New Year’s Honours list makes me think of North Staffordshire’s unsung heroes

Stoke-on-Trent film-maker Chris Stone.

Stoke-on-Trent film-maker Chris Stone.

It’s always nice to read about ordinary local people among those recognised in the New Year’s Honours list alongside the requisite celebrities, sporting stars and captains of industry.

By ordinary I simply mean they don’t get paid a fortune, they’re not in the public eye and they don’t do what they do for power or glory.

This time I was delighted to see that one of The Sentinel’s Our Heroes Awards winners – Maureen Upton, of Meir Heath – earned an OBE for services to the voluntary sector after racking up more than 45 years working for the St John Ambulance.

I was also pleased to see Penkhull historian Richard Talbot had made the cut.

Richard’s MBE is a reward not only for the pivotal role he played in kick-starting Hanley’s Cultural Quarter but also an acknowledgement of his fund-raising for worthy local causes and his work in the community over many years.

The publication of the honours lists always makes me think of other worthy individuals who get precious little recognition.

That being the case, I humbly offer up the names of half a dozen locals who I believe help to enrich our communities and who will continue to do so throughout 2014.

First up I’d like to doff my cap to a couple of blokes who may never have met for all I know but who have a shared passion for film-making.

The first is the superbly-talented Chris Stone who, over the past few years, has produced some sparkling movies – the scenes for many of which were shot in his native North Staffordshire.

If you’ve never seen it, search out his vampire web series Blood And Bone China which has been viewed by more than 300,000 people online.

Or if you pop in to the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery to view the new Staffordshire Hoard exhibition, he’s the man behind the epic movie The Last Dragonhunter which is playing in the background and includes eye-popping animation by another of my local heroes – artist Rob Pointon, of Burslem.

His kindred spirit is a film-maker who I think deserves huge recognition for his artistic endeavour.

John Williams, of Wolstanton, is currently putting the finishing touches to The Mothertown – a zombie apocalypse movie based in Burslem and involving literally hundreds of extras which is helping to raise funds for three-year-old leukaemia sufferer Frankie Allen.

Anyone who has seen John’s posts on social media and viewed his special effects handiwork can’t fail to be impressed.

But it’s his passion for the medium which inspires people and, like Chris, he’s a terrific, creative ambassador for the Potteries.

Speaking of which, I’d like to mention two other people who work tirelessly to promote their community and our city.

Alan and Cheryl Gerrard, of Fenton, were responsible for rekindling this area’s remarkable links with the Czech town of Lidice – destroyed by the Nazis during the Second World War and rebuilt with the help of the people of North Staffordshire.

I first met them a few years ago when they asked for The Sentinel’s help in planning a debate to mark the 25th anniversary of the Miners’ Strike. Alan and Cheryl are both passionate advocates for the people of the Potteries which often means they aren’t popular with the powers-that-be.

However, their honest and forthright approach to campaigns such as the battle to save Fenton Town Hall and its Great War memorial have won them far more friends than enemies and I count myself among the former.

Another friend of mine whose work enhances our reputation is local sculptor Andy Edwards whose work you can see on display at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery.
Andy produced the nine foot statue of a Saxon warrior which takes pride of place in the foyer.

It was commissioned to celebrate the acquisition of the priceless Staffordshire Hoard and Andy is currently working on a 15 foot version, to be unveiled soon, which will stand guard outside the county council HQ in Stafford.

Andy’s other works have included statues which have been presented to Barack Obama, Muhammad Ali and Desmond Tutu.

However, a more proud and passionate Stokie you could not meet and we should be incredibly proud to call him one of our own.

Please indulge me as I mention two other people who actually work alongside me here at The Sentinel.

The first is our award-winning health reporter Dave Blackhurst who has been with this newspaper for 35 years and who is planning to retire in March.

He may not have been honoured by Her Majesty but Dave’s work has won the admiration of readers, colleagues and health professionals over three decades during which he has been an unflinching champion of his patch and its people.

Finally, a quick mention for the legend that is Dianne Gibbons – our court reporter who has been with The Sentinel for 51 years and who laid on a spread, as we call it in these parts, for her colleagues unlucky enough to be working on New Year’s Day.

If only we could bottle Dianne’s enthusiasm and pride in her job and this newspaper.

I consider it a privilege to work with both Dave and Dianne.

They may not have a gong (yet) but, like the others on my little list, they remain an inspiration to me and, I’m sure, many others.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Friday in The Sentinel

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My wish-list to give our city a happy and prosperous 2011

Being so busy over the next few days, it’s unlikely that Father Christmas will deliver the presents I want for Stoke-on-Trent.
So here’s my wish-list to give our city a happy and prosperous 2011…
I hope that the families living on deprived neighbourhoods are not left to their fate with the winding down of Renew North Staffordshire at the end of March.
Stoke-on-Trent City Council has worked hand in glove with the regeneration agency that was given hundreds of millions of pounds of public money to transform the Potteries.
Estates such as Cobridge must not simply be abandoned to inexorable decline. It is the responsibility of local politicians to champion their areas.
I hope that work will finally (finally!) commence on building a new bus station for Hanley.
This project, which has been on the drawing board since before yours truly was sitting his GCSEs, is vital to the ultimate renaissance of the city centre. Please can everyone make a note in their diaries on March 28 so that if we don’t see men with hard hats wandering around we can kick up an almighty fuss.
I hope the much-vaunted Local Enterprise Partnership or LEP becomes more than just a talking shop for men in suits – we’ve had too many of these in recent years.
The effectiveness of this body should be assessed on a regular basis by the amount of funding it is able to bring to North Staffordshire.
I hope that a decision can be taken as soon as possible to close the great white elephant that is Ceramica and find a new use for this iconic building. Burslem’s beautiful Grade II-listed Town Hall deserves better than a continuing depreciation in value and a trickle of visitors at this ill thought-ought carbuncle which loses money year after year.
I hope that we don’t all forget about the Staffordshire Hoard. We’ve got a unique tourist attraction – up at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery. It’s all gone rather quiet, however. Let’s start marketing ourselves as the home of the hoard, build a great big statue of a Saxon warrior overlooking the M6 to brand our city as such, and start raising the money to have these breathtaking exhibits properly displayed.
I hope the wonderful Donna Louise Children’s Hospice – which is a credit to Stoke-on-Trent – is finally on a sound enough financial footing to be able to open its doors seven days a week.
I hope the project to build stronger links with Lidice in the Czech Republic is a roaring success. If ever a local campaign deserved to succeed – this is it – as it shows the people of the Potteries in their best, most selfless light.
The role our city played in breathing new life into a village which Hitler tried to wipe off the map must never be forgotten.
I’d like my beloved Port Vale to win automatic promotion, retain the services of Micky Adams and earn the kind of investment which secures the long-term future of the club. This would enable the current board of directors to step down with heads held high – rather than being hounded down Hamil Road by disaffected fans.
I wish Stoke City would make it into Europe – even if it’s in that Mickey Mouse competition that Liverpool are in this season.
As well as giving the Potteries more exposure, perhaps then the Match Of The Day crew would at last give Tony Pulis’s team their due and find alternative adjectives to ‘hard-working’, ‘physical’ and ‘well-organised’.
I’d like Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor to finally get the recognition he deserves and win the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award. Failing that, can we not give the bloke the Freedom of the City?
To round off the year I’d like my mate Jonny Wilkes to bring Paddy McGuinness and their adult pantomime to The Regent theatre. You never know, it may even shut up the critics who for years have slated Jonny for putting bums on seats at our premier theatre.
“Oh no it won’t…”