Steve proud of the way old North Staffs Poly has scrubbed up

Few are better qualified to comment on the momentous changes taking place within the city’s University Quarter (UniQ) than Dr Steve Wyn Williams.

He’s a man who talks my language. A language that acknowledges that there was life before email and mobile telephones.

Earlier this week The Sentinel produced a special 16-page supplement updating people on the multi-million pound UniQ development.

It coincided with the official opening of the new £30m Science and Technology Centre on Leek Road – the UniQ’s latest piece of education-led regeneration which is transforming Hanley west, Shelton and Stoke.

The UniQ project is a partnership between Staffordshire University, Stoke-on-Trent College, the City of Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form College and Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

It aims to raise aspirations and levels of educational attainment among the people of North Staffordshire in order to make them more employable and while, at the same time, improving the area between Stoke Railway Station and the city centre.

It’s the most significant, focused regeneration project the city has seen since the 1986 Garden Festival and the results, thus far, are spectacular.

The UniQ is creating a distinct, ‘one-campus’ feel for university and college students alike and impressing visitors (and the locals) with stunning new architecture.

It is a far cry from when Steve first joined the staff at was the old North Staffs Polytechnic back in 1988.

He said: “It’s amazing really. These new buildings are making a statement. They are cutting-edge facilities and are really enhancing the learning experience for students.”

Steve, originally from North Wales, first moved to North Staffordshire 34 years ago when he took up a post at Keele University.

A geographer, he worked as a demonstrator for students at Keele – teaching them everything from map reading to data inspection skills.

Eight years later he joined North Staffs Poly as a lecturer in Geography.

He said: “I think it was a more relaxed time. Because the place was much smaller and had fewer students (5,000 to 7,000) there was also very much a community feel to it.

“I recall that everyone seemed to smoke back then – in the corridors, the bars and even the lecture theatres.

“You’d see lecturers puffing away as they taught. Indeed, the whole place seemed to be under a constant fog.”

Now aged 59, Steve has risen through the ranks to become first Head of Geography and is now Dean of Academic Policy and Development.

However, he recalls his early days at the old Poly, which became Staffordshire University in 1992, with fondness.

He said: “When I came here in the late 1980s we are talking about the very early days of computing. We’d write memos to colleagues and students and stick them in pigeon-holes and then wait a week for a response.

“The students themselves would carry around bags containing big, heavy text books which they would actually have to read.

“Students received grants, of course, and there was a sense that they felt privileged to be at studying at the Poly university because only a minority went on to higher education at that time.

“Nowadays, of course, around 40 per cent of school and college leavers go on to receive a university education which, in itself, presents different challenges.”

Nowadays Staffordshire University is a truly international place of study, looking after around 20,000 students, 2,850 of whom at the Stoke campus are from overseas.

Steve said: “We are acutely aware that students are now our customers. We like to view them as customer-partners because while they are paying to come here and study it can only be a success for them if they are prepared to put the work in.

“The university has always had a reputation for delivering courses which give students skills which are perhaps more vocational-based and enhance their employability skills and, given the current climate, that has never been more important.”

Steve added: “I’m very passionate about the university and our students and I’ve been lucky enough to have been involved with the UniQ project for several years now.

“Seeing the changes taking place, it makes me incredibly proud to have contributed in some small way and that the university I work for has such wonderful facilities and ambition.”

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


Don proud of playing key role in creating Potteries Marathon

My friend Anthony Davies, originally from Norton but now living in The Smoke, ran the London Marathon last year.

I was in awe. I was filled with admiration for what I saw as his Herculean effort. So much so that I sponsored him to the tune of £20.

As an overweight asthmatic who never runs anywhere unless I am being chased, the thought of doing 26 miles on foot is an horrific concept.

But literally tens of thousands of people from across North Staffordshire used to do just that around roads they knew like the back of their hands.

It is eight years since the last Potteries Marathon was run and it has been replaced by the very successful – if somewhat less daunting – Potters ’Arf.

For more than 20 years, however, it was the ‘friendly marathon’ which, once a year, turned ordinary people into heroes.

One of the men responsible for creating the Potteries Marathon was Don Shelley.

A former long-distance runner who had represented England at cross country events and run marathons for Great Britain, he had organised races before in his capacity as Secretary of the Michelin Sports and Social Club.

He left the Mich in 1975 and was working at The Place nightclub in Hanley when the management team of Kevin Donovan and Graham Bagnall hit on the idea of organising a marathon here in Stoke-on-Trent.

Don said: “The year was 1981 and there was great excitement around the first London Marathon, which had been a huge success and attracted a lot of attention.

“Lots of other cities and towns decided to follow London’s lead and Stoke-on-Trent was no exception.

“Back then, of course, it was easier to organise for a number of reasons.

“Firstly, there was hardly any traffic on the roads on a Sunday and we didn’t even have to ask permission to run the race really. We got away with murder sometimes.

“Secondly, there was a huge amount of interest from local people who wanted to help out. We certainly weren’t short of volunteers.

“Obviously we had to liaise with the police about the route, but the council wasn’t really involved.”

Don, now aged 75 and living in Stone, ran the first marathon himself – dressed as a tortoise – while his mate ran as the hare.

Don said: “It wasn’t particularly well thought-out, to be honest. About two thirds of the way round I had to dump the shell because it was banging against my back as I ran.”

That first marathon, back in 1982, began in Moorland Road, Burslem, with runners starting off down the bank and then going up Porthill Bank.

The following year the race moved to Trentham Gardens, where it started and finished for the next two decades.

Through my admittedly rose-tinted spectacles, I recall blisteringly hot Sundays in June when the whole city came to a standstill.

In my head the race was always won by legendary local runner Mark Roberts, but I’m told other people did cross the line first – including Harry Claugh, of Liverpool, who set the record of two hours, 19 minutes and 10 seconds.

I would walk down to the Holden Bridge pub on Leek New Road, Sneyd Green, where I could watch the runners stream past one of the many drinks stations staffed by locals.

I volunteered myself one year and was given a commemorative T-shirt for handing out juice, water and even tea in plastic cups to the sweaty, gasping individuals – often in fancy dress – who staggered past us, looking for all the world as if they were going to expire.

All I could do was say “well done” and marvel at their tenacity.

Don said: “There wasn’t a marathon in the country that was as friendly or well-organised.

“We were very proud of it. There was a running magazine which ran a poll asking marathon participants which was the race they liked best and we won the accolade three years in a row.”

In the end, a fall in entry numbers, increased traffic on the roads, and changes at Trentham Gardens brought the curtain down on the race.

Don said: “As the years went by, the race became more and more difficult to organise because we would be told that certain roads were closed to us and there were more hoops to jump through.

“There was a lot more traffic on the roads. Shops were open on a Sunday and the race was having a big impact on the city.

“At the same time, the owners of the Trentham Estate were making big changes and so our traditional start and finish points had to be altered.”

He added: “Looking back, I think we can be very proud of what we achieved.

“We set out with three aims: To make the people of North Staffordshire fitter; to raise as much money as we could for charity; and to give the people of North Staffordshire a memorable day out. I like to think we succeeded in those aims”.

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