Hanley & blame culture

I took a walk through Hanley the other day, a place that since I’ve come back to Stoke I’ve avoided.

Hanley?” *sharp intake of breath* “I wouldn’t go there mate, there’s nothing

Newspaper Headline reads, “Man upside down in wheelie bin at 7.30am in Hanley”

Then I saw a viral tiktok video questioning the demise of Hanley’s nightlife and that really resonated. I spent many nights there having unforgettable times with my mates. 

Walking into Hanley took me down memory lane, past the bus station where I'd get the 6A from Meir Heath at the weekend. We’d wander around buy two DVD’s for £7 from HMV or maybe a t-shirt from Topman.

It was never Rome or London and it never really needed to be. It was just something. It was only when I got a bit older and my horizons broadened that I compared the place to other cities and started to long for new experiences and something ‘better’, more culture, more nightlife, more bars, different food.

What struck me most about Hanley isn’t the place, which to my eyes has dramatically changed. It’s the conversation around it that I find most interesting. Spend five minutes on twitter reading responses to tweets from Stoke based politicians, councillors or journalists and very quickly you’ll see that the flavour of the conversation is blame.

Who’s to blame for Stoke’s industrial, economic and cultural decline?

The MPs, the Council, the journalists, Whitehall, Westminster, China? Globalisation? Who is it? Who can I point my finger at?

I understand the desire to blame, to point the finger at someone. I understand the anger, the desire to be heard, to direct my anger somewhere.

Walking down Trinity Street, past the boarded up bars and clubs that were once rammed on a Saturday night 'Up Town' I felt angry and sad too. for a moment I also wanted someone to blame.

I notice it a lot here. Blame culture. The council and the MPs receive the most attention. I can’t seem to have a conversation with anyone without the council being blamed for some wrongdoing in the past. That leads me to believe there has been mismanagement over the years, yet the extent to which the council or the government is at fault for absolutely everything in the entire City simply can’t be true.

The high street of Stoke’s city centre is dying or almost dead. i’ve lived here for a year and I’ve not been once. I’ve not bought anything from a shop there. I’ve not encouraged my friends or my family to go and try a new restaurant there. Am I to blame for Hanley’s decline?Am I accountable too? Are you?

I’m tired of blame culture. I understand the problems, the issues, the hardships, the challenges, I see them. I see them everywhere. I see pointing the finger getting us nowhere.

This taps into a wider cultural problem around confidence and agency. What I notice is a city-wide culture that seeks to ask permission, not forgiveness. Where self-starting isn’t common. Where we’re used to feeling small and being told we’re small. Where we used to being told we need help, we need to be levelled up. We may need help and support. Yet the psychological impact of that is to make us feel like we can’t do anything for ourselves, like we’re not good enough.

Stoke will continue to stagnate and decline without cultural and attitude shifts in each and everyone one of us. New roads, tram networks, buildings - yes please. Yet right now we could have a whole new undergrond system over night and someone would say “about f*cking time you did something half decent, and why doesn’t it stop outside my house?

Change starts at a grass roots level in each person acting differently, talking differently, being different. I wrote before that it’s not a shithole unless you keep saying it is. Now I’m writing to say, it’s going to keep declining if you think you have no power to change it.

You can vote with your feet and your wallet. Go to places in the city you’ve not been to, support local business, try that new bar, if it’s not great - give them feedback. Everyone plays a part in co-creating the community that we all want to be a part of.

And I know that if you can’t afford to put your heating on buy enough food for the week that you can’t do those things. If that issue angers you (and doesn’t affect you personally), write to your MP, volunteer in a local food bank, make a donation yourself. A lot of people need support and cannot help themselves, a lot of people can help though and I’m talking to you.

James x

p.s Take a day trip to Grimsby, Rotherham, a seaside town, thousands of other places in the UK and compare the high street in those places to that of Hanley or others in Stoke. Stoke is not unique, the world is changing. The days of buying DVDs from HMV are over, the days of shopping for clothes in town is mostly over. The world has changed, the high street is changing and we have to move with it too. New ideas, new places to connect, new stores, that’ll be the difference.