North Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent in particular is a renowned world-class centre for fine ceramic production. “The Potteries” long and distinguished history dates back to the 12th Century
From the late 1980s onwards, Stoke-on-Trent and the entire area were hit hard by the general decline in the British manufacturing sector with exceptionally hard consequences for the ceramic industry. Many companies were closed, resulting in a sharp rise in unemployment in the ‘high-skilled, but low-paid’ workforce.
As in other declining areas, this resulted in an urban decline as well, with many visible remains of former industrial use (derelict sites and buildings), run-down shopping districts and low investment in housing and public infrastructure.
However, since 2004 the employment rates have recovered and the city’s employment levels are likely to grow further.
Around five million tourists visit Stoke each year, directly supporting around 4,400 jobs. Stoke-on-Trent shows its popularity through the number of repeat visits; around 80 percent of visitors have previously visited. Tourism to the city was kick-started by the National Garden Festival in 1986. It is now sustained by the many pottery factory-shops, thematic tours, improved canal network and the revival of the Trentham Estate currently undergoing a £100 million regeneration project. This project is aimed at creating a unique visitor destination of national significance to present a myriad of activities and experiences for everyone to enjoy:
Here, the restoration of the historic Italian gardens, designed and created in the 19th Century by Sir Charles Barry, is the centrepiece of the proposed development that will create up to 1,000 jobs. Working closely with English Heritage, leading designers Tom Stuart-Smith and Piet Oudolf have been commissioned to restore and add contemporary flair to the historic gardens. New benchmarks in managing the gardens and in presenting them to the visitors are part of the vision of the Gardens Manager, Michael Walker.
Experts agree that the garden restoration is the central element in the entire investment and is part of one of the most successful urban regeneration projects in the UK. The project is a rare combination of innovative commercial enterprise, job creation and environmental enhancement.
The buildings to the East of the Trent have been replaced by a 65,000 sq ft garden centre and a 68,000 sq ft shopping village – a further 67,000 sq ft remains to be developed. Additional innovative visitor attractions at the Southern end of the estate include a monkey forest with over 140 free roaming Barbary macaques, and an aerial extreme tree-top activity centre.
A 120 bedroom 3 star Hotel with a free standing high quality restaurant both at the main entrance will accommodate visitors from 2008 onwards. The creation of a five star hotel from the ruins of Trentham Hall is planned as the final element of the scheme.
Four shopping kiosks are being built in the Shopping Village. Further phases of the shopping village and other attractions such as a winery will be initiated in future years. The shopping village based on craft, heritage, and tourist retail provides an innovative and diverse shopping destination from established and new businesses.
Over 500 jobs have already been created, and the original target of 1,000 jobs to be created, mainly for local people, often after re-skilling, appears eminently achievable. Additionally, the garden volunteers programme has provided an opportunity for 40 local people to acquire new horticultural skills under expert guidance. For 12 of the volunteers, this programme has been part of a return-to-work and rehabilitation programme for people with special needs.
The estate, a large part of which is a SSSI, continues to embody the highest commitment to sustainable ecology. As well as the works in the gardens, an extensive programme of ecological restoration and management is being undertaken in the wooded areas, including control of non native and invasive species and the encouragement of the regeneration of the native woodland.
In 2006 there were over 2m visitors to the estate, which is already recognised as a tourist and leisure destination of national significance.