British Ceramics Biennial launch night

I’ve got to be honest, being invited along to spend a Friday evening in a disused factory would not normally sound like the most appealing start to my weekend. But this was not any disused factory, this was the original Spode factory – the birthplace of English fine bone china, and this was not any ordinary Friday evening event, this was the launch night of the British Ceramics Biennial (BCB) – a six week festival showcasing a celebration of ceramics right in the heart of the World Capital of Ceramics between 28 September to 10 November 2013.

Our evening began however, not at the original Spode factory, but at another BCB venue, The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery in the City Centre, to see the preview of BCB’s Award 2013. Award 2013 showcases a broad range of work currently being produced by some of the UK’s finest ceramicists. This year, 22 artists have been selected from over 170 applications in a bid to be awarded the £10,000 winners prize, and I don’t envy whoever has the impossible task of picking a winner from this magnificently unique collection of pieces.

Award 2013

Award 2013

Having been wowed by the genius on display in the Award 2013 exhibition, we made the short journey down through the University Quarter to the original Spode factory in Stoke, which, from the moment we stepped foot into the factory grounds, displayed a magical energetic rebirth as we were transported into a magenta-lit ceramicists dream. Inside the original Spode factory in the vast China Hall space, the magic continued with breathtakingly creative displays and installations and innovative ideas.

The Original Spode Factory

The Original Spode Factory

Inside the Original Spode Factory

Inside the Original Spode Factory

Throughout the six-week festival, the original Spode factory hosts a number of exhibitions, installation and projects.

Fresh 2013 looks at the work of new graduates breaking through as they make the transition from learning to earning.

Fresh 2013

Fresh 2013

The Pavilions are four temporary structures that create unique spaces within which the public can engage with the artist’ response to their experience of the ceramic industry.

The Pavilions

The Pavilions

Explore 2013 has challenged four artists and one group of nine artists to make responses to the Spode site and Stoke-on-Trent itself. These range from an archaeological dig, through ceramic slip graffiti and the re-utilising of discarded moulds, to a poet’s lyric narrative.

BCB Design: Tableware is a strand of the festival that looks at limited edition and bespoke table-ware, created specifically to cater for a special dining experience. Case studies provide illustration of trends and trials that are currently underway and indicate one direction of travel for the ceramic industry, the creation and the capture of niche markets.

BCB Design: Tableware

BCB Design: Tableware

A particular highlight to me was the thought-provoking Made in China by Clare Twomey which comprises eighty red porcelain vases each 1.5m tall produced in Jingdezhen in China. Seventy nine have been decorated at the Chinese factory using transfers, one has been decorated at Royal Crown Derby using 18-carat gold. The latter took longer to complete than the 21 days it took to complete and deliver the seventy-nine. This placement unpicks “some of the issues faced by globalisation and outsourcing of production, and questioning the way in which value is assigned. The work also examines what else is lost, over and above jobs and knowledge, and where there might be the possibility of complementarity as opposed to opposition.”

Made in China

Made in China

One of the great things about BCB is that it is not a festival that is dominated by the “Please do not touch” sign. There are lots of opportunities throughout the six weeks for visitors to have a go, get messy, have fun, and get creative through various workshops and the BCB Family Weekenders.

Have a go!

Have a go!

The free festival is also really easy to get around with the main venues being in three locations – the original Spode factory in Stoke, The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery and Airspace Gallery in the City Centre, and Burslem for the Burslem Weekend in mid-October. The main Stoke-on-Trent railway station is 5 minutes’ walk from the original Spode factory site, and regular buses link it with the City Centre.

There simply was not enough time to take in all of the offerings on Friday evening and so it will be with great pleasure that I will have to return to this historic pottery site once again to see it all. And I urge you to join me – you will not be disappointed!

For more information about the British Ceramics Biennial visit http://www.visitstoke.co.uk/bcb.aspx

British Ceramics Biennial

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I’m really excited for the British Ceramics Biennial (BCB), running from 28th September – 10th November at the original Spode factory in Stoke-on-Trent. With new exhibitions to be seen and special events to be experienced I cannot wait to celebrate the City’s history and culture. I think it looks like a great opportunity for the whole family to get involved in creating our own ceramics, apparently there will be sessions running where you will be expected to get clay in your finger nails!! I have never thrown a pot before but have seen people doing it at Wedgwood Visitor Centre and Gladstone Pottery Museum and this will be a great opportunity to make my own masterpiece. Also during the exhibition there will be amazing ceramics created from around the world from China, France and Norway. There will be huge pavilions housing really major pieces of work from all kinds of artists. The “new traditions of Spode” will be interesting, as we can see how ceramics mix with contemporary art. I have always wanted to see the production of ceramics in the studio and this Autumn I will be able to not only see this, but also join an artist in the Interactive Laboratory to help with a project that looks like it will be fun, messy, and free with no booking required. The ‘Burslem weekender’ is one of the events I am most looking forward to as I will be able to celebrate ceramics in the town where the potteries started.

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I’m wondering who will win the 2013 AWARD (the Biennial’s major survey exhibition of current ceramic practice in the UK) which will be on show at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery. 22 artists have been selected for the AWARD and the winner receives an amazing £10,000 prize.

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Exploring Spode’ will offer a great chance to see the Original Spode Factory in different perspectives through artists adding their own personal touches, I especially want to view the large installation based on Spode plate design made by the winner of the award prize in 2011, Phoebe Cummings. And admission is free!!

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The large China Halls on the original Spode site will house a PieMinster for those very important refreshments after a session of pot making and there will be opportunities to buy items for your own collection as a memento to your visit here. I think I will book an afternoon tea experience in a unique setting of a teacup factory, getting the chance to use the some of the finest Staffordshire tableware.

bcbb

If you want to see the people who are going to be working in the ceramics industry in the future the FRESH exhibition will do exactly that, as it showcases the best of the current ceramics graduates. The graduates will participate in studio pottery, tableware, industrial design, installation, and figurative and abstract culture.

For those interested in the business side of ceramicists and the ceramics industry, the BCB is running a conference from 17th – 18th October with presentations by keynote speakers giving us the chance to understand issues and concerns, such as artists working with clay and globalisation

So save the dates for your diary and keep in touch with whats happening when on the visitstoke.co.uk/bcb.aspx website and on www.britishceramicsbiennial.com

Royal Baby Bedlam in Stoke-on-Trent!

royal baby

Here at Visit Stoke we couldn’t be happier when we heard the news that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge announced to the world that their first child Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge was born at 4.24pm on 22nd July 2013, weighing 8lbs 6oz.

To mark this very special day some of the city’s famous pottery names have launched a stunning range of souvenirs and collectables that you can buy to celebrate the birth of the royal baby.

Hooray for George

AynsleyRoyal baby Boy trink#7633F4 (1)

From the Hooray for George mug by Emma Bridgewater to the more traditional plate, trinket and mug set by Aynsley, a fabulous art pottery vase by Moorcroft to a fun mug by Dunoon there is something to suit every taste.

Moorcroft A Royal Arrival Prince

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You can come and buy from over 20 pottery factory shops in the city and what not take a factory tour to see how this wonderful commemorative royal ware is made!

Factory tours are available at Emma Bridgewater, Moorcroft, Wedgwood, Aynsley and Burleigh.

For more information about the fantastic royal commemorative ware our city has to offer visit www.visitstoke.co.uk/royal.

Embark on the Remarkable Ceramics Trail

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Famous for being known worldwide as “The Potteries”, the history and heritage of Stoke-on-Trent’s pottery industry dates back to at least the 17th Century. Today the city is officially recognised as “The World Capital of Ceramics”. The likes of Wedgwood, Moorcroft, Aynsley, Burleigh, Dudson, Emma Bridgewater, Portmeirion, Spode, Royal Doulton and Royal Stafford are just a few of the leading brands you will find in the city. Each brand is unique as they range from traditional designs by Wedgwood to more modern pieces by Emma Bridgewater.

Wedg flowers

I discovered the fascinating story of the Potteries by experiencing The Ceramics Trail. The trail lets you collect stamps at each ceramic attraction that you visit and when you make a purchase in a factory shop. When you have collected 5 stamps, you can claim a brilliant Ceramics Trail gift from participating outlets, which was definitely worth collecting all of my stamps for!

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As part of my Ceramics experience, I went on a factory tour at Emma Bridgewater. I really enjoyed the tour as it gave me a behind the scenes glimpse of the factory and an insight into all the hard work that goes into creating their beautiful pieces – my favourite has got to be their classic polka-dot designs!

Emma Bridgewater - Summer Flowers

I also learnt a lot from the tour guide who was very knowledgeable of the production of Emma Bridgewater’s pottery. Visitors from Eccleshall and Nantwich who were on the same tour as me also enjoyed their factory tour experience too as they were very impressed with how the pottery is made and learnt a lot during the tour.

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The Ceramics Trail is definitely a must do! I thought it was a brilliant way of experiencing and learning about the extraordinary history and heritage of The Potteries. Visit our website at www.ceramicstrail.co.uk for inspiration on how to make the most of your Ceramic experience!

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Welcome to the Backstamp Club

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Today I became a member of the Backstamp Club. The Backstamp Club is built solidly on pride and the roots of the Club go as far back as the turn of the century when local author Arnold Bennett was an international celebrity. Something me and my family have always done no matter where we are holidaying is turnover our plates to check not only whether it was “Made in Stoke-on-Trent” but also the name of the manufacturer on its backstamp – This always makes us feel very proud of coming from The Potteries!

Membership for the Backstamp Club is both free and open to anyone in the world. It entitles you to the freedom to turn over cups, plates, saucers wherever you are in the world. When joining the Backstamp Club, all members receive their own personal Backstamp Club card. The Backstamp Club is also useful as it keeps you up-to-date with regular eshots on what is happening in the Club and you can enter a range of competitions throughout the year with chances to win some fantastic prizes.

Overall, I highly recommend the Backstamp Club to anyone. If you are interesting in becoming a member or want more details about our offers and competitions for club members, visit our Backstamp Club page at http://www.visitstoke.co.uk/backstampclub or check out our Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/BackstampClub and make sure you like us!

Explore and Experience Animal Magic at Trentham Monkey Forest

Jon and his familly on path with monkey on rail

Unique to the UK and open seasonably from March until November, today I visited Trentham Monkey Forest. Set within 60 acres of beautiful Staffordshire woodland and meadows where 140 monkeys live in total freedom, Trentham Monkey Forest is a fantastic day out for animal lovers of all ages.

The actual forest is a 3/4 mile winding path that takes you through the splendid forest of the Trentham Estate woodlands where the monkeys live. Throughout walking around the forest, I embarked into the fascinating world of the Barbary macaques. It was certainly an interesting and unique experience as the monkeys were roaming freely around me and they were walking across the path in front of me, you are so close to them. The forest has just had some new arrivals and I was lucky to see the new babies – they are so cute!

Trentham Monkey Forest

Trentham Monkey Forest has a good range of facilities. There is ample free parking in front of the entrance to the site. When entering the Monkey Forest, you will find the banana café that serves a selection of drinks, baguettes, soups, jacket potatoes and daily specials. If you want something to remember your unforgettable day out, the jungle shop sells shelf upon shelf of monkey memorabilia. Lastly, for those warm summer days there is a picnic area and two adventure playgrounds, which is great fun for children.

The Monkey Forest sits within the grounds of the Trentham Estate and is easily accessible by car, bus and train. For more information on how to get here and other useful information, visit Stoke website. Admission prices are also very reasonable at £7.50 for an adult, and £7.00 for a concession. For children between the ages of 3 and 14, admission is just £5.50 and children under the age of 3 get in for free.

On the whole, I would recommend Trentham Monkey Forest to anybody who is seeking a memorable day out that is fun and educational for all ages. For more information about this brilliant attraction and others in the area, visit our website on www.visitstoke.co.uk.

Trentham Monkey Forest Details:

Opening Times – Open every day in 2013 from the 23rd March – 3rd November including all bank holiday weekends.
23rd March to the 19th July – 10am to 5pm – last entry 4pm.
20th July to the 1st September – 10am to 6pm – last entry at 5pm.
2nd September to the 26th October – 10am to 5pm – last entry at 4pm.
27th October to the 3rd November – 10am to 4pm – last entry at 3pm.
Open 9th and 10th November – 10am to 4pm – last entry 3pm.

Telephone – 01782 659 845

Website – http://www.trentham-monkey-forest.com

Enjoy a magical day out at The Trentham Estate

Italian Garden Summer from above

Famous for its gardens in particular and open all year round, today I visited The Trentham Estate. Boasting not just beautiful and scenic gardens, I found this attraction a fun place with many activities and things to do for the whole family. Whether you’re a shopper, a gardener, an active person or someone who just wants a fun day out with the kids in either summer or winter – The Trentham Estate has it all.

I found this attraction one of the easiest to get to due to it’s easy to spot location on a main road and due to it being frequently signposted on brown and white signs throughout the city. There is ample free parking for visitors on site, and if you are arriving by public transport there are various bus links which you can use. The 101 runs every 20 minutes, along with the X1 every 60 minutes, and is a short drive by taxi or bus from Stoke-on-Trent station if you are arriving via train.

When I entered the Estate, I instantly noticed there was a Premier Inn on site which makes this an ideal location if you are looking to stay overnight in Stoke-on-Trent. There is also a Frankie and Bennys restaurant if the unlikely event occurs that you do not fancy anything to eat at one of the many high quality cafés that the Trentham Estate has!

Prior to visiting the gardens, I decided to visit the Shopping Village, as this (along with the Garden Centre) is one of the first attractions you see upon entry. When you hear the phrase ‘Shopping Village’, like me, you might Trentham Retailinstantly think that this is just a variation of the name ‘Shopping Centre’ to make it stand out and seem more unique. However, a ‘village’ is exactly what this shopping venue is. Hosting a variety of shops in around 60 timber Lodges, you are sure to find an array of brands, from big names like Bench and Superdry to the Edinburgh Woollen Mill and Thorntons, to much smaller names. As this is Stoke-on-Trent, no retail experience would be complete without a range of famous pottery industry names! The Trentham Estate has various pottery stores for famous names such as Aynsley China, Portmeirion, Spode and Royal Worcester.

One of the best features I found in The Trentham Shopping Village were the eclectic range of stores selling a wide range of products, from pet products right through to stores selling knitted fabric products. Other stores in the Shopping Village are Holland and Barrett and a Brown andTrenthamShoppingVillageAug11Bench Green, selling a variety of quality produce, from Artisan and ethical, right through to locally produced food and drink. Carrying on with the food and drink theme, there is also a massive sweet shop and even a Whiskey Shop! In my opinion, The Trentham Shopping Village is a foodie heaven! The Shopping Village also has a variety of cafés and restaurants if you’re looking for somewhere to relax after all of that shopping. You’re sure to find something you fancy, as I saw there were venues to cater for any meal – if it’s a light snack, breakfast, a dinner or a family lunch. There are big names from Pieminister all the way to a traditional Fish and Chip Shop.

Next, I decided to take a trip to the gigantic Garden Centre. To be honest, I’ve been to quite a few garden centres in the past but so far I’ve seen none as big or versatile as this one. A haven for all gardeners, or even house proud people, you are sure to find a purchase. From indoor and outdoor products, there is plenty to keep you occupied and browsing for at least an hour. Not only does the centre sell typical garden centre products like plants and flowers, it also sells a range of outdoor and indoor decoration for your home, along with clothes and games, books and DVDs for children. To keep the kids occupied, there is also a children’s play area for them too.

If you have enough of shopping and want somewhere to relax and have a bite to eat, the Garden Centre also gives you a variety of options of where to eat and drink. There is largely an Italian theme throughout the centre, and this is reflected by the types of restaurants and cafés they have. There are two restaurants in total, one called the Terrazzo del Giardino, and the largest restaurant, the Six Arches. The former serves a large variety of Italian food and wine overlooking the Italian Garden with space to sit outside on the terrace. The latter is the largest restaurant serving a variety of food for breakfast, lunch and in the afternoons, home-baked cakes and cream tea. There is also a café, which I visited, called Café Bello. Again, this is Italian themed, serving a selection of delicious Italian snacks, including bruschetta, Panini’s and pastries, along with a selection of hot and cold drinks.

Now that I had visited both the Shopping Village and the Garden Centre, next it was time to visit arguably the main attraction – Trentham Gardens. I must admit, when I visited the weather wasn’t very good (surprise, surprise – British weather!) however it was still spectacular, and I imagine even more spectacular in the summer when the weather is a lot warmer and the sun is shining! I think this part of the Estate is the most family friendly, with an array of activities to keep the children entertained. With so many activities to fill a whole day, this attraction is certainly value for money.

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I accessed the Gardens through the Shopping Village, and they were easily signposted. I firstly visited the Italian Garden, which is apparently the largest perennial plantings garden in Europe. This stunning garden made from Chelsea Flower show Gold medalist Tom Stuart-Smith, is definitely worth a look and in my opinion, one of the highlights of the attraction and should definitely not be missed.

As I mentioned previously, the Gardens are very children orientated with plenty of activities. First off is Trentham Lake, which is suitable for both adults and children alike. You can take part in boat rides, including chartering you own rowing boat! But if being on the water isn’t your thing and you prefer to keep your feet on dry land, there is also a pathway where you can take a walk around the lake. There are miniature train rides at OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAcertain times of the year. The Lake and in fact the whole of the Gardens themselves are interactive with children, as it is encouraged to see if they can spot ‘The Trentham Fairies’. The Garden’s are also perfect if you are bird or nature lover, as Trentham is known for the wildlife that can be found there. Notably Badgers, Hedgehogs and Foxes are amongst the many wildlife creatures that reside there.

Next, I visited the Eastern Pleasure Ground and the Western Pleasure Ground. The Western Pleasure Ground I found was the most child orientated, as this is where there is an adventure playground perfect for the kids, parkland and an amphitheatre which doubles up as an ice rink in the winter months. This amphitheatre is also where Trentham host Hot Summer Saturday events through July and August. This is also the part of the gardens where the child friendly maze and the Barefoot Walk is located.

Children in Barfus

The Barefoot Walk is an exciting attraction which is fun for the whole family, as we all know kids love getting messy! As the title suggests, you take part barefoot, and go on a scenic walk over a variety of textures such as mud, bark, logs, hay, grass and pebbles.

Other activities for both adults and children alike is Aerial Extreme. A High ropes adventure course, perfect for family days out and anyone looking for a bit of adventure. This is a perfect family day out where no experience is needed.

Trentham Monkey Forest is one of the main attractions within the Estate, and enables you to see how they live in a natural environment and up close across acres of breathtaking Staffordshire woodland. This attraction is open seasonally everyday from the 23rd of March up until the 3rd of November, and opening times vary depending on the day.

I would recommend this attraction to anybody, whether you are an adult on your own or with children. With plenty of things to do, you could easily spend the whole day here, and even then you would struggle to see everything!

Admission into the Gardens is £8.50 for an adult, and £7.25 for a concession and a child between the ages of 5-15 years. Also, family tickets can be purchased for £29.50 or £22.00 depending on the amount of adults and children per family.

Admission prices for the Monkey Forest slightly vary at £7.50 for an adult, and £7.00 for a concession. For children between the ages of 3 and 14, admission is just £5.50 and children under the age of 3 get in for free.

Jon and his familly on path with monkey on rail

For more information about this great attraction and to see a full list of events held at The Trentham Estate, visit our website on www.visitstoke.co.uk