It’s great news up ‘Anley. Just a shame about the spelling…

If, like me, you are one of those sad individuals who gets upset when you spot a missing apostrophe on a shop sign or dodgy spelling in a menu, then you probably groaned at page seven of The Sentinel a few days ago.
A specialist agency in London was presumably paid a not insubstantial sum to ‘create’ the name of the new £350 million shopping centre which will be built on the site of the old bus station.
Bear in mind this is a scheme on which, it is fair to say, much of the hopes for the regeneration of the city centre are based.
The agency came up, wait for it… ‘City Sentral’ because, and I quote: “The use of the ‘S’ in Sentral reflects the very nature of the scheme – Stoke-on-Trent as central – while also giving it stand-out quality.”
Tragically, there’s more where that flannel came from.
Apparently, City Sentral has a “brightly-coloured ‘asterisk’ icon which reflects the exciting, dynamic nature of the project – with each of the arrows representing a different aspect of the City Sentral offer.”
I am not the first, and I dare say won’t be the last, to say that this is a crime against the Queen’s English. It’s also marketing nonsense. Nonsense that starts with a nonsensical name.
Yes, developer Realis has shelled out brass to a branding firm down south who have saddled us with what must be the most expensive spelling mistake in retail history.
Essentially the new name for the East West Precinct says to visitors that here in Stoke-on-Trent there is a desperate shortage of dictionaries.
‘City Sentral’ basically says we Stokies are either a) thick or b) trying a bit too hard to appear different.
It’s so much worse than calling a children’s play centre a ‘kidz zone’ or calling young people’s services ‘Uth services’ because we are talking about a showpiece £350 million development.
I’m pretty sure that had Realis run a competition through this newspaper or even with local schools it would have been presented with several hundred names which are better than City Sentral and a logo which didn’t look like it had been created using an Etch A Sketch.
They could have called the new shopping centre ‘Hanley One’, or ‘The Station’ or ‘The Phoenix’.
For heaven’s sake anything would have been better than City Sentral.
It’s not that I have anything against the development – unlike my columnist colleague Mike Wolfe. Indeed, I can’t wait for work to finally commence and to find out the names of some of the new tenants.
Some will say the name of the new complex is irrelevant but I disagree.
I’m just so disappointed that, in trying to be clever, Stoke-on-Trent has once again ended up with egg on its face.
Contrast this then with the Potteries Shopping Centre (a proper name that is because it does what it says on the tin) which has just announced a planned £14 million extension.
I suppose the owners of Hanley’s main retail complex had to react in some way to what’s about the happen at the old bus station site and I, for one, am delighted with the proposals.
Six restaurants, a 10-screen cinema, more parking spaces and 200 jobs? I’ll have some of that, please.
Forget the nay-sayers with their predictions of doom and gloom for Festival Park.
Just ask yourself this question: What kind of city centre doesn’t have a cinema? Enough said.
It strikes me that more and better places to eat and a multiplex movie theatre will perfectly complement the existing stores and market stalls.
So let’s finish on a positive note. When you combine what Realis is about to do at the bus station site with the expansion of the Potteries Shopping Centre, the opening of the wonderful Mitchell Memorial Youth Arts Centre and plans to upgrade the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery to take advantage of the acquisition of the Staffordshire Hoard, we are in danger of having a city centre to be proud of.
More to the point, it would be somewhere where you could genuinely spend a day out.
So long as you can stomach the poor grammar, that is.


It’s time to be positive about our city centre

I’ve often said that we Stokies are far too slow to trumpet our achievements.
There is perhaps something in the water in the ST postcode area which makes us hide our light under the proverbial bushel.
Round here, we are simply not very good at shouting about what we do.
We tend not to get very excited about anything new and, thanks to the many follies and failures inflicted on us in recent years, we view change with a healthy dose of scepticism.
Other cities have mastered the art of maximising their potential.
We have mastered the art of talking ourselves down –preferring instead to whinge on about what what’s missing rather than focusing on what we’ve actually got.
Ever the optimist, I’ve a feeling that all this is about to change.
Why? One word: Hanley.
Even a confirmed Boslemite like myself can’t help but feel excited about the regeneration work taking place in and around the Hanley at present.
A few days ago I was fortunate enough to be taken on a tour around the new Mitchell Memorial Youth Arts Centre by my friend and Sentinel colleague Fred Hughes who is chairman of the trust which runs the ‘Mitch’ as we all know it.
The new £4.3 million venue officially opens its doors on Monday, September 5, to coincide with the start of Battle of Britain week and I can tell you that performers and punters alike are in for a real treat.
It is a piece of architecture to be proud of which walks that fine line of being unashamedly modern and functional while giving a respectful nod to the past.
With its Spitfire wing roof curving out like some protective arm round the shoulder of Piccadilly, the new Mitch is a state of the art venue worthy of the name of the man whose iconic aircraft design helped to turn the tide of the Second World War.
It boasts a revamped theatre/cinema, 1,000 square foot dance studio, updated dressing rooms and toilets, a new roof terrace and a glass-fronted café.
But it is the attention detail which proper Potters will love – such as the original blueprints of Reginald Mitchell’s legendary fighter plane writ large on decorative panels in the auditorium.
I dare say you won’t find a better community and performing arts centre anywhere in the UK and it is a wonderful addition to the Cultural Quarter.
But what excites me is that the new Mitch is just one piece in the jigsaw puzzle which is at last coming together to turn Hanley into something more than just the place where most of us do our shopping.
Just up the road, the renaissance of Bethesda Chapel continues at a sedate pace which rather suits the grand old lady.
But, make no mistake about it, when the refurbishment is completed in 2013, Bethesda will become the jewel in the Cultural Quarter’s crown.
As with the Mitch, the rebirth of the Methodist chapel draws heavily on the city’s heritage.
Together the magnificent Regent Theatre, these buildings will give us three very different venues for the performing arts, exhibitions and civic functions.
At the same time, senior staff at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery are drawing up proposals to bid for funding around the acquisition of the Staffordshire Hoard.
The potential afforded by the transformation of our showpiece museum by this breathtaking archaeological discovery is limitless.
Equally importantly, at long last we are going to get a new bus station. Wonders never cease.
Who knows, maybe soon someone at the Civic Centre will come up with a viable plan to make use of Hanley Town Hall – another architectural gem just waiting to be polished.
What’s more, the city council is spending several million pounds on improving the public realm in Hanley – that’s planner and architect-speak for the space in between private buildings – including pavements, streets, squares and parks.
In other words, they are going to make the city centre a much more attractive place for people to visit and work in which will hopefully help to drive outside investment.
I can’t remember a more exciting time for the heart of our city since the opening of the Potteries Shopping Centre.
Sure, there will be the usual nay-sayers but, just for once, I think we can afford to be positive and be proud of not only what we’ve got, but what is to come.

Festive period is the time to view our city in a new light

Later this week the city is going to throw the kitchen sink at its showpiece Christmas Lights switch-on event.
In addition to the usual trees and decorations, various buildings around Hanley will be lit up or open late as a one-off – showing the city centre in a completely new light.
They are calling it Light Night.
It wasn’t our idea – other cities have beaten us to it. Nevertheless, there’s no denying it’s a great way of showcasing some of Hanley’s architectural gems and opening people’s eyes to places they wouldn’t ordinarily take notice of.
Places like the Mitchell Memorial Youth Arts Centre, or, just up the road, the little-known AirSpace art gallery in that beautiful Victorian building on the corner of Broad Street.
We have a museum housing wonderful archaeological treasures and one of the finest theatres in the country.
Why shouldn’t we show them off?
At this time of grim austerity and in the wake of so many job cuts some may argue that shelling out tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money on free entertainment, carnival costumes and even more baubles is an extravagance we simple can’t afford.
But if you ask me it is money well spent and exactly the kind of event we should be staging to help lift spirits and generate trade.
After all, we can’t consider ourselves to be a proper city if we aren’t able to put on a bit of a show to herald the start of the Christmas shopping bonanza.
So let’s stop moaning about how long the selection boxes have been on sale for.
Never mind how many times you have to listen to Slade on a loop in every shop.
Who cares how much it costs to park on the multi-storey?
The fact is we need the magic of Christmas now more than ever and we should enjoy every twinkling fairy light and every minute of the countdown – no matter how early it begins.
If you are from Stoke-on-Trent and of a certain age then a trip up to Fountain Square on Thursday afternoon should bring back some fond memories.
Yes, I know the other towns will all be having their own switch-on events but the truth is that it is shopping in Hanley that is a huge part of Christmas for generations of Potters.
Like me, you’ll no doubt recall standing in the freezing cold at some time waiting for the Santa parade to go past.
Like me you may also remember queuing for what seemed like an eternity to have two minutes with Father Christmas inside the wonderland that was the toy department at Lewis’s department store.
As much as I love Burslem, so much of Christmas is wrapped up in Hanley for me, and even I can appreciate just how important the success of the city centre is to the local economy.
That is why I’m hoping that Thursday’s shenanigans, coupled with the opening of the mammoth new Tesco superstore, will be just the shot in the arm Hanley needs.
Events like Light Night are what reinforce Hanley’s status as the city’s retail heart and anything which helps to draws the crowds and encourages them to spend money has to be a good thing.
Helpfully, Thursday is also highlighting what work remains to be done in order to create a city centre to be proud of.
If we can finally get the bus station rebuilt, restore Bethesda Chapel and think of a better use for the beautiful Town Hall then we will have a Cultural Quarter worthy of the name and a town capable of attracting shoppers from further afield as well as tourists.
There are those who bemoan the commercialisation of Christmas and urge us to remember the real “reason for the season”.
But why can’t we enjoy both?
For many of us a day-long present-buying expedition to Hanley, a visit to Santa’s Grotto in the Potteries Shopping Centre or a night out to see the Regent Theatre’s pantomime are as much a part of Christmas as turkey with all the trimmings or listening to carols from King’s.