Stalwart Mick recalls opening of Potteries Shopping Centre

With a new bus station due and a multi-million pound shopping centre soon to follow, the landscape is certainly changing up ’Anley.

Not since the late Eighties have we seen development on this scale in the town.

Back then we were all awaiting the opening of a new venue that would, quite literally, transform what people were starting to call the city centre.

For what seemed like an eternity, white hoardings surrounded the vast building site.

Then, on June 1, 1988 The Potteries Shopping Centre opened its doors to customers for the first time.

Working that day was Michael Steele, who had begun his job as a security officer two weeks earlier.

Almost a quarter of a century later and Mick is still keeping customers safe and happy in his role as Operations Manager.

Mick, who lives in Burslem, remembers that time vividly as the new job represented a leap into the unknown for him.

He said: “I had previously worked at H&R Johnson’s for 11 years and was made redundant in the April of 1988.

“I saw the job advertised in The Sentinel and I remember the day of my interview quite clearly as I had to fight through workmen to get to the offices for the meeting.

“It was very daunting at the time. I had only ever worked in a factory environment and so this sort of job was all new to me.

“I remember the boss telling us to ‘get lost’ and he meant it. He wanted us all to know the place like the back of our hands because he knew that very soon there would be people asking us for directions.

“I remember thinking how big it was. Five and a half acres and 11,000 square metres of corridors.” etc.”

Of course, not everyone was impressed with the new-fangled shopping mall.

Mick, pictured, said: “I remember one elderly gentlemen coming through the doors for the first time and saying to a young woman, who I assumed to be his daughter, ‘I’ll give it five years before it’s a bowling alley’.”

Fortunately, that particular visitor was wrong and 24 years later The Potteries Shopping Centre remains a huge success story.

It currently boasts around 80 stores and has a popular 120-stall market underneath it. Together, they attract more than 13 million visitors each year.

Surprisingly, many of the shopping centre’s first tenants – such as Burton and Dorothy Perkins – are still in situ alongside newer arrivals like Costa Coffee and the Disney store.

Mick said: “There have been changes and comings and goings, obviously, but not as many as people might think.

“I think people are now quite proud of The Potteries Shopping Centre and the market. It helps that we are very well integrated in the local community and do a lot of charity work.”

Over the years Mick has rubbed shoulders with a variety of celebrities who have turned up on his doorstep – from the TV Gladiator Panther and comedians Cannon and Ball to stargazer Patrick Moore. CBE.

There was also the time when the Power Rangers visited the mall and Mick, wielding a loud hailer, was left to deal with expectant crowds of mums and children when the superheroes’ train was delayed.

“Oh, and I held the door open for Britt Ekland too,” said the 59-year-old.

There’s no doubt, however, that Christmas is Mick’s favourite time of the year.

He said: “The atmosphere transforms in November when our opening hours change and the Christmas lights are switched on.

“Now that Lewis’s has gone I suppose The Potteries Shopping Centre is the focal point for Christmas celebrations because we have Santa’s grotto and it’s great to be a part of the planning process. An awful lot of work goes in to making it a special time.”

Last year it was announced that the venue’s owners, Capital Shopping Centres, are to spend £14 million expanding the complex to create a 10-screen cinema and six ‘family-friendly’ restaurants overlooking a new pedestrian avenue.

And, fingers crossed, Mick will be here to oversee that next chapter.

He added: “I’ve probably got another five years left to work – if they keep me – and I can honestly say working here remains an absolute pleasure. I’ve been very lucky.”

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

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You know you’re a Potteries child of the Eighties when…

The end of my first year of 80s nostalgia columns has prompted me to consider what it means to be a child of the Eighties.

I guess there are some general criteria, such as understanding the profound meaning of the phrase ‘Wax on/ Wax off’, knowing the words to the original McDonald’s advert off-by-heart and remembering when Betamax was the cutting edge of technology.

Alternatively, there’s being at school at the same time as Tucker and ‘Gripper’ Stebson, knowing what YUPPIE stands for and still owning a few cassette tapes.

Of course, these could apply to any children in the UK who grew up in the decade of decadence.

However, if – like me – you were raised in North Staffordshire during those years, here’s my somewhat localised list which defines you as a child of the Eighties:

*You were annually enrolled on the Staffordshire Police Activities and Community Enterprise (SPACE) scheme which kept you out of mischief during the summer holidays

*Your were dragged to the 1986 Garden Festival several times in all weathers because your family had bought a season ticket and the thought of the Twyfords ‘cascade’ still makes you laugh

*You remember the brown and cream Sammy Turner’s buses but more often caught buses run by PMT (Potteries Motor Traction) and thought nothing of the connotations of the acronym

*You can’t remember what was on the site of the Potteries Shopping Centre before it opened its doors in 1988

*You viewed it a badge of honour to have survived a ride on The Corkscrew at Alton Towers

*You either went to Rhyl or Blackpool for your holidays during Potters’ Fortnight and ate cold toast on the journey

*You remember the city centre having two cinemas on the same street – The Odeon (now The Regent Theatre) vying for business with the cheap and cheerful ABC down the road

*You considered Fantasy World and Lotus Records the coolest places in Hanley and knew Bratt & Dyke as that posh shop your mum took you to when the sales were on or you needed a winter coat

*You bought a 10 pence mix from ‘The Outdoor’, including Black Jacks and Fruits Salads, and remember some of the sweets costing a tiny half a pence

*Your drank Alpine pop in a variety of radioactive colours delivered by the milkman

*You remember when our Spitfire was displayed in a big greenhouse outside the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery and the best thing inside the building was THAT skeleton

*You recall Stoke City changing their manager more often than their socks and poor relations Port Vale earning a reputation as FA Cup giant killers

*You viewed Eric ‘Crafty Cockney’ Bristow and Ray Reardon as local celebrities – even though neither of them were actually from the Potteries

*You were amazed when a newsagent from Cobridge won an Olympic gold medal in Seoul – mainly because you thought hockey was for girls

*You partied at The Place, attempted break-dancing at Regimes, fell in love with Indie music at Ritzy’s nightclub and should have known better than to have been seen dead in Chicos

*You remember people having jobs at Shelton Bar, Royal Doulton and ‘down the pits’ and being told during a careers fair at your school that a job at ‘The Mich’ was a job for life’

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

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.

We must see the light about the whole city’s prosperity

I spent half an hour on the telephone the other day to a lovely bloke from Longton.
He was bemoaning the fact that The Sentinel hadn’t published a special supplement to publicise the switch-on of Longton’s Christmas lights – similar to the one we produced for Hanley.
Inevitably, it turned into a conversation about why one town in Stoke-on-Trent seems to receive all the money and support while the other five struggle or stagnate.
I had some sympathy for the passionate Longtonian’s plight but at the same time I did my best to make him see the light.
Stoke-on-Trent has to have a city centre and there’s no getting away from the fact that Hanley is it.
That being the case it is only natural, I told him, to expect that much of the money, most of the council’s endeavour and a lot of the big public events are focused on the town that has for so long been the city’s heart.
I tell everyone I meet how proud I am of the Mother Town.
But as much as I want Burslem and all the other towns to thrive, I know that, ultimately, a successful Hanley is key to the future prosperity of the city as a whole.
Hanley has the city’s main museum, our biggest library, the best theatre and the widest variety of shops and restaurants anywhere in North Staffordshire.
Thus it will always be the biggest draw for shoppers and tourists alike.
This is why I’m not pressing the panic button just yet, like some seem to be, over the opening of the behemoth that is the new Tesco superstore at the bottom of Piccadilly.
There is real concern in some quarters, particularly among retailers, that this one-stop shop will suck the life out of the city centre – killing off trade and forcing other stores to close.
They simply can’t understand why this development was given the green light.
After all, an application to increase the size of the Tesco store in Trent Vale was turned down on the grounds that it could be detrimental to trade in Newcastle.
Yet just a few miles up the road a gigantic superstore has been allowed to open just half a mile from The Potteries Shopping Centre.
I suspect the reason for this contradiction is twofold.
Firstly, Hanley is bigger, experiences greater footfall and has many more shops and attractions than Newcastle.
This all means it is better equipped to cope with the advent of another offer to consumers.
Secondly, giving the go-ahead for this mammoth store certainly solved a huge headache for the city council’s planning officers in that it facilitated the completion of the ring road.
One area of Hanley now looks a lot more modern, clean and attractive than it did 12 months ago as a result of the Tesco development and the accompanying new infrastructure.
It’s certainly a damn site more appealing than derelict buildings and wasteland.
While I don’t believe the third largest retailer in the world to be Hanley’s saviour neither do I consider Tesco to be the retail equivalent of the Devil incarnate.
When I visit Hanley I may indeed do some grocery shopping at Tesco.
Then again, I may call in at Sainsbury’s, just to be awkward.
What I do know is that I’ll still want to nip in Costa for a cappuccino (other coffee houses are available), I’ll always have a mooch around Forbidden Planet on Stafford Street, I’ll certainly have a butcher’s at the clothes in the Potteries Shopping Centre and I’ll always visit my mum on the oatcake stall in the market.
Free parking or not, Tesco does not spell the end of Hanley as a retail centre.
Not if the powers-that-be continue to invest time and money into the city centre.
Not if we can finally get a new bus station built and put the finishing touches to our Cultural Quarter.
Not if we make the most of the fabulous opportunity afforded us by the acquisition of the Staffordshire Hoard.
Let’s not forget that Hanley has had a Tesco for years.
In my opinion, the new superstore is a welcome addition to the city centre’s retail stable and we should stop mithering and keep supporting all the traders in Hanley.
After all, I’ve heard that ‘every little helps…’