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

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Don proud of playing key role in creating Potteries Marathon

My friend Anthony Davies, originally from Norton but now living in The Smoke, ran the London Marathon last year.

I was in awe. I was filled with admiration for what I saw as his Herculean effort. So much so that I sponsored him to the tune of £20.

As an overweight asthmatic who never runs anywhere unless I am being chased, the thought of doing 26 miles on foot is an horrific concept.

But literally tens of thousands of people from across North Staffordshire used to do just that around roads they knew like the back of their hands.

It is eight years since the last Potteries Marathon was run and it has been replaced by the very successful – if somewhat less daunting – Potters ’Arf.

For more than 20 years, however, it was the ‘friendly marathon’ which, once a year, turned ordinary people into heroes.

One of the men responsible for creating the Potteries Marathon was Don Shelley.

A former long-distance runner who had represented England at cross country events and run marathons for Great Britain, he had organised races before in his capacity as Secretary of the Michelin Sports and Social Club.

He left the Mich in 1975 and was working at The Place nightclub in Hanley when the management team of Kevin Donovan and Graham Bagnall hit on the idea of organising a marathon here in Stoke-on-Trent.

Don said: “The year was 1981 and there was great excitement around the first London Marathon, which had been a huge success and attracted a lot of attention.

“Lots of other cities and towns decided to follow London’s lead and Stoke-on-Trent was no exception.

“Back then, of course, it was easier to organise for a number of reasons.

“Firstly, there was hardly any traffic on the roads on a Sunday and we didn’t even have to ask permission to run the race really. We got away with murder sometimes.

“Secondly, there was a huge amount of interest from local people who wanted to help out. We certainly weren’t short of volunteers.

“Obviously we had to liaise with the police about the route, but the council wasn’t really involved.”

Don, now aged 75 and living in Stone, ran the first marathon himself – dressed as a tortoise – while his mate ran as the hare.

Don said: “It wasn’t particularly well thought-out, to be honest. About two thirds of the way round I had to dump the shell because it was banging against my back as I ran.”

That first marathon, back in 1982, began in Moorland Road, Burslem, with runners starting off down the bank and then going up Porthill Bank.

The following year the race moved to Trentham Gardens, where it started and finished for the next two decades.

Through my admittedly rose-tinted spectacles, I recall blisteringly hot Sundays in June when the whole city came to a standstill.

In my head the race was always won by legendary local runner Mark Roberts, but I’m told other people did cross the line first – including Harry Claugh, of Liverpool, who set the record of two hours, 19 minutes and 10 seconds.

I would walk down to the Holden Bridge pub on Leek New Road, Sneyd Green, where I could watch the runners stream past one of the many drinks stations staffed by locals.

I volunteered myself one year and was given a commemorative T-shirt for handing out juice, water and even tea in plastic cups to the sweaty, gasping individuals – often in fancy dress – who staggered past us, looking for all the world as if they were going to expire.

All I could do was say “well done” and marvel at their tenacity.

Don said: “There wasn’t a marathon in the country that was as friendly or well-organised.

“We were very proud of it. There was a running magazine which ran a poll asking marathon participants which was the race they liked best and we won the accolade three years in a row.”

In the end, a fall in entry numbers, increased traffic on the roads, and changes at Trentham Gardens brought the curtain down on the race.

Don said: “As the years went by, the race became more and more difficult to organise because we would be told that certain roads were closed to us and there were more hoops to jump through.

“There was a lot more traffic on the roads. Shops were open on a Sunday and the race was having a big impact on the city.

“At the same time, the owners of the Trentham Estate were making big changes and so our traditional start and finish points had to be altered.”

He added: “Looking back, I think we can be very proud of what we achieved.

“We set out with three aims: To make the people of North Staffordshire fitter; to raise as much money as we could for charity; and to give the people of North Staffordshire a memorable day out. I like to think we succeeded in those aims”.

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

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