A Festival in a Factory is an annual literary festival held at the Emma Bridgewater Ceramics Factory on the outskirts of Hanley.
The festival is a conflation of regional talent and writers who tour such events. The festival was initiated in part by Stoke Central MP, Tristram Hunt (Lab), before he left office to pursue a private sector role as head of the V&A. I has been running for five years, enlarging every year. The marketing of this year’s festival suggested an event with a strong regional mandate.
The category of touring writers represented a body of individuals broadly with an affinity only to audience, as supposed to location. It was a shame that this category was the most represented, in spite of how long the show has been up and running.
This is not to say that regional figures were without impact. Stephen Seabridge and Emily Rose Galvin, Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Poet Laureates respectively, presented inspiring insights into the unique nature of the area, making repeated cases for why we should value it. Indeed, it was reassuring to see civic representation listening to these reflections. It was a shame that BBC Radio 4 were predominantly engaged with - the more famous, touring writers and personalities.
Of the regional accounts of the area, one factor seemed recurrent: the writers were predominantly prepossessed with talking about the city’s heritage, with few references to the present, let alone the future. Perhaps this was logged in an association with the ailing Victorian factory buildings that the festival was held in. Perhaps it runs deeper.
The regional praises of Stoke have been sung, as well as its collective struggle under various political influences. For the regional conversation to progress and to make itself relevant to a national audience, such as BBC Radio 4, surely it must shift to a conversation which readily engages with the present and the future? By what means can the current issues and debates which face Stoke come to be discussed in equal measure to those cornering the area’s collective history? Does the use of a ceramics factory as an events space help progress new arguments which may become central to aspects of the city’s future?