Outside my window Storm Doris is doing her worst, I look out over the grey skyline of my city through tear stained windows, I hear the rage of the howling wind, a tempest prowling the empty streets leaving wheelie bin carnage in its wake, I wonder how many fence panels will be sacrificed to Doris the storm god and more importantly whether mine will be included.
Despite the dour painting I have crafted it does bring a welcome change to the frenzy that has enveloped this city the past few weeks. The circus has been to town, not the trapeze artists, elephants and slightly sinister clowns of old, this is the political circus that we British revel on from time to time and the concentrated undiluted hustling’s known as a bi election.
They are all here, BBC, ITV, Sky news, every night we see the same images on the screen, they always seem to focus on the worst, the broken council estates, the dereliction, the empty factories skeletons of industrial endeavour that has breathed it’s last. A grim portrait of broken Britain with it’s broken families and broken communities. Somehow today Storm Doris seems a fitting companion.
This is Stoke on Trent a city of stalled potential, the potteries a once proud industrial heartland. If you believe the imagesand pixels that flicker on the TV screens its a lost cause basket case, a melting pot of rampant nationalism and ethnic tension. At its centre is a run down sixties looking town centre of boarded up shops and cheap bars, Argos and KFC have just abandoned the centre and the promised land of the new shopping precinct seems like a cruel carrot dangled somewhere in the future. Last year a vampire movie was filmed in town set in a dilapidated dystopian nightmare vision of the future, they didn’t have to change too much cosmetically.
Its easy to see why the national media concentrate on such things, Stoke is the capital of Brexit Britain, a city of false dawns, false hope and broken promises. It’s once booming pottery industry is now a shadow of it’s former self, The pot banks and furnaces, along with the squalor and filthy air it brought with them are now consigned to the nostalgia pages of the local rag The Sentinel, A few of the distinctive clay ovens still remain as centrepiece follies for new housing developments, left behind in more ways than one is a once proud working class population now down on its haunchesand looking for somewhere to attribute the blame.
Stoke on Trent has a small but significant number of resentful souls who have become pray to a perfected diet of xenophobia, fed and fuelled on a banquet of paranoia and fear.It is easy to see why the nationalist UKIP see this as a treasure to be prized away from the once undefeatable labour party, a political party in a seemingly unstoppable downward spiral could find itself usurped by the new Kid on the block, a party led by a affable looking man of the people in a flat cap who can’t seem to stop telling lies about his achievements and who he knows.
This however is not about UKIP or the labour party, nor is it about the Stoke on Trent the media have sought to project into our living rooms every night. This is another City another world maybe.
A city of hope, of regeneration, a city of warmth of youth, of passion, of life, it exists in the same space as the Stoke on Trent we mentioned earlier yet they rarely touch.
What this city needs is not a career politician with hollow promises, they have seen enough of those, it doesn’t need pity, charity It has too long been portrayed as the scarlet wanton harlot of poverty porn, it needs rebirth, it needs respect it needs a chance and above all it needs a champion.
Stoke on Trent faces formidable hurdles, some of its own making, it is a fractured city, actually 6 towns that are competing against each other. Once propped up by generous benefactors, titans of its industrial heritage, these men have long gone and coffers are now empty. If it is to forge a future in the modern world it needs new vision, new direction. It cannot and should not just float by tipping its cap to a bygone age; it needs to reinvent, to rediscover its swagger again.
For Stoke to thrive it has to channel its energy not into resenting the past but reshaping its future, The people of Stoke are proud and Strong but hey need to rediscover hope, to not only see the green shoots but to nurture and protectthem with a passion.
It’s starting, the once dead potteries industry is quietly rising from the flames, it will never be what is was but it can be a force again, the cultural quarter is starting to shape the feel of the city, new businesses starting, art projects appearing like the daffodils in the March sunshine, community projectsabound and a buzz, a real tangible buzz is developing.
The DNA of Stoke on Trent is culture, above all else this is a city that was once on the creative edge, Wedgewood, Dalton, Clarence Cliff are all still household names, this city was built on creativity , its in it’s blood stream and it is that creativity that needs to rise up and breath again. But alongside this is another strong characteristic of Stoke people, a warmth and inclusiveness, a neighbourly love, a mutual respect for each other,
It is the fusion of creativity and community that once made Stoke great and it is the same ingredients that will make it great again. Stoke needs to make bold choices, to achieve this it needs to come together not allow divisions to drive it apart, it doesn’t need a circus it needs a fair. A fair deal, a fair crack of the whip, fair opportunities.
In the pottery industry you can tell a pot with a crack by tapping it, it sounds hollow, fractured. Perhaps that is what is needed the most, a great potter, someone who can repair the damage, Make Stoke ring out again. As a church leader in the heart of the city I have seen the names go up on the placards and the billboards. But for me there is a far greater name that reads to go over the city. As Christians we need to support this city, nurture it, and champion it. The greatest champion I know is Jesus; maybe, just maybe he is the great potter this city needs. As I watch the circus I realise that I need to up my game, to be that conduit between faith and the marketplace, between the church hall and the town hall.
But for now the circus is in town, The incredible flying brick,the monster raving Looney party candidate has just gone past outside with a loudspeaker attached to his van, speaking to the empty streets, The UKIP foot solders stand valiantly outside the polling booths, BBC , ITV and SKY have all retreated inside for now.
I look out of the window as the storm starts to subside Soon the people of Stoke on Trent central will make their choice, celebrations and post mortems will ensure and the circus will leave town.