Let’s view Tour of Britain miss as an opportunity for our city

Tour of Britain riders in Hanley.

Tour of Britain riders in Hanley.

I wonder how many taxpayers in Stoke-on-Trent will be genuinely disappointed that the Tour of Britain isn’t coming to the Potteries this year.

The cycle race’s organisers have decided against returning to the city again and instead will host a charity ride for amateurs here in the Six Towns on October 5.

That means we won’t see the likes of Tour de France winner and Olympic gold medalist Sir Bradley Wiggins in Hanley alongside dozens of other pro riders.

To be honest, cycling isn’t my bag. A few of my friends – even some of my colleagues – have taken to two wheels since the London Olympics and I do appreciate the health benefits for them and their kids. All that wind-in-your-hair, outdoors business sounds good.

But as a spectacle, standing for several hours waiting to catch a glimpse of 30-odd blokes who you can’t name whizz past in a nanosecond isn’t my idea of good day out.

I remember being in Hanley on a drizzly afternoon a couple of years ago when The Tour came to town and recall the paved area outside the old Woolies store being cordoned off.

I’m being generous when I say there were perhaps a couple of hundred spectators within sight of Sir Stan’s statue and most people, like me, just seemed frustrated that the crash barriers meant they couldn’t cross the street to get to Marks & Sparks.

I confess I would never consider tuning in to ITV4 or whatever channel The Tour of Britain is broadcast on to catch up with the action – even if for one day you might spot the odd Potteries landmark in the background.

It’s not that I don’t applaud the city council for trying to attract big events to Stoke-on-Trent. I guess cycling as a sport is just a bit niche for me.

Given the viewing figures the Tour of Britain receives, however, I don’t believe I’m alone.

Yes, cycle nerds, cycle shop owners and a few traders in Hanley may have had a good day but I’m not sure hosting the race justified the £820,000 of taxpayers’ money spent since 2008 and all the associated mither of road closures.

Senior councillors have confirmed they did want the Tour of Britain here this year and would like to see it return soon.

This means there must be a pot of money that would have been spent on the race in 2014 – perhaps £120,000 plus – going spare.

That being the case why don’t we look to organise some other events which will help to raise the city’s profile and boost the economy?

For example, given the fact that we are the undisputed darts capital of the world and have been for more than a decade, I’ve always wondered why Stoke-on-Trent doesn’t look to stage a tournament.

If it’s because some people are a bit sniffy about it not being a proper ‘sport’ then I suggest they get over themselves and pop in to a few pubs across the Potteries to see how healthy local leagues are.

Darts is hugely popular – that’s why it’s broadcast on Sky TV – and in Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor, Adrian ‘Jackpot’ Lewis and Andy ‘The Hammer’ Hamilton, we have three home-grown ambassadors who would themselves be a big draw. We could stage it at the King’s Hall in Stoke or the Victoria Hall in Hanley over a weekend.

We’ve also got a couple of world class pool players living locally so perhaps that’s another sport we can look to in order to raise our profile.

Of course, events which bring people into the city and get them spending money in shops, pubs and restaurants don’t necessarily have to be sports-related.

Take the recent Robbie Williams fans’ festival, tourist trail and exhibition at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, for example. They cost a few thousand pounds to stage but the benefits were huge in terms of helping local businesses, attracting visitors and boosting the city’s profile.

Let’s not forget that neighbouring towns like Stone and Leek, which have much smaller populations, stage hugely successful food and drink and arts festivals, respectively.

Meanwhile, Newcastle is about to put on its jazz and blues festival.

Here in Stoke-on-Trent we struggled to get a few camels up Hanley for the Christmas lights switch-on. What’s all that about?

We should have more farmers’ markets, continental markets or perhaps stage a huge garden and local produce show which highlights the best our farmers, bakers and brewers have to offer.

Or how about an annual Spitfire Day here in Stoke-on-Trent, based around trying to raise funds to restore our own RW 388 in the Potteries Museum – complete with wartime music, re-enactors in period costume, military vehicles and a fly-past?

We are a big enough city to be staging a major public event once a month and they could be shared around our Six Towns so that each one enjoys the economic boost – rather than just Hanley being the beneficiary.

When you think about it, we are only limited by our imaginations.

I’m pretty sure all of the above could be staged for less than the £120,000 or more it cost us to host the Tour of Britain each year – and certainly a lot less than the minimum £250,000 of taxpayers’ money we are spending on a garden at the Chelsea Flower Show.

There is simply no need to put all our eggs into a couple of baskets.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Friday in The Sentinel

Advertisements

Phase two of museum has entertained us for generations…

Prince Charles officially opening phase two of the City Museum and Art Gallery in June 1981.

Prince Charles officially opening phase two of the City Museum and Art Gallery in June 1981.


Whether or not these bids will be successful remains to be seen but, whatever the case, there are few better places to take the children on a wet afternoon during the school holidays than this cultural oasis.

It’s half-term and, predictably, it’s raining – so which venues do parents fall back on to keep their youngsters entertained?

Libraries and museums, of course.

Where would we be without the themed craft workshops for kids while mum and dad enjoy a cappuccino and five minutes’ peace and quiet?

We are blessed in Stoke-on-Trent with a number of terrific venues which have helped to entertain us for generations.

Chief among them is the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, which was opened in its present form on June 3, 1981, by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales.

Prince Charles reacquainted himself with the Bethesda Street venue in February 2010 when he returned for a sneak preview of items from the Staffordshire Hoard, which were due to go on show to the public days later.

Originally known as the City Museum and Art Gallery, the building was first officially opened by Alderman Horace Barks in October 1956 on the site of the former Bell Pottery Works.

Phase two of the project – the enlarged venue given a Royal seal of approval – involved the creation of a far more impressive piece of architecture than its 1950s predecessor.

As a nod to the many brickworks which had been dotted across the Potteries, bricks were extensively used in the project.

The focal point, of course, is the long relief above the entrance – made from more than 6,000 specially-shaped bricks – which depicts the industrial heritage of Stoke-on-Trent.

Images include kilns and potters at work, miners and a pithead, a horse and cart carrying coal, as well as canal boats.

A year after it opened the venue was awarded the title Museum of the Year – around about the time yours truly first set foot in the place.

When growing up I was fascinated by the natural history section (the stuffed animals in particular), the recreation of a Victorian street, the medieval burial casket from Hulton Abbey and, of course, the city’s Spitfire.

When the museum first opened the then Evening Sentinel carried a weekly Museum Pieces feature which included a photograph of an artefact from the museum’s extensive collections along with a story explaining the significance of the item.

The purpose was to highlight forthcoming exhibitions but, more importantly, showcase some of the thousands of artefacts – the bulk of which, at the time, were pottery ware.

There simply wasn’t the space to display everything and so these articles were a little window into the unseen world of the museum’s archives.

Over the years the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, as it is now known, has gained a reputation for more than simply a world-renowned collection of ceramics.

In RW 388, it boasts a Spitfire which is 85 per cent the original aircraft that rolled off the production line almost 70 years ago.

In the Staffordshire Hoard, it owns one of the most important archaeological finds ever in the UK.

Of course, for tourists, the unrivalled pottery collection remains a huge draw.

The city council is currently working on various bids for funding to enhance and transform the museum into a more interactive, more modern attraction which makes the most of its most prized assets.

Don’t miss 12 pages of nostlagia in the Weekend Sentinel every Saturday

Chocks away for campaign to save city’s Spitfire

Peter Coates presents a cheque for £20,000 to Operation Spitfire's Julian Mitchell.

Peter Coates presents a cheque for £20,000 to Operation Spitfire’s Julian Mitchell.

Stoke-on-Trent is extremely fortunate to have a couple of wealthy philanthropists who are passionate about the city and want to give something back.

Mobile phones billionaire John Caudwell’s charitable works are well documented.

Earlier this year he gave £2 million to the cost of unveiling a memorial to the heroes of Bomber Command for their sacrifices during the Second World War.

However, John is best known for the charity which bears his name – Caudwell Children – which raises money to provide help, support and an annual dream holidays for the families of youngsters with life-limiting illnesses, many of whom hail from the ST postcode area.

In Peter Coates, Stoke City supporters already know the rejuvenating effect his money and vision have had on the club he has supported all his life.

But what many don’t perhaps realise is that the Potters’ chairman often puts his hand in his pocket to help local worthy causes.

His most recent charitable donation of £20,000 gets a really important local fund-raising campaign off to a flying start.

The money will be used to create a Spitfire cockpit simulator which will be housed at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery alongside the city’s Mark XVI plane.

When finished, it will allow visitors to sit in an interactive piece of kit featuring authentic controls and instruments and experience something akin to taking off in arguably the most iconic aircraft the world has ever seen.

The donation also means its chocks away for the Operation Spitfire fund-raising appeal, chaired by Julian Mitchell – the great nephew of Spitfire designer Reginald Mitchell, once of this parish.

Our Spitfire, model number RW 388, is now more than 70 years old and needs a great deal of tender loving care if we are to save this unique piece of aviation history.

This isn’t the kind of project that the cash-strapped city council, which currently operates the venue, can afford to underwrite.

What’s more, these days there are fewer grants to aim for than there would have been, say, a decade ago.

No, like Britain those Spitfires defended back in 1940, we are on our own in trying to raise the brass to preserve and conserve this gem.

Peter Coates has done his bit – now it is down to us, the wider community of North Staffordshire, to come together to raise the necessary funds for ongoing repairs and restoration work for an aircraft that is now well past its intended shelf-life.

At a time of great austerity, and with so many worthy causes needing support, some would argue that other local charities are perhaps more deserving than a chunk of ageing metal.

However, we should understand that this will be an ongoing fund-raising campaign which – although currently being championed by Julian Mitchell – is likely, as he has admitted to me, to be completed by his children some years down the line.

It is also worth remembering that, in addition to cash, the Operation Spitfire volunteers are also looking for local companies to come to the table offering time and resources.

This is a long-term project which will involve schools, colleges and universities – providing a stimulating addition to the curriculum and the opportunity for both academics and local engineering firms the chance to bring their expertise and innovation to the fore.

The Spitfire was itself a pioneering creation which defied convention and played a huge role in protecting this country from Nazi tyranny.

That its creator was born and educated locally is and must remain a source of a great pride.

There can be no better way of honouring his legacy than by ensuring an example of his work remains on display, in all its glory, for future generations to marvel at.

*For more information about the city’s Spitfire or to find out how to make a donation, call Steve Adams at Staffordshire Community Foundation or visit: http://www.operationspitfire.org.uk

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel