Don’t just sit and moan: Have your say on future of the Six Towns

The Wyg report says the city council is right to focus on Hanley as the retail centre of the city, but suggests Burslem and Fenton are downgraded.

The Wyg report says the city council is right to focus on Hanley as the retail centre of the city, but suggests Burslem and Fenton are downgraded.

It was easy to spot the killer line in the report which attempts to create a retail blueprint for Stoke-on-Trent over the next 15 years.

The reclassification – a softer term than the perhaps more honest ‘downgrading’ – of Burslem and Fenton would see them viewed as district centres, along with Meir, rather than town centres.

I can’t help it but I instinctively balk at the suggestion that the Mother Town of the Potteries along with Fenton, which successive administrations at the local authority have overlooked, should no longer be considered towns.

It may annoy planning officers and those tasked with attracting inward investment to the Potteries but, for me, Stoke-on-Trent IS the Six Towns.

The fact that we have the Six Towns, each with their own heritage and distinct identity, is one of the city’s many unique features.

After all, Arnold Bennett didn’t write a novel entitled: ‘Anna of the four towns and two or three district centres’.

The problem is, of course, that over the last 20 years or so some of the towns have benefitted from investment, time and resource and others have not. Burslem, a town I know well, has never really recovered from the closure of the Royal Doulton factory in Nile Street.

It is no longer somewhere that people go to do their shopping – like my mum did every Saturday when I was growing up in the Seventies and Eighties.

It has no supermarket, no indoor market, no big chain stores. Instead it relies on craft-type shops and a night-time/weekend economy.

However, there are at least grounds for optimism in the Mother Town thanks to the advent of the Burslem Regeneration Partnership, the proposed Haywood Academy and the planned work of the Prince’s Regeneration Trust on the Wedgwood Institute – (facilitated, I should point out, by the city council). Boslem also, of course, has a League One football club.

There is, as far as I can tell, no such optimism surrounding the future of Fenton which seems to have been branded little more than a residential zone.

I suppose the devil is in the detail of this study. The sobering statistic is that 22.8 per cent of retail space in the city is empty – a figure which is twice the national average.

In simple terms, then, there isn’t the capacity to sustain all those vacant units and so we need to rethink our retail strategy and that will, inevitably, impact on other planning matters.

As I understand it, the report by Manchester-based consultants Wyg suggests that Burslem, Fenton and Meir be considered ‘local centres’ in retail and planning terms.

This is because towns such as Longton and Tunstall are seen as having a more sustainable retail base.

Meanwhile, Stoke (minus the Civic Centre) will hopefully benefit hugely from the relocation of Staffordshire University’s Stafford campus and all those students needing accommodation and shops.

But what are the consequences of a ’reclassification’ for Burslem, Fenton and Meir? Will it, for example, mean that businesses wanting to set up shop in Burslem will instead be encouraged to opt for Tunstall where the retail base is viewed as more viable?

Will chain stores looking at Fenton simply be steered towards Longton? It is vital that this is explained properly to people living in these areas.

And what exactly is the plan for Fenton over the next decade beyond it being a place where people live?

It doesn’t have Burslem’s magnificent architecture but it does have a beautiful Town Hall and square which should surely be the focal point for investment and the community.

We should remember that this report focuses purely on the city’s retail needs and, as one commentator posted on Facebook: ‘There’s more to life than shopping’.

However, Wyg’s study will feed directly into the city council’s Local Plan so its findings are significant and we should all take note and make our views known.

I believe the council is right to prioritise Hanley as a strong city centre. It is, to my mind, key to the regeneration of Stoke-on-Trent as a whole. (Note to planners: It should never be referred to as Stoke city centre because Stoke is, of course, a town).

Hanley is, after all, where the bulk of our shops are. It is also the home of three terrific live entertainment venues as well as the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery.

Hanley will be fine. We just need developer Realis to get their skates on and deliver what they promised in terms of an, albeit smaller, City Sentral shopping centre as soon as possible.

I can even live with the daft name if they show a little willing now by bulldozing the eyesore East/West precinct.

Likewise, I think there are also plans for Stoke, Longton and Tunstall which will ensure their viability in the medium-term.

What I would like to see now is two things. Firstly, a pledge that the local authority will put some energy and resource into the regeneration of Fenton and Burslem so that the former, in particular, does not continue to be the ‘forgotten town’.

Secondly, I‘d like as many local people as possible to be involved in a big conversation about the future of our city.

Write to The Sentinel, comment on our website, contact your ward councillor and attend meetings in your locality or at the Civic Centre.

Just please don’t sit there and moan because this is too important for people to fall back on the old chestnut that the ‘council is rubbish and no-one ever listens’.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Friday in The Sentinel

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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

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

Mother Town miracle as local people shine for Christmas

Burslem's Christmas lights campaigners celebrate their success.

Burslem’s Christmas lights campaigners celebrate their success.

Campaigners determined to bring a little festive cheer to the Mother Town have smashed their fund-raising target to pay for Christmas lights.

Saddened by the fact that Burslem was the only town in the Potteries with no public decorations, they set about trying to raise £3,200 to pay for three sets of tree lights and seven sets of street lights.

But in just nine days campaign organisers Louise Worthington, John and Jayne Flint, June Cartwright and their families and friends raised more than £5,000 to light up the streets.

Their remarkable success means the town will now have four lit Christmas trees and eleven sets of street lights.

What’s more, the group have pledged to do the same again for 2013 and are planning a meeting in the New Year to kick-start 12 months of fund-raising.

Jayne, aged 43, who lives in High Lane, Burslem, said: “We are so proud of everyone who has been involved. This is a genuine example of a community pulling together.

“The generosity of people really does bring a tear to you eye and, as a result, Burslem will shine this Christmas.”

The campaign was prompted by council cutbacks of £84,000 which meant that only Hanley received local authority funding for Christmas decorations.

Traders and local people in Stoke, Fenton, Longton and Tunstall organised their own trees and lights but it was looking like Burslem would be left in the shadows.

Then last week Burslem locals began their campaign by creating a page on social network Facebook which quickly attracted more than 1,300 supporters.

Various events and collections were organised – including a disco and raffle at Burslem’s oldest pub, Ye Olde Crown – and Port Vale fans donated more than £1,000 on away trip coaches and before Tuesday night’s home game against Bradford City.

The 67th Burslem Scout Group and Vale mascot Boomer were among those rattling collection buckets at Vale Park.

Businesses across the Mother Town also contributed including: Kelly Molyneux & Co. Accountants; New Image tattoo parlour; Chillz bar; the Bull’s Head pub; The Swan pub; The Leopard pub and Barewall art gallery.

Autonet Insurance, based in Nile Street, spent £550 to purchase an additional set of Christmas tree lights and its managing director Ian Donaldson said the firm, which employs 600 people, was looking forward to working with the campaigners next year.

Meanwhile, the owners of the Artbay gallery in Fenton also donated a special print which was auctioned off to raise £150.

Stoke-on-Trent Markets gave £300 but the largest single donation came from recycling firm Acumen, based on Hot Lane, which donated £1,500 to the cause.

Contracts manager Adrian Moore said: “I read about the campaign in Friday’s Sentinel and wondered if we could help out.

“We are a company which employs around 35 people from the local area and our owner John Hodges was very keen to contribute. It is terrific the way local people and businesses have worked together for the common good to make Christmas special in Burslem.”

*The lights will be switched on tomorrow when Santa Claus emerges from The George Hotel.

A salute to The Duke and other lost Potteries locals

I was 17 when I first walked into the Duke of Wellington pub. Little did I know that the innocuous little boozer in Norton was to become my ‘local’ for the next decade – even though I lived in Sneyd Green.

There was nothing fancy about ‘The Duke’, as we referred to it. Yes, it was an old pub dating back to the 1840s but the interior was nothing to shout about.

It had one proper toilet for us blokes (which had seen better days) and a bunch of urinals.

The Duke was a good size though – boasting a lounge and a bar, a pool table, jukebox and a couple of fruit machines.

The clientele was genuinely mixed and on Friday and Saturday nights it would be rammed.

My friends and I came to know it as our second home – supping Lowenbrau at 89p per pint as the Eighties drew to a close and the indie music scene really kicked in.

My mates Rob, Richie and I were part of The Duke’s away pool team back then and I’m pleased to say I’ve still got my cue.

I have hazy, fond memories of New Year’s Eve parties, Christmas Eve celebrations and many a lock-in with the curtains closed.

It was a pub where young and old co-existed quite happily. A place where you could still have a conversation and hear yourself think – even if yours truly had stuck the Stone Roses or the Wonderstuff on again.

Sadly, unlike my pool cue, The Duke hasn’t survived. The last time I ventured into the place it was 1999 and quiet as the grave. It closed not long after.

Like so many pubs across the Potteries it fell victim to changing lifestyles and poor management and, although the building remains, it is now a private as opposed to a public house.

As historian and spokesman for the Potteries Pub Preservation Group, Mervyn Edwards explained, it is a familiar tale. He agreed that we have probably lost around a fifth of public houses in North Staffordshire over the last quarter of a century.

Mervyn said: “I thing that may even be a conservative estimate. We’ve seen many, many pubs close and many be demolished over the last 30 years or so.

“The reasons are multifarious but a key one is the loss of jobs in traditional industries. Take Longton, for example. Right up to the end of the 1980s and even later pubs were a key part of the infrastructure of the town.

“They existed to serve employers like the potbanks and even at lunchtimes you would see pottery workers from places like John Tams going to the pie shops and then in to their favourite haunts for a pint.

“When you lose industry like the Potteries has then it is impossible for many pubs to remain profitable. At the same time, people’s habits have changed. They can buy cheap alcohol from supermarkets, rent or buy videos and DVDs or use the internet and play computer games.

“People simply have far more options and have perhaps fallen out of love with simple pleasures like conversing with friends in a pub.

“Then there was the smoking ban of 2007 which really was a hammer-blow for pubs. I was one of the people who thought there might be people who would start going in to pubs as a result of them being smoke-free but it seems that just didn’t happen.

“Add to all of these things the high taxation on alcoholic beverages and the fact that a night out at the pub is actually quite expensive and you can understand why so many have closed or are struggling.”

Off the top of his head Mervyn lists a number of good pubs which we’ve lost in the last 25 years.

Most recent is The Cavalier at Bradwell – built as a one of a number of estate pubs in 1963.

Also mentioned in despatches are the once flagship Joules pub the King’s Arms, in Meir, the Oxford Arms in Maybank and pubs like The Great Eastern, The Staff of Life and the Ancient Briton in and around the Mother Town of Burslem.

I asked Mervyn what the biggest difference we would notice if we went back 30 years to a 1980s pub.

He said: “We would be acutely aware of the lack of what I call ‘creature comforts’. These days pubs have all sorts of gadgets and gizmos – from wall-to-wall satellite television and free Wifi to game consoles like the Wii to keep people amused.

“Thirty years ago you would have had the odd telly and perhaps a jukebox or a fruit machine but they weren’t intrusive. I think it’s very sad how things have changed, really.”

He added: “I think that the bigger pubs will survive. What really needs to improve, however, is the level of customer service. Very often it is poor. There are exceptions – such as The Holy Inadequate at Etruria and The Bluebell at Kidsgrove – but generally speaking many pubs could improve”.

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

How can this sort of a prison life be a deterrent?

My ‘feed them to tigers’ approach to dealing with criminals doesn’t go down so well in these politically-correct times.

Everyone deserves a chance, they say. Prevention is better than punishment, we’re told. Rehabilitation is the way forward, apparently.

Tell that to anyone who knew Gregory Baker – the disabled man who was murdered in his own cottage in the Staffordshire Moorlands village of Alton in 2007.

The 61-year-old was suffocated in order that Yvonne Purchase, of Meir, could collect the £60,000 Mr Baker had left her in his will.

Purchase had two accomplices – Shane Edge, of Longton, and her son Lance Rudge, also from Meir – who was one of the subjects of a television documentary screened last night.

The 24-year-old convicted murderer was featured in ‘Lifers’, a Channel Four documentary looking at the day-to-day lives of prisoners serving life sentences at Gartree Prison in Leicestershire.

During the course of his interview for the documentary, Rudge showed no remorse for his awful crime and clearly viewed his murder trial as a little more than a ‘boring’ distraction.

He told viewers he was enjoying prison life because he has a TV, stereo and three meals a day.

Rudge said he ‘has it nice’ behind bars because he doesn’t have the ‘nightmare’ of trying to get a job.

He thinks life outside the prison would be ‘horrible’, adding: “I wouldn’t like to be out there at all now. I’d prefer to stay inside a while and wait until it calms down.”

While I am delighted that this low-life won’t be let out in the world until at least 2025, I can’t be the only one who is appalled that having committed such a heinous crime he now lives a life of comfort.

Just look at his ‘cell’. If you ignore the bars it looks to me more like a teenager’s bedroom.

Rudge is absolutely right, of course, in saying that by being inside he is shielded from the economic downturn which has many of us fearing for our jobs and wondering how we can pay our bills.

While we worry about keeping a roof over our heads, we’re all paying for Lance Rudge and his ilk to sit there in cosy rooms watching The Jeremy Kyle Show, listening to Radio One and eating meals which are no doubt nutritionally-balanced for them.

The question I would pose is: Can this really be termed ‘punishment’?

Is the denial of Lance Rudge’s liberty enough of a punishment for an horrific, pre-meditated killing?

Not in my book it isn’t.

If I had my way I’d strip him off that Stoke City shirt and baseball cap and have him wearing a fluorescent orange overall and he’d be hand-cuffed for much of the day.

His cell would contain only text books to supplement the daily education he received which would be aimed at making this toe-rag employable when he is finally released.

Those lessons would be interspersed with back-breaking labour akin to that once inflicted on chain-gangs in American prisons. (One U.S. state still allows you to volunteer for this, apparently).

Yes, I’d have Lance Rudge breaking rocks, carrying timber and sewing mail bags for the duration of his stay at Her Majesty’s Pleasure.

Meanwhile I’d have someone telling him every day that what he did was evil and despicable until he got it through his thick skull that other people matter and that he is responsible for his actions.

If this all seems incredibly draconian then I come back to the central point that prison is supposed to be a deterrent.

However, here we have a bloke who murdered someone actually preferring to stay inside where he has all the comforts of home but doesn’t have to earn a living like the rest of us.

We are told our prisons are bursting at the seams. I would suggest this has much to do with the fact that imprisonment itself isn’t much of a deterrent to people with little or no moral compass like Lance Rudge.

Clearly there is a problem with the prison system and, as a senior prison officer told me, it is failing because so many prisoners go on to re-offend upon their release.

According to the latest Ministry of Justice figures, a record number of offenders sentenced for serious crimes last year had committed previous offences. Ninety per cent of those sentenced in England and Wales had offended before – and almost a third had committed or were linked to 15 or more crimes. The figures showed that re-offending rates were highest among serious offenders who had been jailed.

Ministry of Justice officials say the figures show a “clear trend” of a rising re-offending rate.

I read that as a clear acknowledgment that being in prison doesn’t put people off coming out into society and committing more crime.

Of course rehabilitation is important. Of course reaching those who may be at risk of falling into a life of crime is important.

But surely the final resort is important too – and not simply for keeping the public safe.

Until prisons are more of a deterrent then I would suggest that rapists, paedophiles, armed robbers and murderers like Lance Rudge are simply laughing at us for funding their cosy existences.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel

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