Just look at what COULD happen in our neck of the woods in 2013

Port Vale striker Tom Pope is set for a big year in 2013.

Port Vale striker Tom Pope is set for a big year in 2013.

It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day and a New Year to boot.
As we shrug off the hangovers and stare balefully into the slate grey skies I, for one, am determined to be positive.
You know, I think 2013 might be alright if my crystal ball is anything to go by.
Here’s what COULD happen in the next 12 months…

*Stoke City qualify for the Europa League two months before the end of the season on account of not having lost a game at the Brit since 2003.
Sir Alex Ferguson gives Tony Pulis ‘the hairdryer’ for not having the decency to sell England defender Ryan Shawcross back to him – muttering something like: “He forgets all the favours I’ve done him” and mentions Stoke being “just a wee club in the Midlands”.
Potters striker Michael Owen then wins the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award. Like his three predecessors – Tony McCoy, Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins – Owen takes the crown after spending his entire sporting year sitting down. (Joke © The Sentinel’s Sportsdesk)
*Sir Alex Ferguson is left tearing what’s left of his hair out as Tom Pope turns down a multi-million pound move to Old Trafford as a like-for-like replacement for Wayne Rooney.
Explaining his decision to The Sentinel, the Pontiff – whose 40 goals fire Port Vale to automatic promotion – said: “What’s Salford Quays got that I conna get in Sneyd Green, youth?”
Port Vale Supporters’ Club begins fund-raising for a statue of Pope, scheduled to be completed to coincide with the 27-year-old’s 40th birthday celebrations.
Meanwhile, in honour of the Burslem club’s success, the city council lifts the ban on Vale players urinating in the bushes at Hanley Forest Park.
*In a bid to save money Stoke-on-Trent City Council ditches plans to relocate its Civic HQ from Stoke to Hanley in favour of a move to neighbouring Newcastle.
Explaining the decision, council leader Mohammed Pervez said most people considered Newcastle to be in the Potteries anyway, even it was “a bit posher”.
However, councillors in the Loyal and Ancient Borough start a petition against the proposals – barricading themselves into the Guildhall until those riff-raff have gone away.
*In an attempt to improve Stoke-on-Trent’s image in the wake of the disastrous BBC documentary The Year The Town Hall Shrank, council leader Mohammed Pervez agrees to star in I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here.
After successfully completing several Bushtucker trials councillor Pervez is narrowly beaten into third place by the pretend opera singer off the Go Compare telly adverts and a kangaroo named Dave.
Mr Pervez, however, remains upbeat – claiming he has “put the city on the map” and reveals he has persuaded Ant and Dec to appear in The Regent Theatre’s pantomime.
*Buoyed by his appearance on ITV1, city council leader Mr Pervez unveils the authority’s latest cost-cutting initiatives.
These include only four out of five council workmen being allowed to loaf about for two hours at lunchtime.
*Staff at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery are put in celebratory mood once more following the discovery of a further 700 pieces of the Staffordshire Hoard in a field near Lichfield.
After farmer Fred Johnson ploughs the earth deeper than a Rory Delap throw-in, he churns up Excalibur, the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail as well as the missing tail fin from the city’s Spitfire RW388.
The museum’s Principal Collections Officer Deb Klemperer tells The Sentinel that experts hope to have worked out what the new finds actually are before she retires in 2050.
*Staffordshire’s new Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Ellis unveils his radical new idea to solve the force’s acute staffing shortage.
After appointing his sixth deputy, Mr Ellis tells the media he will be handing out police uniforms to anyone who wants one, adding: “This is the Big Society in action. The genius of the idea is that the crims won’t know who’s a real copper and who isn’t.”
The Sentinel’s crime reporter thinks he’s joking until he hands her a canister of CS spray some flashing blue lights for her motor.
*Local radio stations run another story claiming The Sentinel is closing down.
The Sentinel’s Editor-in-Chief responds by publishing a 148-page supplement to mark the paper’s 148th anniversary – including all the stories the paper has beaten the radio stations to during the previous week.
*Developers of the new multi-million City Sentral retail complex on the site of the former Hanley Bus Station announce they have attracted another big name store to the development.
Poundland confirms it will be employing up to six part-time staff at its new superstore.
A spokesman for the shopping complex reveals the name is also to be changed after a huge public outcry because City Sentral is “clearly a bit daft”.
Expect the new Jonny Wilkes Centre to be open in
time for Christmas.
What are your hopes for 2013?

Homes are still where the heart is for estate agent Roger

England had a World Cup-winning football team when Roger Follwell took his first steps towards a career in the property business.
Forty six years later and he is still enjoying his work and took time out to share his thoughts on the industry that has been his bread and butter and is now firmly a family affair for the 65-year-old.
Penkhull-born Roger started out by completing a five-year correspondence course with Louis Taylor in 1966.
In 1971, as a Chartered Surveyor, he began work as an associate partner with estate agency Henry Steele & Sons in the Mother Town.
He remained with the firm until it was bought out by Nationwide and, after working for the building society for a couple of years, went on to set up the company bearing his name in 1991.
Roger didn’t have to go solo. Indeed, he was offered a job with Nationwide in Nantwich but decided to stay in his native North Staffordshire – a patch he knew very well. It was a brave decision.
Roger said: “People think it’s tough now but they have short memories. It was very slow going for me at first back in the early Nineties, for example, because interest rates were at 14 or 15 per cent. Yes, it’s a difficult market now but I don’t think it is as bad as it was in 2008 when the tap was simply turned off and people just couldn’t get mortgages. We’re still selling properties and, if people are prepared to accept a low offer for their property then they can often put themselves into a good position to negotiate a decent price for the home they want.”
Of course, things are very different now than they were in the Seventies and Eighties when Roger was first making a name for himself in the business.
He said: “Back then I remember building societies would visit major employers such as Royal Doulton and Michelin and outline mortgage offers to first-time buyers.
“We would sell lots of properties in the Middleport area, for example, but many of those streets have now been demolished. A lot of the properties had become rented and sadly deteriorated over the years through lack of care.
“In the early Eighties you could pick up a mid-terrace property in Burslem for £3,500. Towards the end of the decade they were selling for between £5,000 and £7,000 – with similar properties in areas like the Westlands in Newcastle were selling for between £10,000 and £15,000. Then, of course, there was the huge explosion in property prices and that’s when building societies began buying up estate agencies left, right and centre.”
The internet had made a huge difference to Roger’s industry but he believes there are some things technology will never replace.
He said: “It’s great to be able to have all that information about properties and postcodes at your fingertips but, when it comes down to it, people want to sit down and talk things through because buying a home is a big deal.
“That’s where 40 years of experience and local knowledge comes in handy.”
Roger now employs a dozen staff at Follwell’s three offices in Stone, Market Drayton, and the Ironmarket in Newcastle and has enjoyed watching his sons Tom and John settle into the family business.
I asked him what would be the one piece of advice he would give to first-time buyers these days.
Roger said: “I would advise them to look for a modest, mid-terrace property in an area that still has good community spirit. You can still find those neighbourhoods – even though certain areas have been over-developed. I think North Staffordshire is a great place. I’m certainly very proud of it. I think that sometimes it takes a knocking but that’s mostly from outsiders. As I sit here in our offices overlooking the Queen’s Gardens I can’t help but feel lucky to be here.”

How The Stone Roses transported me back to that glorious summer of 1989

It was one for my personal ‘bucket-list’. An ambition realised seemingly against all the odds. As the light faded over Manchester four stars came out to shine.

Like many others, I never thought I’d see the day: The Stone Roses were back on stage together again and it was simply glorious.

It didn’t matter that summer showers had reduced much of Heaton Park to a Glastonbury-esque mudbath.

It didn’t matter that a fair proportion of the 70,000-strong crowd were wasted on drink or drugs. Or perhaps both.

It didn’t matter that 30 feet to the left of us a man was randomly urinating as he danced about – a JD Sports carrier bag full of alcohol slung over his shoulder as he twirled around.

Not pleasant, granted, but it didn’t bother us overly.

When the first strains of I Wanna Be Adored swept across the expectant hordes there was an audible gasp.

The disparate elements of an Eighties musical phenomenon had been reunited and the resulting chemistry was irresistible.

When the Stone Roses’s seminal first album was released in April 1989 it seemed to perfectly capture that moment in time.

They had produced arguably the perfect debut album. There’s not a single duff track which is why it sounds as good today as it did when Eastern Europe was in revolution and Maggie’s Poll Tax was being inflicted on Scotland.

The Stone Roses were in the vanguard of a renaissance for British guitar bands.

Without the Roses there would arguably have been no Brit pop. There would certainly have been no Oasis.

That’s why everyone from the Gallagher brothers to artist Damien Hirst and even Hollywood icons like Brad Pitt have lined up to pay homage to four northern lads who gave music a good kick in the you-know-whats just when it needed it.

In 1989 yours truly was 17 and a student at Sixth Form College, Fenton.

I had a Saturday job at the Brittain Adams fireplace and bathroom showroom in Tunstall which paid me a tenner.

That was enough to pay for student night at Ritzy’s in Newcastle where indie kids like me could jig about to everything from the Happy Mondays and the Inspiral Carpets to The Wonder Stuff and Carter USM.

But the Stone Roses towered above all other bands of that era. They were simply a class apart.

Their music. Their look. Their attitude. It was all brilliantly distinctive.

The Roses’s debut album was the most played cassette tape in my mate Rob’s blue Ford Orion. He was the only one of us who had a car, you see.

Long before Manchester United’s multi-million pound heroes were running out on to the Hallowed turf at Old Trafford with This Is The One ringing in their ears, it was the euphoric warm-up track for our pool team at the now-defunct Duke of Wellington pub at Norton.

On Sunday night in Manchester it was, for me, the high-point of a two-hour gig which transported me back to my days of long(ish) hair, baggy jeans and no responsibilities.

The classics flowed, along with the beer, as Fools Gold, Sally Cinnamon, Sugar Spun Sister, Made Of Stone and I Am The Resurrection brought the memories flooding back.

Square and safe as we were, my mates and I never did drugs and so seeing the ‘popper’ sellers on the streets and spaced-out people falling over in the mud was something of a shock. I guess we just forgot how strange and brave things were as the Eighties came to a close.

Will Ian, John, Mani and Reni manage to stick together to complete this tour?

Will we ever see a third album and will it be any good?

Who knows.

But for a brief moment at least the Mancunian band’s brilliance has been reignited for a new generation – as well as old gits like me and my mate Rob for whom the memory of last Sunday will forever be special.

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

Here’s to the Old Brown Jug

I don’t get out much. Working daft hours and two small children makes for a dull social life. But last night I rolled back the years and enjoyed a couple of pints with a mate in Newcastle’s Old Brown Jug. This is the pub where, in my late teens, I met up with friends every week before inevitably ending up at Ritzy nightclub. The Jug hasn’t changed much. Same old wood floor. It is a proper pub that not only has the power to transport me back to my youth but also appeals to an ageing dad just looking for decent ale and a proper conversation. I’ll drink to that…

Grand old lady has vital role to play in regeneration

Hanley Town Hall.

Hanley Town Hall.

For all its aesthetic problems, we should always take heart from the fact that the Potteries is blessed with a significant number of architectural gems.

Nowhere are beautiful buildings more prevalent than in the Mother Town of Burslem.

However, the city centre also has one or two special buildings which stand out from the urban sprawl – not least of which is Hanley Town Hall.

New plans to transform it into a hotel might surprise and upset a fair few people, but on this occasion I think the North Staffordshire Regeneration Partnership and Stoke-on-Trent City Council should be commended for their ambition.

Let’s face it, at present the grand old lady is as good as mothballed – barely used and far too big for the few council staff who rattle around inside.

As the local authority scratches about for cost savings, it seems barmy for taxpayers to be maintaining such a huge building for current uses – namely housing the city’s register office and the council’s licensing, tourism and trading standards departments.

If there’s one thing North Staffordshire is desperately short of, it is prestige hotel accommodation and where better to have it located than a cockstride from The Regent Theatre, The Victoria Hall and The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery?

Positioned as it is in Albion Street, the town hall should be one of the jewels of our Cultural Quarter.

As it is, it is like having a Rolls-Royce parked on your drive but never opening the doors.

Make no bones about it, this proposal is nothing like the ill-fated abomination of turning Newcastle’s historic Guildhall into a pub.

Let’s not forget that Hanley Town Hall was originally built as the Queen’s Hotel in 1869 and only became a civic building some 17 years later.

(There is no truth whatsoever in the rumour that the hotel’s owners sold up because they were so fed up of waiting for the bus station to be redeveloped).

Attracting visitors to Hanley and making them want to hang around is not simply a question of having places of interest to visit, good transport links and somewhere for them to lay their head.

It’s about creating the right ingredients for a memorable experience – particularly if we want them to leave with a good impression and talk the place up.

By the same token, us locals want to have pride in our city centre.

In simple terms, that means getting shot of derelict buildings and bringing into use sleeping giants like the town hall.

Of course, to make an upmarket hotel in Hanley viable then we have to present visitors with reasons to stay the night.

With two cracking live entertainment venues and a museum which will soon house the Staffordshire Hoard, this isn’t beyond the realms of possibility.

However, as we’ve seen with the chequered history of The George in Burslem, hotels need more than a grand façade to turn a profit.

I would suggest that key to converting the town hall into a successful hotel would seem to be the transformation of the area around the building.

That means, of course, the great carbuncle that is Hanley bus station has to come down – something which we’ve now been promised (again) will happen.

We are safe in the knowledge that, as a Grade I-listed building, the town hall won’t become a victim of environmental vandalism.

After all, there’s surely only room for one Ceramica in any city.

Urban regeneration is more than simply demolition followed by new-build.

It is about conserving and breathing life into our heritage buildings so that they become more than something nice to look at as you wander past.

That being the case, I am convinced that if we want to create a genuine Cultural Quarter worth the name then buildings like the town hall and poor old Bethesda Chapel have a key role to play.

Hitting the oatcake trail in Newcastle

Sentinel columnist Martin Tideswell puts his summer weight-loss plan on hold in his quest for the perfect oatcake…

Did I fancy going up ’Castle and trying out some oatcakes?

‘It’s sort of like a pub crawl but without the ale’ – was how it was sold to me.

Well, it was a tough ask, but I guess someone had to do it.

So the diet went out of the window for the morning as yours truly became chief taster on the Oatcake Trail.

Now, as anyone who knows me will attest to… I can eat.

However, I knew that even I wouldn’t manage portions at 10 of the 12 eateries offering a different take on North Staffordshire’s signature dish.

So I dragged along another accomplished Sentinel ‘foodie’ – Chief Photographer Neil Hulse.
Now before we start, let’s get something straight

Connoisseurs claim that the humble oatcake came about when soldiers returning to North Staffordshire from India tried to replicate the chapatis they had been eating.

Whatever the truth, I am a devout believer that our oatcakes are meant for savoury dishes.

They are not, and never will be, crêpes. Any attempt to put chocolate sauce, maple syrup, ice cream or fruit anywhere near our native dish should be outlawed. It’s against the natural order of things.

Secondly, buying oatcakes from a supermarket is just plain wrong.

Having been weaned on oatcakes cooked by a lovely bloke called Gordon on the hotplate at his terrace property opposite Hanley Central Forest Park, I have certain standards.

Thus I went into this exercise fairly skeptical of anyone attempting to fiddle around with culinary perfection.

That said, for two days only a dozen traditional oatcake shops, cafés, bistros and restaurants are having a go by cooking up their own unique version of the North Staffordshire delicacy as part of the first ever Oatcake Festival.

The event is part of the Shop Newcastle-under-Lyme campaign which is aimed at boosting the local economy.

I soon got talking to former newsagent turned oatcake entrepreneur Martyn Smith, of Foley’s Oatcakes.

Martyn, who owns a shop in Fenton, decided to branch out last November by selling oatcakes from a stall next to Newcastle’s Guildhall.

The venture is going really well. Interestingly, he told me he tried the same stunt in Sandbach, but sadly people there weren’t interested.

If you ask me, the Oatcake Trail is great idea and – if it adds to people’s enjoyment of a day out in Newcastle’s beautiful town centre – then I’m all for it.

Suffice to say that the staff at every single venue were as warm and welcoming as they oatcakes they served up. However, by the time Neil and I reached our tenth eaterie we were both flagging.

He was green at the gills and I was waddling like a lame duck.

So apologies to the Hippy Hippy Shake Company and Hector Garcia but, had we continued along the trail, then there was a very real possibility of one or both of us exploding in the style of Monty Python’s Mr Creosote.

As we headed back to our cars, we mulled over the brie, the roasted cherry tomatoes, the mint and lime chutney, the Yuletide flavours, Spanish spices and even the sea food.

But, in the end, Neil and I agreed that like Anthony and Cleopatra, Fred and Ginger or Hoddle and Waddle – oatcakes have already found their perfect partners.

Bacon and cheese… we salute you!

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.