This has little to do with minds or machines but is a salient tale all the same, indulge me. Some would say I have the misfortune to be born near to Stoke-on-Trent and to follow Stoke City Football Club. By the outsider Stoke is so often portrayed as a run down, post industrial wasteland, devoid of hope and future. For me it is a city which has suffered from the decisions of these outsiders and not been helped by its leaders for some time. Once the home of world-famous potteries, now even the mugs in the Stoke City shop ironically bear the nickname “The Potters” whilst that are made in China. I’ve witnessed the city change: through visits for sport and pleasure, in my work in and around its regeneration and through the eyes of family members who have worked there. It is fair to say that Stoke has had a lot thrown at it. “Solutions” designed by absent policy makers and consultants to fill the voids left by economic change but which in reality have created more, both physically (the failed Housing Market Renewal programe) and metaphorically (the lost hope of a generation). They joke that one of the nest things to come out of Stoke is the M6 motorway and A50 trunk road. Without a hint of irony regeneration masters have seen that as a positive – Stoke has become a huge warehouse facility as its “pot banks” look on in disrepair, its terraced houses are demolished and grand civic buildings lie empty.
But there is a chink of light. Against many people’s expectations, Stoke are in their 4th season in the Premier League, they have the loudest fans in the country and reached the FA Cup final last season. This has brought some respect back to the city. And last night Stoke City played in their 10th Europa League game against Beşiktaş still unbeaten in the competition this year and having already qualified for the knock-out stages. In the end, the Turkish side won 3-1 with Stoke’s players subjected to a barrage of missiles from the home stands. Yet where other teams would have used this as an excuse, Stoke manager Tony Pullis shrugged it off. When asked if Stoke would be making a complaint to UEFA, Pullis said, “We won’t be complaining to anyone. We’re Stoke and we don’t complain”.
Whilst such behaviour is becoming rare, almost extinct, amongst professional football managers, it is a stance seen often from Pullis and the Stoke Directors. In lacking confrontation it actually highlights their strength. And this is a strength which is hidden in the city. Rather than being an area for regeneration to be done unto, Stoke has a wealth of assets on which to build a future. When asked why she located her pottery business in Stoke, Emma Bridgewater said it was a no-brainer – why go anywhere else when the pottery skills lie in this city. She now has a busy factory with 150 skilled workers, plans to double sales over the next three years, employ 20% more staff to service the demand and expand the visitors centre on the factory site doubling the number of visitors to 50,000 people per year. Her husband, Matthew Rice, has written a book, The lost City of Stoke-on-Trent, in which is celebrates the craft, creativity and assets of the city. For example, if many of the empty civic buildings of Burslem and Tunstall were in Bath or Bristol they would be exchanging hands for millions of pounds. The book “a song for Stoke: a fanfare for one of the great cities of the world’s first Industrial Revolution”. Stoke has a lot to offer but it has been bullied into playing the game of others. Instead of standing up to the barrage of policy and practice it needs to stand tall an offer a different way of doing things. If Rice’s book is a song, Pullis’ remarks should be its chorus: We’re Stoke and we don’t complain. No, we get on with it and make a better city once again.