Let’s give a warm welcome back to a rare local voice

BBC Radio Stoke's Paula White.

BBC Radio Stoke’s Paula White.

A few weeks ago a friend of mine made a mistake. It was the kind of error of judgement we’re all quite capable of making.

She turned up for work a bit the worse for wear. She was rather emotional, to be fair. A little ‘below par’.

The problem was that this friend of mine just happens to be a presenter on a BBC local radio station and so her mistake was shared with thousands of people.

It also happened to be genuinely hilarious. For half an hour she slurred her way through her final week-day show before being rescued by colleagues.

She didn’t say anything derogatory. She didn’t swear. She didn’t libel a listener.

She had, however, had a drink or two and so the audio train wreck made headlines in most of the national newspapers (and the local one).

The unusual 30 minute broadcast became an internet sensation – with hundreds of thousands of people listening to it.

For a brief moment only she had the kind of listener figures BBC local radio station controllers would kill for.

I’m not sure if she trended on Twitter but the clip of her faux pas has the distinction of making it on to comedy show Have I Got News For You and even overseas news channels.

A bad day at the office doesn’t cover it.

The lady in question is, of course, Paula White who has been the voice of afternoons on BBC Radio Stoke for as long as most of us can remember.

After taking some time off and issuing a public apology for her behaviour, I am delighted that Paula will soon be back on the station.

It is absolutely the right decision. After all, let’s not forget the Beeb chose to inflict the talent vacuum that is Richard Bacon back on the British public again via the medium of radio after sacking him as a telly presenter on Blue Peter when his drug use was exposed by the tabloids.

By comparison, Paula’s misdemeanour pales into insignificance and I think it’s only fair that she be welcomed back.

OK, so she appeared on radio sounding a bit squiffy and the odd Puritanical listener took umbrage.

But Paula’s not a brain surgeon or a policewoman. Nobody died as a result of her saying ‘P-A-R-T-Y… because I said so!’.

Come on, admit it, that’s still funny.

The problem is that because Paula works in the media and has a profile she’s there to be shot at.

But when considering her fate I am sure the powers-that-be at BBC Radio Stoke must have taken into consideration a number of things.

Firstly, for the last six and a half years Paula White has done a terrific job brightening up people’s afternoons and done a great deal of good for local communities and charities.

Secondly, she is one of the precious few local voices on BBC Radio Stoke and that is important.

Listeners feel comfortable with her because she knows her Biddulph from her Bentilee and can pronounce Potteries place names.

They like the fact that she grew up in this neck of the woods, remembers the SPACE Scheme, danced the night away at The Place and calls everyone ‘duck’.

Finally, Paula’s style is chatty and irreverent. She has always worn her heart on her sleeve and that is what has endeared her to so many guests and listeners over the years – listeners who have shown their support for her through social media and have written in to BBC Radio Stoke too.

Paula probably still feels mortified at what happened – not least because she thinks she let her family, friends and colleagues down.

But the truth is that ‘squiffy-gate’ is a storm in a teacup.

It should be viewed as a half-hour aberration in a broadcasting career that has spanned thousands of hours and brought a smile to many faces.

Welcome back, duck.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel

Please help us to find and reward Our Heroes

Actress Rachel Shenton with Child of Courage nominee Billy Heslop.

Actress Rachel Shenton with Child of Courage nominee Billy Heslop.

Yesterday The Sentinel launched this year’s search for unsung heroes from across its patch.

I am, of course, referring to the Our Heroes community awards campaign where this newspaper and its partner organisation – the Aspire Group – seek to highlight the lives and work of special individuals and organisations.

Categories range from Child of Courage and Bright Young Thing to Adult Carer Of the Year and Charity Champion/Fund-raiser Of The Year through to School Star and Hero Of The NHS.

We honour members of the emergency services and the Armed Forces as well as community groups whose efforts make such a difference to people’s lives.

The Sentinel publishes their stories then our panel of independent judges convenes to choose three individuals or groups from each category who will attend a glitzy, celebrity gala night.

That’s when the likes of Nick Hancock, Jonny Wilkes, Anthea Turner, Wendy Turner-Webster, Rachel Shenton, Gordon Banks, OBE, Mark Bright, Imran Sherwani, John Rudge, Peter Coates – among others – are only too happy to give the applause rather than to receive it.

They turn out each year on the red carpet to pay tribute to ordinary folk from across North Staffordshire and South Cheshire who have rather extraordinary stories to tell.

We’ve already had more than a dozen nominations but we’re going to need an awful lot more.
That’s where you come in.

Over the next three months The Sentinel will publish around 120 heart-warming stories which put paid to the myth that newspapers are all doom, gloom and negativity.

Remarkably, the biggest challenge when organising an awards event on this scale isn’t arranging the seating plan, shooting 30-plus videos, selecting a menu, or chasing up the VIPs.

It’s actually persuading Sentinel readers to vote for their friends, relatives and colleagues in one of the nine award categories.

You see, the problem is that round here people are rather backward in coming forward – precisely because they don’t believe that what the people they know do, day-in, day-out, is out of the ordinary.

They view their lives very much as the hand they’ve been dealt and just get on with it – whether that means caring for a relative round-the-clock, 365 days a year or coping with tragedy or illness.

Others devote their time to helping those less fortunate than themselves or making their neighbourhoods better places in which to live.

This is the eighth year of the Our Heroes awards and I can honestly say, hand on heart, it is one of the highlights of my year.

Anyone who has ever attended one of the ceremonies will tell you that they are truly inspirational occasions which showcase the triumphs of the human spirit.

They remind you just how lucky you are when you see the adversity others face and overcome and, put quite simply, make you want to be a better person when you see the selflessness and generosity of others.

Over the years The Sentinel has published more than 1,000 inspirational stories of people who have enriched the lives of those around them. People like Edward Dyster who came up with the idea of cycling 150 miles to raise money for the Donna Louise Children’s Hospice at the age of just six.

People like Dylan Kelsall, aged nine, from Longton, who has a muscle-wasting disease which means he faces surgery every six months.

People like Stephen Allerton, from Meir, who gave up his job as an engineer to care for his mother, father and brother.

People like cancer drug campaigner Dot Griffiths and Dougie Mac’s record fund-raiser John Leese, AKA the ‘Tin Can Man’, who have both sadly passed away since receiving their Our Heroes awards.

People like Ralph Johnson, from Biddulph, formerly a teacher at my old school – Holden Lane High – who spent more than 50 years helping to rescue people who got stuck in caves.

People like Colour Sergeant Gary Golbey, originally from Kidsgrove, who won the Beyond The Call Of Duty category after battling back from a brain tumour to complete the full 22 years’ service in the Army.

People like paramedic Rita Davies who tackled a knife-wielding patient who tried to attack a colleague.

People like Graham and Pat Bourne, from May Bank, who have devoted more than 100 years to enriching the lives of youngsters through the Scouting movement.

Each story is unique. Each award recipient extremely deserving. Crucially, each story worth the telling.

On September 19 this year’s unassuming yet amazing nominees will gather for another night to remember.

If you know someone worthy of recognition please don’t hesitate to contact The Sentinel and help us to make them feel special.

*To nominate someone for an Our Heroes award simply email: martin.tideswell@thesentinel.co.uk

Read my Personally Speaking columns in The Sentinel every Tuesday

Proud to see Stoke’s Top Talent shine once again

When you are involved in the organisation of any big community event there’s always that nagging doubt: The fear that no-one will actually turn up.

In this case I needn’t have worried. When I arrived at the Victoria Hall in Hanley at half past seven on Saturday morning the queue of entrants and their supporters was already snaking around the building.

It felt like a homecoming. Stoke’s Top Talent was back after a year off and so was the buzz surrounding our showcase for home-grown stage stars.

They say the role of the media is to inform, to educate and to entertain.

Stoke’s Top Talent certainly ticks the third box and, like the Our Heroes awards which we judge tomorrow, provides this newspaper with an opportunity to champion the communities it serves.

The contestants came from all over our patch. From across North Staffordshire and South Cheshire.

They came from Crewe and Congleton, Biddulph and the Moorlands, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Stone, Stafford and, of course, the Potteries.

For some, simply performing in front of hundreds of people at the Vicki Hall is thrill enough. Not everyone harbours dreams of a career in showbusiness.

For example, at the age of 74, I suspect crooner Graham Horne knows that the competition is unlikely to propel him to West End stardom.

But, as he said himself, he just loves to sing in front of an audience and he did Ol’ Blue Eyes proud once again.

I reckon it would take a brave man to bet against Chell’s finest making it through to the latter stages of the contest.

In sharp contrast to Graham, there were scores of youngsters there on Saturday for whom the dream of a career in musical theatre is very much alive.

From the brilliant dance act Dolly Mix who just get better and better to guitar virtuoso David Jiminez Hughes, of Silverdale, who won a few hearts and minds at the end of a very long day.

For them Stoke’s Top Talent could well be a springboard to future success – allowing them to follow in the footsteps of Abbey Hulton dancer Aaron Corden.

He was sat right behind me on the front row, watching this year’s hopefuls with a wistful look in his eyes.

Now one of the top dancers at a prestigious performing arts school in Cambridge, Aaron has already danced for Take That and the Black Eyed Peas and will be back home in Stoke-on-Trent for Christmas appearing in the Regent Theatre panto alongside whoever wins the competition which kick-started his career.

For others with no great ambition beyond the contest itself, it was simply a case of testing the water.

Some were doing it for charity like the Dolly Tubs – four ladies with big personalities squeezed into leotards and tutus in the name of Caudwell Children.

They showed us their best sides as well as their backsides and no-one minded that we’d only just had breakfast.

Some of the contestants will have wanted to do this for years: Wanted to prove to themselves that they could stand up in front of an audience and sing, dance, tell jokes or perform tricks.

Whatever their reasons for getting involved, the 147 acts who had their moment in the spotlight on Saturday can be rightly proud of themselves for having the bottle to get up on that stage.

For me, being a judge will always be something of a surreal experience because I’m just a punter.

I’m not in the industry. I don’t do am dram. There are so many people more qualified than yours truly who could be judging the contestants.

But that’s why Jonny Wilkes and Christian Patterson were there. That’s why panto producer Kevin Wood (‘the judge with the grudge’) and West End star Louise Dearman will be at the heats and grand final in September – along with a host of other famous faces.

Me? Well, I once embarrassed himself in panto but my main qualification is that I have the distinction of having sat through every single Stoke’s Top Talent audition and heat since year one.

I just try to say what I see – which isn’t always easy when Jonny Wilkes is writing inappropriate comments on your judging sheet, trying to make you laugh when you’re speaking and stitching you up with the voting.

Ever the performer, you have to be on your toes with our Jonny when there’s a mic around.

Even so, it was a wonderful day which I could tell meant a lot to Jonny. Christian, meanwhile, seemed genuinely blown away at the calibre of some of the acts. He wasn’t alone.

It was a day of raw emotion ranging from the nerves of first-time contestants to the elation of those put through to the callbacks.

Then there was the genuine pleasure of seeing a few familiar faces return stronger and better with two years’ worth of practice under their belts.

On Saturday we have the unenviable task of cutting the remaining 110 acts down to just 50 who will contest the heats.

It really is a case of comparing apples and pears when gymnasts, dancers, singers, musicians, comedians, a drag queen and a mentalist go head-to-head.

However, unlike some of the the TV talent shows which make a point of poking fun at some of their contestants, Stoke’s Top Talent is a win-win for all concerned.

Everyone will get their moment in the sun and everyone will walk away with huge respect from the judges, their fellow competitors and the audiences.

What’s more, someone will walk away with a cash prize of £2,000 a professional theatre contract.

For me, though, it’s all about generating pride. Pride in our communities and pride in the potential of local people to aspire to great and memorable moments which will stay with them all their lives.

*The callback auditions for Stoke’s Top Talent take place on Saturday (August 4) at the Victoria Hall in Hanley, starting at 9.30am and are free to watch.

Read my Personally Speaking columns in The Sentinel every Tuesday

Why not try the theatre? You might just enjoy yourself

It would certainly make for interesting reading if the people of North Staffordshire were surveyed to ask them whether or not they go to the theatre on a regular basis.

I suspect the numbers who would answer ‘yes’ are pretty small. Maybe 10 per cent at best.

The truth is that, aside from the annual trip for a Christmas pantomime, most families don’t give much thought to watching live stage productions.

It’s simply not high on their list of priorities.

While tens of thousands flock to watch Premier League Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium once a fortnight and 5,000-plus visit Vale Park to see my lot play, local theatres are forced to eke out an existence.

This is a crying shame when you consider the wonderful venues we have here in the Potteries.

In The New Vic at Basford we have Europe’s first, purpose-built theatre-in-the-round putting on many home-cooked shows every year as well as top-drawer touring productions.

In Hanley we have no less than three superb auditoriums. The newly-refurbished Mitchell Youth Arts Centre, the magnificent Regent theatre and the grand old Victoria Hall.

Those of us with long memories may still wince at the city council’s Cultural Quarter overspend but no-one can say the project didn’t gift us two bloody great, very distinct city centre venues.

In addition, we shouldn’t forget the Queen’s Theatre in Burslem and equally fine Stoke-on-Trent Repertory Theatre on Leek Road.

All of the above put on superb live entertainment but, sadly, this is very often in front of half-empty houses.

Despite being privately-run businesses, many theatres rely heavily on local authority subsidies which – in the current climate – are harder to justify than ever before.

So why the apathy? Why aren’t more people choosing the theatre for a good night out?

Some people will doubtless blame the cost – although it’s certainly less expensive than tickets for a football match (depending where you sit) – and probably on a par with a trip to the cinema.

Others will blame the lack of variety and the quality of the shows on offer.

However, the reality is that if you look across all our local venues there is usually something to suit the taste (and pockets) of everyone.

If you ask me I reckon the reason that most people don’t go to the theatre is because a) they view it as the preserve of the middle classes or b) they’ve never experienced a live show. Or both.

Perhaps it’s the fault of schools. Or perhaps it’s our demographic.

I know some blokes who wouldn’t dream of setting foot in a theatre – preferring to sit in their local boozer or in front of the telly every night than stepping outside of their comfort zone to watch a stage performance.

The great tragedy of this is that they don’t know what they are missing and the theatres are missing them.

The great irony is that local drama schools are filled with bright-eyed, enthusiastic and multi-talented youngsters itching to perform in front of bigger audiences.

Many of them, along with a few contestants who are a little longer in the tooth, will be taking part in this year’s Stoke’s Top Talent competition which kicks off in less than two weeks’ time.

All of them, I know, would dearly love your support.

The show is called Stoke’s Top Talent but in truth the acts will come from all over The Sentinel’s patch – from Biddulph and Congleton to Newcastle, Leek, Stafford and Stone – as well as the Potteries.

Through the competition, which offers cash prizes and a pantomime contract, they will get to appear on stage at the Victoria Hall and possibly The Regent theatre where the heats and grand final will take place.

Among the 170-plus acts taking part in the auditions will be bands, singers, musicians, dancers, impersonators, magicians and comedians.

The competition is championed by our own stage star Jonny Wilkes who gives up his time for free to work with the contestants and compere the show.

Stoke’s Top Talent is the reason that teenage dancer Aaron Corden, from Abbey Hulton, is now living the dream of working towards a career in musical theatre.

Self-taught from watching videos of Michael Jackson on the internet, he once carried a bench from Northwood Park to The Regent theatre to provide a prop for his act.

Having performed as a dancer for none other than Take That and the Black Eyed Peas over the last 18 months, he is now one of the top students at a prestigious performing arts school in Cambridge.

But a week on Saturday Aaron will be back at the Victoria Hall where his journey began, to watch this year’s hopefuls as they try to impress the judges.

Why don’t you join him and a very partisan crowd for the auditions?

It is a free-of-charge family day out and gives people who have perhaps never seen inside the place which recently played host to made-in-Stoke-on-Trent rock god Slash the chance to look around.

As someone who’s been lucky enough to appear in panto at The Regent and be a judge for Stoke’s Top Talent, I can assure you that you’ll be in for a treat.

*The auditions for Stoke’s Top Talent are free to watch and take place at the Victoria Hall in Hanley from 10am on Saturday, July 28 – with the call-backs the following Saturday, August 4.

The closing date for entries for Stoke’s Top Talent is Friday, July 20, and anyone interested in entering can download the application form by logging on to: http://www.stokestoptalent.com

Read my Personally Speaking columns in The Sentinel every Tuesday

The end of an era for working class heroes down the pits

When I started work as a cub reporter in the late Eighties I caught the tail end of one of the industries on which our city made its reputation.

In the 1930s there had been more than 20 mines operating across the North Staffordshire coalfield.

They stretched from Victoria at Biddulph in the north to Hem Heath in the south and from Madeley in the west to Parkhall in the east.

Looking across the relatively refined landscape of the Potteries nowadays, it is hard to believe that at one time tens of thousands of men earned a crust below ground in miles of shafts, passageways and tunnels which criss-crossed the area.

Indeed, there is very little in terms of commemoration for the generations of men who spent their working lives at places such as the Racecourse Colliery in Cobridge, Sneyd Colliery at Hanley, Norton Colliery, Apedale Colliery and many more.

For decades these mines were the engines of industry but from the 1960s a succession of pits were closed during a period of innovation and mechanisation – including Berry Hill at Fenton, the Deep Pit at Hanley, Parkhouse at Chesterton and Mossfield in Longton.

Then, in 1979, Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Government swept to power and, although no-one realised it at the time, the writing was on the wall for coal mining in the UK.

Here in North Staffordshire only a few pits remained open into the period of the Miners’ Strike (1984-1985).

But at the time Hem Heath, Florence, Holditch, Silverdale and Wolstanton still employed almost 6,000 between them.

I was there on the day that some of them closed but to give me a sense of what life was like for the men who grafted underground I spoke to former miner and local historian Keith Meeson.

Keith, aged 66, who lives in Stanley, founded the Apedale Heritage Centre and has perhaps done more than anyone to keep the memory of North Staffordshire’s mining heritage alive.

He was just 15 when he began work in the lamp house at Holditch Colliery in 1960. Generations of his mother’s family had been miners and his dad worked down the pit for 50 years.

Keith said: “Originally my dad had tried to get me a job as an electrician at Shelton Bar.

“To be honest, he didn’t want his son having to do what he did.

“However, my uncle – Winston Rowley – was the under manager at Holditch and he came for Christmas dinner just after I had left school.

“He asked if I had been fixed up with a job and sort of overruled my dad.”

Soon after Keith began work at Holditch.

He said: “I think it was seeing my dad in his rags and clogs which left a real impression on me. I look back on my time at Holditch with real fondness.

“I also used to sit there in the dark at times and wonder what was going on in the fresh air a mile above us.

“They were great men, the miners. Real working class heroes because it was a dirty, difficult and dangerous job.

“They had their scraps and fall-outs but 10 minutes later they would be the best of friends again. They would do anything for you.

“The only thing I can compare the camaraderie to would be the Army. I would say it was like being in the forces.

“Miners had a very special bond.”

By the time the Eighties drew to a close, only Florence, Hem Heath and Silverdale collieries remained open. Florence merged with Hem Heath in 1990 and the renamed ‘Trentham Superpit’ ceased production in May 1993.

Silverdale was the last to go in 1998, bring the curtain down on a crucial, at times grim, and forever proud chapter in the history of the Potteries.

Pick up a copy of the Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia

Falklands veteran: ‘We had to show the world what we were made of…’

Eric Barbour remembers exactly where he was when he got the call. It was five to nine on Friday, April 2, 1982 and Eric was at home in Biddulph.

His dad answered the telephone: It was Army. The Falklands Conflict had begun and Eric’s leave was abruptly cancelled.

The 26-year-old packed his gear and travelled back to Seaton Barracks in Plymouth to rejoin his unit – 42 Commando Royal Marines.

A week later, on Friday, April 9, Eric and his comrades from the Marines and Paras set sail from Southampton onboard the SS Canberra which had been requisitioned by the Government and refitted as a troop ship.

Eric, now aged 56 and living in Waterhayes, said: “Previous to the Falklands, British troops hadn’t really been involved in a major conflict for many years. The nearest we had come to proper combat was tours to Northern Ireland and the Cyprus Emergency.

“In all honesty I think we were hoping that the Falklands crisis would be solved by the politicians before we arrived. Then news filtered through that the Argentine flagship The General Belgrano had been sunk. Then we heard HMS Sheffield had gone down a couple of days later and we realised we would be needed after all.”

Indeed the brutality of the conflict was brought home to Eric when the body of a former commanding officer of his from 41 Commando Royal Marines was returned to the Canberra for burial at sea.

As Eric sailed south, the sinking of the ARA General Belgrano by the submarine HMS Conqueror, with the loss of more than 320 lives, proved hugely controversial. But it was also to have a dramatic impact on the conflict – forcing all Argentine naval vessels to return to port and take no further part in the hostilities.

The troop ship Canberra anchored in San Carlos Water on May 21 as part of the landings by British forces to retake the islands. This area was to become known as ‘Bomb Alley’ to British forces because of incessant attacks by low-flying Argentinian aircraft.

Although her size and colour made the ‘White Whale’ a soft target, the Argentine Air Force concentrated their efforts on Royal Navy vessels.

Eric was ferried to the Falklands via a landing craft similar to the doomed RFA Sir Galahad which was destroyed by the Argentine Airforce on June 8.

Forty eight British servicemen died in the attack and pictures of the smouldering wreck were beamed around the world.

Eric and his team watched helpless as the jets which caused the carnage flew overhead – so close to his mountain position that he could see into the cockpits.

Eric, who now works as a health and safety adviser, was a corporal at the time and led a Milan Missile troop.

On the night of June 11 it was he and his mates who provided vital covering fire with his anti-tank weapons to suppress the Argentines who were strafing Eric’s fellow marines as they tried to climb Mount Harriet.

Without night vision technology, Eric had to rely on the sight from his SLR to target Argentine positions 800 or so metres away – with the tracer bullet from his rifle making his team an immediate target.

That night Eric and his comrades took more than 1,000 Argentine soldiers prisoner.

Eric said: “One of my abiding memories is walking across the frost-covered terrain the following morning and seeing a boot print on an anti-personnel mine poking through the soil. The ground must have frozen so hard that one of our lads had a very lucky escape.”

The Falklands Conflict lasted just 74 days but cost the lives of 907 soldiers, sailors and airmen – including 258 British personnel. UK forces had won a spectacular victory in very difficult circumstances. The Argentinian military junta was finished and the Falkland Islanders celebrated their liberation.

Eric, who eventually left the Army after more than 17 years – having achieved the rank of Senior NCO – is in no doubt that the UK’s response to the invasion of the Falkland Islands was appropriate.

He said: “We saw it very much as our country protecting what was ours and protecting people who did not want their home to become part of Argentina.”

Thirty years on and tensions are again rising in the South Atlantic as Argentina begins once more to talk up its claim to the ‘Malvinas’.

But Eric, who is married with two sons and two grandchildren, is in no doubt that the UK’s cause was just.

He said: “Looking back, I think we did the right thing. It was a British territory and we had to show the world what we were made of.

“If there was another invasion I think we would be totally justified in defending the islands again.”



Pick up a copy of the Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia

Never mind the election… what about our manifesto?

As Gordon Brown and David Cameron are busy peddling the policies they hope will propel them to 10 Downing Street, I thought I’d have a dabble at my own manifesto – specifically for North Staffordshire.

As Stoke-on-Trent celebrates the centenary of the federation of the six towns, what better time to take stock of where we are as a city and a region and plot a vision for a brighter future?

With a newly-arrived chief executive at the city council, a new face arriving in the role of the Stoke-on-Trent Central MP and a transfusion of new blood via the local elections, I think opportunity genuinely knocks for our neck of the woods.

Let’s hope we don’t ignore it.

This is my wish-list to drag us kicking and screaming into the 21st century…

*Forget parochialism and create a North Staffordshire authority serving nigh on half a million people – including the city, Newcastle, Leek, Biddulph and Cheadle and do away with the present, inefficient hotchpotch of local councils. Let’s face it, we’ve all got more in common with each other than we have with Stafford, Tamworth or Lichfield. I would suggest it is better to start speaking with one voice which would give us far more clout nationally. Such a merger would also enable us to get rid of many of the public sector non-jobs created in recent years. Perhaps then we could balance our budgets.

*Get serious about regeneration and deliver the key foundations to our economic recovery and future prosperity. How many times have we been shown plans of glass bottle kilns and the like which never come to fruition? Hanley desperately needs the long-awaited new bus station and the East-West shopping precinct so let’s ride a coach and horses through the bureaucracy and get them built. The University Quarter, or UniQ, and the Business District must become a reality rather than limping along as artists’ impressions. By the same token, our MPs and councillors must lobby like their lives depend upon in it in the coming months to ensure that, irrespective of which party wins the General Election, the hundreds of millions of pounds of funding currently transforming our estates via regeneration agency Renew North Staffordshire doesn’t dry up halfway through the process.

*Throw all our weight behind the Next Stop Stoke campaign to ensure the £60 billion high-speed rail network comes to North Staffordshire. We must ensure Stoke-on-Trent is selected as a stop on the flagship HS2 inter-city project or we run the risk of missing out on investment, jobs and tourism.

*If we don’t want to become a cultural desert then we need to stop quibbling about subsidies for The Regent Theatre and accept that if you want a top class venue in the city centre then, like other major cities, you have to be prepared to spend serious public money to help a private operator earn a crust. The benefits to our economy, the social life of the sub-region and the aspirations of future generations are there for all to see.

*Bring our home-grown football stars, role-model Olympic hopefuls and local celebrities together for a campaign to tackle North Staffordshire’s chronic obesity problem run through every single school in the city, Newcastle and the Staffordshire Moorlands. Tie this in with major renovation and promotion of our parks, public open spaces and excellent cycle routes to encourage more people to become active and fitter.

*Act now to capitalise on the huge public interest in the Staffordshire Hoard. As I suggested previously, let’s have a campaign to build a huge, great statue of a Saxon warrior visible for miles just off the M6 passing through Stoke-on-Trent and luring in visitors to the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery. Let’s market ourselves as the home of the Hoard and completely renovate the venue to make the Hoard exhibition a tourist attraction of international significance. The time has come for us to stop marketing ourselves solely on our industrial past and find a new identity.