Night-time economy is vital for Hanley and our city as a whole

A police officer on the look-out for trouble in Hanley.

A police officer on the look-out for trouble in Hanley.

Nightclubs are, mercifully, a distant memory for me. As much as I enjoyed shoe-gazing to Indie tunes in the late Eighties and early Nineties at The Ritzy in Newcastle, ‘dance music’ – and the whole popping pills mullarky – left me cold.

It didn’t help that I’m no Travolta, neither. When I was in The Regent theatre’s panto a couple of years ago, Welsh star Christian Patterson, who played the dame, wrote: ‘Martin is to dancing what King Herod was to babysitting.’

It was a harsh, but fair assessment.

My drinking days are long gone too.

In truth, I never really enjoyed booze like my peers did and was almost always the driver for my mates when we went on pub crawls around Hanley or up ’Castle.

My friends would shrink with embarrassment when I ordered a glass of red wine in a pub as part of their round of manly pints.

Four bottles of Newcastle Brown Ale or four pints of Löwenbräu (laughing juice as we used to call it) up the Duke of Wellington at Norton and I didn’t know whether it was Friday or Norway.

To be honest, I could never understand why anyone would want to drink pints of anything. It just made me need the loo. I always regretted it the day after too: Waking up with a banging headache and stinking of cigarette smoke.

We weren’t bad lads by any stretch of the imagination.

Unless you count running past Hanley nick late at night with a traffic cone on your head and being chased by a couple of coppers.

Then there was the time I drove down the A500 in the dark in my bright yellow Austin Metro, forgetting to put the lights on and barely able to see out of the windscreen because of the smoke from the marijuana spliffs being passed around by my passengers.

In truth we were far too square to get into any real trouble.

However, even in our day – 20 odd years ago now – there were always idiots looking for a fight in pubs and clubs and we got into a few scrapes.

It seems some things haven’t changed.

This week’s figures showing that Stoke-on-Trent is ranked as the 15th worst local authority area in England and Wales in terms of violent crime, shouldn’t really surprise anyone.

For starters, the city is 16th in the list of most populous built-up areas in England and Wales, according to the Office for National Statistics, so our position in the ‘league table of troublespots’ sort of makes sense.

Around 13 per cent of violent incidents in the Potteries happen in Hanley. Again, this is to be expected, I suppose – given that the city centre has a large number of pubs and clubs concentrated in a relatively small area. Apparently, most of the trouble – involving drunken youths – occurs between 9pm and 4am.

Why anyone would still be out drinking at three or four o’clock in the morning is beyond me.

It was only when I met recently with Hanley’s pub and club owners that I realised that the night-time scene has actually changed beyond all recognition in the last two decades.

Gone are the days when 10, 15 or even 20,000 people were out in the city centre on a Friday or Saturday night – moving from pub to pub and ending up at The Place or Valentino’s – then finishing up with a kebab and a taxi ride home before mum got too worried.

Nowadays, Hanley is a ghost town most nights.

Licensees are fighting for custom from the two to four thousand young people who don’t actually turn up in Hanley until after 10 o’clock – many arriving ‘preloaded’, having drunk copious amounts of alcohol before leaving the house.

They then flock to the Trinity Street area and cause police a huge headache – especially at closing time.

The real problem here, in my opinion, isn’t the fact that a minority of boneheads can’t handle their ale – it’s that Hanley is dead of an evening – with the exception of audiences who visit The Regent, the Victoria Hall or Mitchell Youth Arts Centre when there’s a show on.

This is absolutely not the case in other comparable city centres which have a far more cosmopolitan ambiance and where people of all ages feel comfortable walking round.

The night-time economy in Hanley is genuinely struggling and really needs some urgent help. It is simply not viewed by over-30s as somewhere they’d like to be of a Friday or Saturday night – unless they have a theatre ticket.

Even if they do visit the theatre, the vast majority park up, watch the show, and go home – rather than heading to a pub or going for a meal. Hanley is currently undergoing major regeneration work involving the expansion of the Potteries Shopping Centre and the creation of the Central Business District.

Meanwhile, we’ve all had a punt in the great sweepstake on whether or not the ridiculously-named City Sentral development will actually happen and finally lead to a much-needed makeover of the old bus station site. Over to you, Realis…

Parts of our city centre now look bright and modern but the problem remains that it isn’t somewhere most people over the age of 30 or anyone with children really wants to visit.
This isn’t a question of demonising young people.

I don’t believe for a second that there is a higher proportion of yobs these days than there was when I was queueing at the bars in Macy’s or the Market Tavern.

Helping the police to reduce violence is, of course, important but – to me – of equal value is assisting those businesses who rely on night-time trade for their survival.

That includes the restaurants and businesses which don’t benefit from an influx of teenagers and 20-somethings of a weekend.

While Hanley is, undoubtedly, a work in progress I think that more needs to be done to tempt families, couples and those born before 1985 to spend their evenings in the city centre.

Christmas shopping nights shouldn’t be the only time when the majority of us want to visit Hanley of an evening. There should be more continental markets and street entertainment, the superb Potteries Museum – for example – could be opened up for evening visitors and more should be done to promote some of the terrific restaurants.

Successful city centres don’t close down at 5.30pm and I would suggest we neglect Hanley’s night-time economy at our peril.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Friday in The Sentinel


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…

Stop waiting for a job and get your hands dirty

YOUTH unemployment levels are at a record high and, as per usual, politicians are falling over themselves to blame each other for this latest set of grim statistics.
The total number of adults under 25 who are out of work moved close to the one million mark in the three months to November – rising by 32,000 to 951,000.
This pushed the youth unemployment rate up to 20.3 per cent, which is the highest level since records began in 1992.
Apparently, there was a particularly sharp rise in the number of 16 and 17-year-olds classed as unemployed, rather than in employment or education, up to 204,000 from 177,000 in the previous quarter.
Perhaps a few chickens are starting to come home to roost – given that successive governments have tried to persuade every man and his dog to go to college or university, thus masking the actual jobless total.
However, even in the current economic climate I find these statistics hard to comprehend.
Times may be tough but I reckon that where there’s a will there’s a way when it comes to employment.
Anyone, particularly young people, can find some sort of job.
It may not be glamorous, it may not equate to your heart’s desire and it may not pay very much, but it’s a darn site better than sitting on your backside waiting for the right job to come along.
A case in point was highlighted in yesterday’s editions of the paper.
How heartening it was to read the story of Aneesah Begum, from Fenton, who – at the age of 17 – has started her own market stall business selling sweets. Not for Aneesah the fear of failure, or waiting for something to happen.
Hers is the kind of entrepreneurial spirit that our city is going to need if we are going to drag ourselves out of the doldrums.
You see, I simply don’t believe that things have changed dramatically since I was a teenager in the late 80s and early 90s – but perhaps teenagers’ expectations have.
I stayed on in further education when I left school but, even so, I viewed getting a part-time job and earning a bit of pocket money as a necessity.
As a teenager I got all my jobs through recommendation or by word of mouth.
My first taste of work (if you exclude my Sentinel paper round) was a summer job at The Seafarer chippy in Cheapside, Hanley.
I was 16 and spent two weeks cutting potatoes in a back room while covering for my mate Darren who was on holiday.
The pay wasn’t great but I did get a free lunch every day…
My second job was secured by my mum and saw a shy, gawky yours truly working as a sales assistant at the Stead & Simpson shoe shop in Fountain Square, Hanley.
Admittedly, I spent most of my time hiding in the store room in case any of the girls from my class spotted me or any good-looking women came in and asked me for help.
Ultimately, however, it did my confidence the world of good because, as anyone who works in retail will tell you, there’s nothing so irksome as a customer.
My third job as a teenager was as a gofer/cleaner at Brittain Adams, the fireplace and bathroom showroom on The Boulevard in Tunstall.
I learned how to vacuum and polish, played cricket in the stock room and picked up a little Anglo-Saxon from a cracking bunch of lads who took me under their wing.
I also earned a tenner for working every Saturday which paid for my nights out at Ritzy in Newcastle and the odd pair of Pepe jeans which were de-rigueur circa 1990.
The trouble is these days that we mollycoddle young people too much and fill their heads with nonsense about finding a job that is fulfilling.
All we are actually doing is depriving them of a bit of real-life experience along the way which can actually inspire them to realise their ambitions.
I didn’t want to cut potatoes, sell shoes or polish bathrooms forever but doing these jobs taught me a little discipline and a healthy respect for the culture of working.
Unfortunately, too many young people today are simply afraid of work that they see as beneath them and are quite content to wait and let the perfect job come to them.

I don’t get out much, these days. Working long hours, small children… you know the score.

In fact, the last ‘local’ I had was the Duke of Wellington in Norton which closed down and was converted into a house about, ooh… 10 years ago.

But on Saturday I rolled back the years and returned to my old stomping ground for a night out with ‘the lads’.

It knew I was in for a good time because, as I drove to my parents’ house to cadge a lift, I flicked on the radio to listen to some music – something a dedicated news and sport listener like me would never normally do.

And the first song I heard?

The Boys Are Back In Town by Thin Lizzy…

‘Guess who just got back today,
Those wild-eyed boys who have been away,
Haven’t changed, haven’t much to say…’

Genius. Game on, I thought.

There was a time when every Christmas I would lead a group of my school and college mates on a pub crawl around Newcastle.

We chose ’Castle, of course, because bitter experience had taught us that Hanley was rougher and we were much more likely to get into a scuffle there with boozed-up boneheads.

In an age when weekends away in Dublin are the norm, I suppose our Christmas dos would now seem fairly tame.

But, to us, it was the highlight of the year.

In those days Ritzy was the nightclub of choice – a place where we could shoe-gaze the night away to The Smiths, The Stone Roses, James and The Levellers et al.

But long before we hit the dancefloor our evenings would begin with a rendezvous at The Old Brown Jug.

And so it was to that fine establishment that 10 of us returned on Saturday.

Three of the original gang couldn’t make it (shame on you), but I was still pleased with the turnout – given the fact that getting some of the boys out for the night is like pulling teeth these days.

I was delighted to see that the wooden-floored Jug hadn’t changed much – except that the clientele looked a lot older than I remembered.

Then I glanced around at my chums. What a motley crew. Grey hair, no hair, spectacles and more than enough nominated drivers.

Then there was yours truly weighing two stone more than I had the last time I propped up that bar and sporting my ridiculous panto beard.

Suddenly I felt very old.

Happily, the time flew because despite the receding hair lines and sensible clothing these boys are still my heroes. After all, they wrote the soundtrack to my youth.

So I just sat back, relaxed and let the conversations wash over me.

Five bottles of Newcastle Brown Ale later and, against my better judgment, we wandered up into the town centre.

Unless I’m mistaken very little has changed since I last enjoyed a festive pub crawl round ’Castle.

It’s still more civilised than the city centre – even if some of the girls should, by rights, be dead from hypothermia given the amount of bare flesh on display on a cold December evening.

In my head, of course, I’m still twenty-odd and I take some convincing that I’m the same age as everyone else reliving their youth in ’80s bar Reflex.

But even the strains of Deacon Blue’s unforgettable Real Gone Kid weren’t enough to convince us to stick around for more than one pint.

And so it was that we made our way back to the Jug and it’s welcoming real fire for the dying embers of the evening.

Although I disgraced myself and proved yet again that I simply cannot take my ale, everyone stayed until the bitter end and we all agreed to stop being such a bunch of wet blankets and meet up again next year.

I’m delighted, because I’m nothing if not a sentimental old sod and I get an enormous buzz out of reuniting my old friends.

As the saying goes… there comes a point in your life when you realise who really matters, who never did, and who always will.

Cheers, boys.