Friday, February 9, 2018

Rounding up Community Maker

Now that the Community Maker project is officially over, it's a good time to reflect on everything that happened within the 3 year project.

Initially, the project was commissioned by British Ceramics Biennial, in partnership with AirSpace Gallery and funded by Paul Hamlyn, as part of the World In One City projects. As a new resident in my area, and the recipient of one of Stoke's one pound houses, I had committed to support community activity and development, and so for me, it made sense if this could be via an art project for the area: Community Maker. To provide context: The Portland Street Area was one of the areas in the city which had been earmarked for demolition within the government's devastating Pathfinder scheme of housing renewal. It was one of the areas where the CPO processes were slow, and had not got to demolition stage, before the programme was scrapped in 2010. This left a mixed area, where some homes were boarded up, some were still in the hands of owner occupiers, while in many cases there were private landlords, some who had looked after their properties, but in many cases, properties were run down. The £1 home scheme aimed to address issues caused by the failed regeneration scheme, by bringing the worst homes (now owned by the council) back into use, and into the hands of owners who would invest in their properties and in the area. For the community members that had lived within the area throughout the period of being condemned and then left high and dry, the failed regeneration scheme was an open wound. They had seen good neighbours move away, the decimation of their community, and little investment. Despite this, the residents continued to try to maintain a sense of community. 
The idea for Community Maker was to bring a fractured community together via sessions involving clay making and sharing food together. To begin with, the proposed outcome for the project responded directly to the area, and a local custom which was discovered soon after moving to the area. The community would organise a 'bring a plate' event, where each person would bring a plate of something to share, creating a community meal. The aim for the project, was to work towards creating a special Community Maker Ware, designed together via the community events, which would become the 'bring a plate' crockery for community events. I liked the idea that this set of plates would be stored in cupboards across the community, and would come out at community events, bringing the set back together. From the beginning then, we were working together to create imagery which could be included in the plate design. From the first session, BCB provided an excellent project support, ceramic artist Alice Thatcher, as this was my first time working with clay. Alice has been invaluable for the clay know-how, but perhaps more importantly, is from Stoke, and so connected really well with the residents.
The first  session in Summer 2015, was a drop-in session creating an asset map of the area, mapping resources, and identifying areas for development with the neighbours. 

We used pre-prepared lino cuts, referencing the Victorian Language of Flowers to invite people to say what works about the area, and what needs work. These questions were chosen carefully, to avoid going straight for the negatives, and encouraging a discussion around the things that are good about the place, but also what people felt should be priorities for improving the place for the people that live there. Looking back this was a really important exercise, first for meeting the neighbours, but also in order to begin the conversation about this area from their point of view, a space for the residents to represent their own place, but also right from the start to identify the most pressing needs.

To very quickly (because there are plenty of blog posts documenting what happened) round-up the 3 years, this is what happened:
Year One: Community Maker took place in a tent. We were mapping and understanding the area, making connections, and hosted one big community celebration at the end of the 6 weeks.
The biggest finding from year one, which was repeated again and again by members of the community was the need for a community space to get together. The local pub, shop, community centre were all still boarded up, and people felt strongly that in order to thrive, a space was sorely needed. From a practical point of view, we had found the lack of a space problematic too, and while the tent was great for creating a sense of something happening, British summer weather meant it was not always comfortable. In addition, the tent size limited the number of people that could take part in the activity.
Year Two: as a result of the findings from year one, and subsequent conversations with the council and Rebecca Davies (whose Oasis Social Club had visited the area in 2015, and had the same outcome in terms of identifying a need for a permanent space) 2016 became all about asking 'What if we have a permanent space to share? What would it look like? Who would be involved? and What would happen there? For 2016, Rebecca and I applied to arts council to fund a one month programme of activity within the semi-derelict local pub, because the city council had mooted the idea, that if the community could show need, and a sustainable plan for the building, they would turn the Portland Inn Pub over into community hands.Partnering with a brilliant team of organisations: British Ceramics Biennial, AirSpace Gallery, Appetite, My Community Matters, The Portland Street Community Group and the city council meant we were able to deliver a lot within the programme. Over the four weeks that The Portland Inn Project took place, we delivered  more than 50 activities, with over 600 attendees, and gathered the ideas and evidence for a business plan, to transform the pub into a community space, with makerspace social enterprise and some residential spaces upstairs, to bring in income and the opportunity to host artist residencies in the future.
We delivered the business plan to the council in November 2016. We were advised that it could take a good deal of time for the process to be complete.
Year Three: the final year of Community Maker, we were back in the tent on the green space. By the summer 2017 the hole in the pub roof had got a lot worse, and a winter of weather leaking into the building meant it was not viable to be in the building. It was good to have the project happening while we waited for the decision on the pub, in order to keep some activity happening in the area. Being back on the green space in a tent, it was clear from the very first session that something had changed about the area in the year since our programme in the pub. Living in the area, I was already aware of an increase in drug dealing, but it was not until we were attempting to run a programme of activity on the green space that the scale of the problem became really clear.
There was a clear need for more support and services in the area, which being there and trying to run a community project brought to light. We were able to respond quickly, by organising a meeting with My Community Matters, to bring the council, local service providers and the community together to discuss a plan of action for the area. The summer was a real challenge, but demonstrated even more, why the pub was needed. Not least as a space for the community to take part in workshops and activity, but also as a space where services can be provided. From a very practical position, trying to run a clay workshop, when at times there were real concerns about safety was a real challenge, and I felt that if we had at least the luxury of being able to look after the boundaries of the activity - it would have really helped.
John Domokos from The Guardian was in our area filming during the summer, and captured some of the challenges, and what we are trying to do in his film.
The programme over 4 weeks involved continuing to talk to the community about the pub, and continue to advocate for the Community Asset Transfer to take place. Through the workshops we decided to produce a prototype set of plates from scratch.
 So, we used moulds and made plates, and then glazed the plates, and finally used ceramic lithographs (from imagery from years one and two) to add the patterns to the plates. Over the programme we asked questions each week 'How do we make the pub happen? What skills do we need? What role does this play in the wider community? It was clear that an important part of our role is in bringing services together to work with the community to make improvements.
The biggest highlight of our final year was in the final community event, as part of the programme. Up until this point across the 3 years, it had been Rebecca and I organising the activity, but the bonfire party saw an important shift. Community members, Sarah, Leanne and Kerry came to us, and asked us to help support a community celebration. This was a big moment, and feels so powerful for the future.
So thinking across the across the 3 year programme, about how I feel about it. It is a mixture of complex thoughts. Community Maker has been a catalyst to bring people together, but it has been so important that I live here - so I am seen as a neighbour first (and maybe) an artist second. Being a resident and an artist has meant I am more aware of the rhythms of the place, and able to respond genuinely to what is happening on the doorstep. It has been good to be able to get to know my neighbours via the project, and the levels of trust established have been greater, I believe, because my investment and commitment to the area is clear (I live here.) What has been a challenge throughout the three years, but particularly in years two and three, have been in relation to the difficult aspects of the area. Whether intentionally or not, our presence as a project has, over the two years, interrupted some of the anti-social and illegal activity that has been taking place within the same space. This has at times, made us a target. At times personally, that was difficult, to know that I could not escape at the end of the session to somewhere else, as this is where I live. Also, in making this work you become more visible in the community, this can sometimes be inconvenient, and can leak into family time. 
To consider the outcomes over the three years, the intention of creating a ware which could be in people's cupboards has transformed into something new, more complex and in response to the community but what we have done is listed here:
- imagery for community maker wares to be made in the future
- lots of photos of activity
- a business plan for a community led development project
- a community interest company set up
- a successful (under 15k) arts council project delivered (in addition to the Paul Hamlyn funded project)
- a brilliant partnership with Rebecca Davies
- a core group of active neighbours working together
- a set of partner organisations who will continue to be involved in the development of the project
- a community asset transfer (CAT) of the Portland Inn Pub in progress
- a commitment of £50,000 from the council to shore up the building once the CAT is in place
In terms of what is next for the project.
Rebecca Davies and I are going to the Scottish Sculpture Workshop for the best part of a month in February - March, to spend some time together working on the project. We will be writing some funding applications, thinking about the development of the organisation, testing out the making of some wares which can potentially be sold to support the funding of the project, and setting up a crowd funder. 
We want to continue the Community Maker project within the Portland Inn - first making fixtures and fittings for the pub over the summer, then making the wares we have now designed with the community, which can go into production.
Longer term, we want to work with Industry partners to offer apprenticeships in the community, responding to the recognised skills gap in the city, by training apprentices in skills that can lead them into work. 
The next few years are going to be busy.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Article written for 'The Conversation' on Artwashing Gentrification.

'Artwashing' gentrification is a problem – but vilifying the artists involved is not the answer

File 20171004 6700 6gpk48.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Fred Romero / Flickr, CC BY-SA
Anna Francis, Staffordshire University

The value of culture in regenerating cities has long been recognised. Sometimes this happens centrally, whether via the commissioning of high profile public artworks, or the rebranding of city areas as cultural quarters. But in many cities, culture led redevelopment occurs organically.

Artists, generally on relatively low incomes, move to areas of the city where rents are affordable. The presence of the artists make the area interesting, leading to more interest in property in the area, and ultimately, seeing the area develop. Sadly, this process usually ends with the artists having to move on, as rents increase.

Councils and developers are now attempting to emulate these organic, artist-led processes, by purposefully moving artists in to areas of cities which they wish to see developed. The presence of the artists in this new contrived context is conceived, from the start, as an interim measure. In the worst cases, it is intended as a distraction from the dirty business of clearance and demolition. This has been described as “a cleansing process in which the artists moving into a burgeoning area were treated by developers as a form of regenerative detergent”. Given such language, it is perhaps unsurprising that the artists involved in these schemes are finding their work labelled “artwash”.

“Artwash” is a relatively new term. It seems to have first been used to critique corporate sponsorship of the arts: large companies establishing a relationship with a cultural venue with the aim of improving their reputation. BP, for example, has long sponsored the Tate galleries in London, something that has prompted much protest. A spokesperson from one such protest group, Liberate Tate, explains: “Artwash is the process whereby a company buys advertising space within a gallery in order to cover up negative public image.”

A 2015 protest against BP’s sponsorship of Tate. slowkodachrome/flickr, CC BY

Naming and shaming

But now accusations of artwashing are reaching beyond corporate sponsorship to apply to individual artists in local communities. A new practice of naming and shaming artists working within the context of gentrification, particularly in larger cities where large scale development is taking place, has seen some artists working in social contexts accused of being “artwashing gentrifiers”. In extreme cases, galleries and artists are being run out of town.

These recent, predominantly online attacks on artists and arts organisations have seen the artists being named as responsible within the process. At best they are labelled as naive to the developer’s game, and at worst complicit.

This practice is becoming particularly controversial in London because new development and fast gentrification is reaching an all time high, pushing more and more local populations out of their homes. Questions around who is really to blame for such a damaging form of gentrification are becoming more urgent. And more ugly.

A developer-led project in Deptford, London. Ewan Munro / Flickr, CC BY-SA

The emerging animosity towards artists has led to a number of groups being set up in order to target artists working within regeneration contexts. The groups include activists, but in some cases, artists and academics are behind the campaigns, which use Twitter and other online platforms to voice dissent.

Interestingly, even artists aiming to question the role of the arts within processes of regeneration are finding themselves targets of the online criticism. I experienced this first hand when delivering an art project in London earlier this year.

Estate Agency

The project, “Estate Agency”, involved a staged closure of London’s Campbell Works Art Space, to see it reopen as a fake estate agency displaying affordable property in Stoke-on-Trent. The project aimed to raise questions around the experience of many London based artists and arts organisations, who have been finding it ever more difficult to afford to remain in the capital.

The Stoke Newington area, where Campbell Works is based, has seen property prices rocketing in recent years. Over the course of the project we heard many stories about the loss of community and the devastating impact of gentrification on people’s lives and sense of self. The creeping processes of gentrification, which can happen gradually, are often difficult to pinpoint. We aimed to make these processes of change more visible, and to create a space to discuss issues raised.

Estate Agency poster. Anna Francis, Author provided

The manner in which we did so was somewhat tongue-in-cheek. “#YourLifeButBetter” was blazoned on the “estate agency”, which reframed Stoke-on-Trent (a city which became known as Brexit Capital last year) as a viable place for artists to move to, with affordable housing and studio space on display. Stoke is bidding for City of Culture 2021, and as such, is actively courting a new future via arts and cultural activity.

The aim was to create a space to understand the role of art and artists in these challenging contexts. Using the language and imagery of developers and prospectors, the project also explored the experience of towns like Margate; where swathes of artists moving in have changed the cultural make up at an alarming speed.

In dealing with the thorny issue of culture-led development, we found ourselves under fire by online critics. They accused us of the very processes we were seeking to critique. Imagery and slogans from the project were taken up by online activists, who accused the project of artwashing gentrification. Their main objection was our use of irony in relation to a serious issue which is affecting people’s lives.

In understanding the role that art and culture can have in changing places, it is now important to ask if what we are creating is of benefit to everyone concerned. Artists have a role to play in both questioning the processes of regeneration, but also, I believe, in supporting communities within these places to articulate their experience, and to advocate for their rights. Far from being an artwash, this can be a celebratory and cathartic activity – even if the outcome, eventually, is the same.

Anna Francis, Associate Professor of Fine Art and Social Practice, Staffordshire University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The final year of Community Maker

The 3 year Paul Hamlyn funding for the Community Maker project ends this year, so in many ways the 3rd year of the project could be seen as the end point, and as a good point to stop and catch our breath, but also it is a time to reflect and plan for the future.The project has been a partnership between British Ceramics Biennial and AirSpace Gallery, with me as lead artist. First, it is important to note down everything that has happened within Community Maker over the summer of 2017.
So,at the end of year one, the biggest finding from the project was that the community is desperate for a space to meet, and to put on events and activities; as being outside means you are really exposed to the weather and other elements. This was also demonstrated by Rebecca Davies in her Oasis Social Club project. These findings led to the offer of The Portland Inn pub, a question from the Council about whether the community could take it over, and run it. For the second year of the project's immense activity, I partnered with artist Rebecca Davies to apply to Arts Council, and we tested and delivered 54 activities and events over 4 weeks, with a recorded 622 participants.
After that, Rebecca Davies and I worked on a business plan, based on our programme and everything we had learned, in order to begin the process of a Community Asset Transfer of the building. This was handed in in November 2016, and since then we have continued to campaign to get the building. In the meantime it was important to ensure that there was still a presence within the area, even though, in the background, we are working hard, this is not visible on the ground. So, the final year of Community Maker has been about continuing the conversation about what the building can be, and what the community needs.
Image: Tile making decal imagery created by Community Maker participant.
The Portland Inn, in Summer 2017, was uninhabitable, the hole in the roof is much worse, and the spaces are very mouldy and unhealthy. This meant that we were back in the tent in the green space again for our programme of activities.
As it announced on the brochure of activity, that was delivered to each of the houses in the area: 'Clay has been used to gather and activate the community, encouraging individuals to communicate and form ideas about the future of our place.
This summer, you can join Anna Francis to complete a series of interactive 'clay tests'. The tests are designed to see what types of clay and creative engagement should sit within the heart of the new social enterprise, The Portland Inn Pub.'
The plan was to have a launch event, and then a few weeks later, to begin a series of 4 Saturday making sessions, from 1-4pm with a core group of individuals, signing up to attend all of the sessions.
We learned in year one, that asking people in the area to commit to a programme was impossible, I had thought this may be because the project, and I, were new to the area, and that given that 2017 was the third year, perhaps our commitment to the community may be matched by some members of the community committing to 4 Saturdays with us this year.
Image: Faces of the Community decal imagery created by Community Maker participants.
The launch showed that people weren't really confident to commit to this, and there are a number of factors that could have affected this. 1. being back in a tent - we are in a temporary structure, with no heating, ammenities etc.
2. problems affecting the area in 2017.
Image: House decal imagery created by Community Maker participants.
When the project began in Summer 2015, the one pound home owners had been moved in for approximately one year, and though there were still a number of residual issues, of fly tipping and some minor anti-social behaviour, things felt to be improving in the area. Our programme on the green space that summer was well attended, it was a pleasant place to be based and there was a lot of positivity and hope.
This then gave us a measure, to see how much had changed in the area in Summer 2017.
From the very first event, we noticed a change in atmosphere on the green space. Living close by, I was already aware that the well reported problems with addiction to legal highs in the city were impacting locally. It was also evident that a number of properties in the area were being operated by drug dealers. This, along with a public space protection order on the city centre, meant that the green space where we were hosting creative activity, which was just outside the protection order zone, had become known as a space to easily access, and consume drugs. We learned during the project, that it is known as 'The Mamba Fields.'
The associated problems caused by the above meant that running the project on the space was very challenging. We realised quickly that we needed at least 4 people to be present at each event, in order to manage the space, assure the safety of participants, and still deliver a viable and productive workshop. At times, the precariousness of the situation left us feeling very exposed.

The situation for the residents, participants in the activity too came into focus via the project. People told us that the green space was now viewed as a no go zone, and that the community would avoid the space when we were not there. All of this showed a need to reconnect the community to the services tasked with operating in the area. We contacted Marvin Molloy from My community Matters, a key partner in our work in the area, to ask him to help us to set up a meeting. The community were invited along with key service providers, the police, anti-social behaviour teams, drug services, housing teams, selective licensing team, and others. The idea of the meeting was to make visible the challenges in the area, and to ask for a multi-agency approach to dealing with the issues. The first meeting, there was a brilliant turn out from the community, but a disappointing turn out from the services, key partners were missing. At this stage, Marvin and I got in touch with our local MP Ruth Smeeth. Ruth has been a real champion of the project, and so we felt it was important to get her support in engaging the services. With Ruth's support, more of the services were engaged in understanding the urgency of the challenges being faced by the Community. Neighbours came to the meeting and talked about 'fear of walking into town' and young people refusing to leave the house, as they didn't feel safe.

Since then, a monthly meeting has taken place with the community, but with the services meeting fortnightly, to first set targets, and then to deliver the changes needed to improve on some of the problems in the area, without simply passing them on to somewhere else (as has happened here as a result of the public space protection order). This has been really positive, and within weeks the improvements to the look and feel of the area were visible. Community members have been incredibly active, and vocal about what was needed, and this has made a difficult situation better, quickly. There is still more to be done, but everyone is working together to ensure support is given where needed.
Image: Heart decal imagery created by Community Maker participant.
Leading the project over the years, and delivering the summer programme, meant we were able to see quickly, matters affecting the community, because they affect us too. The challenges this summer in delivering the workshops have galvanised the community around the project, really bringing everyone together around a common goal of improving the neighbourhood for those that live here.

In many ways, the creative activity, making with clay, became secondary to the work needed to deal with some of the issues we faced in working here, and at times the real work felt to be in advocating for the community in the all services meetings, but still, a programme of creative workshops was delivered over a month.
We wanted this time to see if we could make something quite sophisticated with the community. Alice Thatcher, our ceramics specialist on the project, has been working with us since year one, and knows the community well now, and has a great rapport with everyone. For both Alice and I, it was important that though we may have been operating from a bell tent on a green space, we wanted to step up a gear in terms of the ceramic skills being covered.
In week one, we brought moulds to the space and made press moulded plates with the community.
In week two, we worked on printing with clay, and making clay stamps, while our plates dried out and were fired.
In week three the plates returned to the space to be glazed.
Finally in week four decals made from images from year one and two were applied to the plates.
We had a lot of rain over the weeks, but the final session in pouring rain showed the commitment of participants, who stayed for the whole 3 hour session, despite the rain and the cold.
This session was very special, with participants, some who had come for all three years, but some who had only just started to come this year, told us how important the sessions have been for them. Working with clay has provided a moment of pause for people, the transformative nature of the material, which can move from one state to another quickly, without fuss feels like a mirror for the community. 'We're going to miss these sessions,' one neighbour said.
The Community Maker plates made during this summer's workshops were displayed at the British Ceramics Biennial from September to November. Thousands of people saw works made by our community on display beside the biggest names in ceramics. A special meal was hosted one Saturday of the festival, with key participants from the project invited for a 3 course gathering, eating from the plates we made. We invited our local MP, and drank a toast to the project, and to the community.
 Perhaps the very last events for Community Maker were a community bonfire for bonfire night, where bricks were made, as memory boxes, by firelight to be fired live in a raku kiln, at the Christmas Celebration, planned for mid-December.
These two events are different from the others, as they were not planned within the Community Maker project, but instead are events which the community has organised, and asked us to support. This is an important moment. Over the three years that we have been running the project, we have organised or been central to organising events and activity FOR the community, these two events are a turning point, we are now working on events WITH the community. That is the most important outcome of the Community Maker project in my book.
The urgency to have the Portland Inn transferred into community ownership became very clear this summer. This community needs a project like this, in order to be able to respond quickly to changes, and to be a support network for each other. As much as we love our tent, we know we cannot have another summer like 2017. Rebecca Davies and I along with the partners in the project are working with the council to make the project happen, and coming up with a plan for Summer 2018, to ensure the community has a space to meet and make together, even if the pub is inaccessible, hopefully, due to renovation.

Community Maker was used as a case study in the Local Government Association publication 'People, Culture, Place - the role of culture in Placemaking.'   and within the newly launched Culture Hub, a partnership by LGA and Arts Council England, highlighting good practice in delivering culture with councils and their partners.

Friday, September 15, 2017

The People's Walk of Fame

Today, in Hanley Market, Fountain Square, myself and artists Rebecca Davies and Glen Stoker launched 'The People's Walk of Fame' for Stoke-on-Trent.
From a market stall we talked to the great and the good of the City about who should be represented in a Walk of Fame and why. Far from being a list of Stoke Celebrities, we hope to hear stories about brilliant people from all walks of life, past and present from across the city - and we were not disappointed today.
We heard some familiar names, Stanley Matthews, Arnold Bennett and Reginald Mitchell, but we also heard from Shel, about her elderly neighbour Ray, who died earlier this year, but who had looked after her and her family when her husband had a brain injury, and about how people like Ray are so important in making a city a place to live.
Over the next month we will be visiting the 6 towns to talk to people about their Stoke Heroes, and then on 17th October, we will be back in Hanley with the longlist from across the city. People will then be able to vote for the shortlist, whose names will go forward for a public artwork for the centre of the city.
The idea of a Walk of Fame comes from Hollywood Boulevard, where stars of stage and screen have their names in the pavement. This is a fun idea for Hollywood, but for Stoke, we thought about something much more grounded. The idea of a Walk of Fame made us think of shoes, and creating a journey. I like the idea that you could try on your heroes shoes, it feels aspirational, and invites participation, so our idea for a public artwork is to create a series of trails of shoes to follow, tracking the names of Stoke People who have made a contribution to the city's development, its history, its reputation, voted for by the people of the city today. 
I am looking forward to hearing people's stories from across the city, of who should be celebrated. After just one day, we have already heard some brilliant tales. 
We met Mike Bailey, working on the stall next to us in Hanley Market. A true legend of the city, selling perfume and wigs, Mike has been working the market for 40 years. Mike was very generous, helping us to sort our pitch and get a gazebo up, and welcoming us to Market - he even got a surprise vote for the People's Walk of Fame.
People can vote online here until 15th October: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/P77BCHJ
Enormous thanks to Rebecca Davies for the brilliant artwork for the project.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Spode Rose Garden at RHS Tatton

Back in 2013, Andrew Branscombe, Glen Stoker and I embarked upon a mission: to see an abandoned garden in the heart of the Town of Stoke transformed. Details here about the history of the project.
Using an Action research approach, we worked with a ceramic flower maker (Rita Floyd), and a rose breeder (Gareth Fryer), to create a new species of rose, which would draw attention to the abandoned garden, and cause people in the city to question its state. Our dream was to bring together the people and resources necessary to see the garden transformed, and more, to work together with others to ensure the future sustainability of the garden.
In 2015 a Councillor noticed what we were doing, and towards the end of the year, we built a relationship with the city council, who owned the garden, to work together to secure funding to form a group and to renovate the garden.
A Friends of Spode Rose Garden group was officially formed in may 2016 - but a few months before that, the group had already started working together on a consultation with the public, and then on the physical transformation of the garden. The consultation told us that people were keen to see the heritage of the Spode Factory reflected within the garden's design, and as a result the landscaping and planting represents some of the most popular Spode patterns.
We have the Willow Pattern end of the garden, which was relatively easy, as there is already a huge and beautiful willow tree in the garden, but this year we decided to develop the other end of the garden, next to the Sub Station, using the Blue Italian pattern as a starting point, as this is one of Spode's most popular patterns.
Spode Rose Garden Launch September 2016
As well as developing the garden for these past years, and since formally setting up, the Friends of Spode Rose garden have organised and delivered a series of brilliant events within the garden over the year - which have brought new visitors and many conversations about the role that individuals can play in developing the places they live.
Sunflower Party, June 2017
Through these conversations we have realised what a fantastic example of people power the Spode Rose Garden has become, and so we decided to spread this story a little wider, by taking the Rose Garden to a national platform. We applied to RHS Tatton, in the blooming border section, and were pleased to be able to develop the design for the Blue Italian Border for Tatton, with a view to moving the border to the Spode Rose Garden after the show.
Dawn Mayer, one of the Friends of Spode Rose Garden group, and handily a landscape designer for the city council led on our design for the border. Different members of the group brought their skills, time and muscle to help make the border a reality -
with Andrew Branscombe building the framework, and Jo Ayre leading the group to create the ceramic plinths,
made from moulds from the Spode Factory, and also creating the blue italian tiles for the frame
- it was a real group effort.
The overall effect of the sculptural elements, with the blue and white planting was really beautiful, with everyone lending a hand with the installation.
Each day of the show the friends of group were at Tatton rain or shine, talking to people about the Rose Garden and the city's resurgence, and inviting people to come and see the border for themselves within the newly renovated garden during the British Ceramics Biennial later in the year.
It was amazing the conversation we had over the week with people about Stoke-on-Trent. People told us often that they used to visit Stoke but hadn't been for a long time. A lot of people have committed to visit, and in fact just this Friday, we met a lady in the rose garden that we had met at Tatton, who had no idea the garden was there.
Advocacy for the garden and the city is so important, as we see the city strive to change its reputation. What I know, from taking part in this project since 2013 is, that you can have an idea for something good and positive, and here in Stoke, you can make it happen. There are people here who will do it with you, if you really have the commitment to want to do it. We have learnt so much over the past few years of the project, about gardening, about plants and most of all, about the power of people to make positive change for their city. It has been an immensely rewarding project to work on, and RHS Tatton was a real moment to celebrate the achievements of the group, and we even won a medal!
RHS Tatton Blue Italian Border won a silver gilt.
Thanks to various members of the Friends of  Spode Rose Garden group for their photographs, documenting our activity.