to see their enthusiasm.

One couple said they were delighted we were back in Hanley as they’d now only have to catch the one bus from Trentham to come and see us. It seems there really is no place like home…

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel

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Archive is a treasure trove which reminds us where we’ve come from and who has gone before

The Sentinel microfilm archive.

The Sentinel microfilm archive.

Myself and three colleagues have just completed what, for me, has been something of a labour of love.

In case you don’t know, in less than two weeks’ time The Sentinel will relocate from its home of more than a quarter of a century to new, or perhaps I should say ‘old’, premises in Hanley.

From September 16 our new home will be the Grade II-listed Bethesda Sunday School building.

It’s in a great location for a local newspaper: Opposite the library and Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, just down from the Victoria Hall, Regent Theatre and new bus station, and over the road from the police station and crown court.

An awful lot of money has been spent transforming the interior of this impressive, ocean liner of a two-storey building into a modern media hub.

But alongside the funky furniture, brightly-coloured feature walls and the hi-tech kit you’d expect to find in any newspaper HQ, there’s plenty to remind us of what’s gone before.

This is something I, personally, am very keen on as someone who grew up reading the paper, then delivering it and now having the privilege of writing for it.

As you can imagine, a newspaper accumulates quite a lot of stuff over 159 years and my office has, for several weeks now, resembled an antique shop.

By rummaging through the MD’s office, various locked cabinets and darkened storerooms I have unearthed all kinds of treasures.

Gems such as a former Editor’s dictionary from the 1930s and a solid gold Sentinel cricket competition medal from the same decade.

Then there’s the documents relating to the company being created back in 1854 or the grubby and soot-blackened Wedgwood white ware unearthed when the foundations were laid at our present site in Etruria back in 1986 (the site of old Josiah’s former factory, of course).

Or how about the dozen or so black and white photographs of our former offices in Trinity Street, Hanley, when it first opened its doors 80-odds years ago?

Or the Royal Doulton figurines of newspaper sellers, or detritus from the press from the days of hot metal, or copies of Sentinel football annuals dating back to the 1920s.

Or the copy of the programme from the provincial premiere of the the 1952 movie The Card, based on Arnold Bennett’s novel of the same name.

Or the 100-year-old poster promoting a boxing match between Newcastle’s Billy Gerkin and Hanley’s Jack Matthews.

Some of these items will go on display in cabinets for the benefit of visitors to our new offices.

Others will be safely stored in the new home of our archive which yours truly and friends have spent the past three months auditing and indexing.

It saddens me to think that some of my colleagues have never experienced the sheer frustration of trawling through cuttings, old prints or negatives to find information and the simple joy of a successful hunt.

Many among the Google and Wikipedia generation believe the world started in the mid-1990s and all useful data is freely available at the touch of a button. Rest assured that I do my best to dispel this myth at every opportunity.

I tell people that our microfilm archive, for example, dates to 1854 and runs until around the year 2000. That’s every page of every Sentinel edition – Weekly and Evening – for 140 odd years.

Then there’s the leather-bound copies of every Sentinel produced since the day we stopped archiving editions on microfilm.

Finally there’s our cuttings and prints archive – all 195 box files. This contains everything from historic editions of the paper through to royal visits, all our coverage of the notorious Black Panther murders, all the pit closures and pottery firm redundancies as well as black and white and colour prints of Stoke City, Port Vale and Crewe Alex players dating back to the 1930s.

The importance of a newspaper’s archive cannot, in my opinion, be overstated – especially when it is as old and extensive as The Sentinel’s.

It is little wonder that historians revel in it, our readers continue to call upon it and that local lads like me, and Abbo before me, enjoy bringing some of it to light.

Our archive is an acknowledgment of who and what has gone before and a reminder that we journalists are in an extremely privileged position – simply the latest caretakers of an enduring brand.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel