The state of the local economy in Stoke-on-Trent is the subject of frequent contestation. Further, it is suggested that the city lacks the creativity necessary to facilitate home-grown economic development of a scale necessary to turn the city around.
The City Council’s Core Spatial Strategy states: “[t]he historical dependence upon a narrow range of traditional industries has contributed to the fact that neither the borough nor the city can be described as particularly entrepreneurial”. A recent visit to Hanley’s Cultural Quarter represented conflicting evidence.
The area was set up under an initiative by Stoke’s Labour council and has grown to include a clustering of independent start-ups. Centring on the intersection of the roads Piccadilly and Pall Mall can be found a dichotomy of artist’s studios, a gallery, food outlets and a microbrewery. Local paper, The Sentinel dubbed it “Hanley’s answer to Manchester’s Northern Quarter”. This is not the first time this district has been likened to significant UK cities, in fact this is a reciprocating theme in the history of the town. White’s Directory of 1834 described Hanley as follows: “[a] large modern town, the largest in the Potteries and second in Staffordshire only to Wolverhampton, its streets were spacious and well-paved, its houses were neat and some of them were, like the public edifices, elegant. No wonder that this, the capital town of the Fowlea Valley should borrow names from London streets, Piccadilly, Pall Mall…”
The phenomenon in Hanley is to be noted – the town is the formal city centre – the cultural quarter is an uninterrupted zone of independent firms founded in the city. Against a national context, the situation of such an agglomeration of successful outlets in such close proximity to a city centre is a rare scene. It evidences a live root of creativity which is intrinsic to the area. How can such success be multiplied? What conditions may allow this model to be repeated in other urban centres in the city, as well as less populous areas? Does the Core Spatial Strategy best recognise and accommodate the start-up of small scale business?