Why I love this place

It’s 5.30pm and I’m on Platform 1 at Stoke station, waiting for my 8 minute train back to Stone.

The sun is setting and sunlight is breaking through the ceiling of the station.

Around me I hear pigeons, see tinged red bricks and a handful of fellow commuters. It’s quiet.

In the distance to my right there’s a big mound of dirt and beyond that, not much at all, just some disused land and houses on the horizon.

The sky is a beautiful blue and I’ve walked here after an amble around Hanley Park.

I’m smiling and trying to understand why I love this place.

I can’t get a decent coffee and my lunch options are limited. Given I’m predominately vegetarian I’m struggling. Even though a Vanilla Slice from Wright's Pies brings back many happy memories.

If it’s a drink I want after a day at the Uni where I might feel the buzz of a University campus, or the vibrancy of dynamic people working in a city I am very limited. We’ve got three plausible options currently: Ember Lounge, Bod at the station or The Glebe.

The string of shops in Shelton near the Leek Road campus aren’t drawing me in either, perhaps I should be more open-minded but I’m just not feeling it. It’s the same over in Stoke too, same in Hanley.

The North Staffs Hotel looks exactly the same as it did 16 years ago when we went there for my high school prom and 12 boys emerged from a hummer limo with P.I.M.P by 50 Cent blaring.

All of this baffles me, there are ~5,000 students at Staffs Uni and ~1,000 university staff. Plus council staff at the civic centre and a growing cluster of businesses at Spode Works. Aren’t there about 250,000 people in Stoke? Where do the Bet365 staff go?

Where is everyone?

These are the questions I ask myself. These are the thoughts running through my head.

What’s to love then? At 19 there wasn't much to love for me other than a good night out up Hanley or Castle with my mates, my family and I still wanted to leave as soon as I could.

Yet in the morning when my train whizzes past Wedgwood, enters Stoke with a few chimneys and a big incinerator in the vista to my right, I smile. I love it.

I feel frustrated that the city hasn’t been gentrified or modernised in the same way that cities like Birmingham or Manchester have. Where are the high rises? Where are the big offices? How come Deloitte or Ernst and Young, or more likely, another big gaming company haven’t been lured here?

And with it, where’s the choice for food, coffee, drinks, where are people supposed to socialise, congregate, convene, collaborate or connect? Where do you go to feel part of something, feel part of a city, a community, a shared identity?

Yet, there’s something I like about it, that Stoke is relatively untouched, that it's not been capitalised, modernised and the soul of the city, its identity, albeit crumbling in parts, is plain for all to see.

In a sense, Stoke-on-Trent is naked. It’s bones are exposed. The skeletons of it’s industrial past stand tall, bare, waiting.

The dilapidated heritage buildings remind me of Stoke’s soul, yet the people live and breathe it. It’s the people who are the walking reason why I love this place. Having spent time in big cities, you don’t see many smiles and the chance to receive a hello from a stranger are slim to none. Yet here, if I say hi to someone I’ll at the very least a get a nod.

When I do go into a shop, cafe or restaurant, I could chat to anyone in there for days. I feel like people are genuinely delighted to feed me, to serve me coffee, to plate up some oatcakes.

The place frustrates me, because I want it to be improved. I want better infrastructure, better transport that create better opportunities for people. I want more employers, more full offices, restored buildings.

I want more jobs and more hope and more self-belief. I want a new narrative and I want a change in the self-deprecating, downtrodden stories that are told..

The people though, I adore. I love that Stoke is becoming a very diverse and welcoming place for people of all backgrounds. Regardless of the external brand Stoke might have, go to a school or college and you’ll see that the future of this city will be very diverse and very inclusive. No doubt about that.

I see a sleeping giant with bags of potential, with a soul that won’t be lost and can’t be bought elsewhere. I see it’s soul and that’s what makes me smile. That’s what I’m in love with.

I see opportunity, I see humility, I see a place and a community that has no idea how good it is. I see that sleeping giant ready to be woken up.

I see the potential for a place to progress and not lose its heart. I see the potential for us to stay grounded, remember our roots, protect our heritage and flourish into something new.

I see the chance to not be swayed by greed, ego and money. I see the chance to create a culture of contribution, of giving back, of kindness. I see a place that could develop and raise the bar for everyone, not just create more inequality.

I see this blank canvas and think could Stoke become a leading light in how we regenerate cities after post-industrial decline? Starting afresh. Focusing on fairness, equality, societal contribution, caring for those with less, sustainability, innovation, creativity.

I believe that all of that opportunity is in our soul, in our DNA of creativity and invention, ready to be unlocked.

I believe.

That’s why I love this place.