An Ode to Stoke

I used to think Stoke was a s***-hole. I moved to university in Manchester (not that far, but enough) and even did a semester abroad in Hong Kong. Stoke to me was a ghost town, where energy was sucked up by the dreary 80s office buildings, disused factories and miserable weather. I travelled far and travelled often, and the year after uni saw me doing internships in London, Manchester and New York; I was itching to get away from my hometown. When I came back, completely skint but full of ideas, I had no choice but to work to pay off a hefty overdraft. I couldn’t get a design job – I wasn’t ‘commercial’ enough for the roles I was applying for, so I continued working for the probation service and at a local pub (work I’d been doing in between each internship), needs-must and all that. Both jobs were totally flexible, which gave me the freedom to focus on my own practice. I was back in Stoke and needed to find places for a creative outlet.

Entrepreneurs Network in Hanley was my first go-to. Rob & Tom are masters at what they do - they were offering screen printing courses in their workshop in Hanley (and still do). I’d done plenty of print at uni (I studied Textiles, specialising in Print) but had done very little on paper, and the process is slightly different too. On the course is where I met Nicole & Steph (The Slamwich Club), Mel  (Altar) and Chloe (Chloe Breeze Illustration), people who I would later go on to work for and collaborate with on lots of different projects, from murals to monthly life-drawing sessions. I joined a yoga studio (Love and Light Shala in Longton) which was a treasure trove of incredible people all wanting to up hold their community and again connected with people that I’d come to work with later in the year, through workshops, podcasts, e-journals and more. In the last two months I’ve taken up a studio space at ACAVA in Spode, and have really started to engage with my practice in a way I hadn’t before. I’ve even started to introduce myself as an artist and designer to people I meet (when they ask, not just randomly blurting it out) instead of a flurry of ‘well I do a bit of this, a bit of that, bar work, probation, workshops, some of my own work, you know...’

It sounds a bit daft, but I had no idea about the creative community of people that were right on my doorstep. Those I’ve come across have been warm, inviting and infinitely generous with their knowledge, expertise, event spaces and the occasional bev too. It’s helped strengthen my own sense of identity and community, and shown me the value of connecting with and supporting those around you. I don’t know if I would be in the place I am know without all the network around me. It definitely takes a village.

In May, EN will open their doors to me for a solo exhibition, for which I’ve received some funding from Grow Wild UK to support the work. The exhibition will celebrate British Wildflowers in their natural spaces, connecting with those spaces through appreciation and mindfulness when we interact with them. I’ll be exploring the relationship between the self, the natural world and the communities that surround us through a collection of paintings, prints, ceramics and textiles and Emily of Wilderness Floral Design will be filling the space with beautiful dried floral arrangements. Over the 6-week period, I’ve also invited a handful of local artist and makers into the space, who’s work I really admire, to host a series of workshops in a bid to connect people with their creative community, details of which can be found here. In addition to these workshops I’ll be hosting Life Drawing, a collaboartive drawing/making workshop with ceramicist Gabriella Rhodes as well as a couple of free outdoor drawings sessions - details TBA. The exhibition opens on the 24th May and runs until the 4th July - and would love to see you at the opening night at EN which will be from 6-9pm on Friday 24th May. There’ll be refreshments provided (alcholic and non-alcoholic beverages, as well as pizza from Klay), and a few extra things happening too.

Spending the last year and a half, mostly in Stoke (not without a few travels) has completely changed the way I feel about it, and that’s down to the community. It’s not without its faults – like anywhere. We’re the ‘Brexit capial of Britain’, have loads of disused, ugly and abandoned buildings, homelessness, drug issues, a strained NHS, disengaged youth, poverty and more. Just like so many other cities across the UK. But there are so many passionate people doing AMAZING things in the city that we should all get behind. That’s not to say to forget about the negative stuff – we need to address that too. However, Stoke IS a hub of creativity and energy, and you don’t have to look far to find it. But you do need to go and engage with it, in whatever capactity you’re able to - whether thats going for a coffee at an independant place, commissioning artists, using facilities, or buying work from makers - there’s so many small things you can do to help our community thrive. Don't wait for these things to disappear and say how much of a shame it is that there's shops boarded up, that that place used to be amazing. Independant businesses and makers feel the impact much more if you're spending you're money with them (or don't) and if we want Stoke to get ahead, we all have to come together and support eachother.

Katrina WildeComment