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

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.

sept 08 005

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

Does your Gran look like the Queen?

To celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee we are running a fab photo competition. All you need to do is send us a picture of anyone you know who looks like the Queen, with their permission of course. All entries will be put on our Facebook page and the best photograph will win a piece of Diamond Jubilee commemorative ware made in Stoke-on-Trent and attractions tickets including an annual membership for two for the Trentham Estate and an Alton Towers family pass. Other prizes include a Sid Kirkham print and Emma Bridgewater Diamond Jubilee mug. The person doesn’t have to be a perfect look-a-like – so get creative with your entries!

Just send your images to images@stoke.gov.uk with the information required on the entry  form – click here to download it. Or complete the form and send in a disk with the image to the address on the form.

Its that easy to enter! You can find more details about the competition by clicking here.

Good luck!

Last chance to see…

British Ceramics Biennial

As well as the chance to buy some of the ceramics on display there’s still plenty to see and do over the last weekend of the British Ceramics Biennial which ends this Sun 13 Nov.  

  • Have a go at making your own pot on the ‘Book a Slot – Throw a Pot’ activity on Saturday 12 Nov between 2 – 5pm.  Booking essential but you can do this on the day. 
  • Exhibitions to view include A Great Wall, Exploring Spode, Fresh, Mould Store, Open Store and Sunday Morning @EKWC all at the original Spode factory site.
  • Have a brew at the Factory Refectory.
  • Don’t forget to go to the City Centre to see the ‘Stick Up – Unpredictable Collaborations’ exhibition at the Airspace Gallery (ends 13 Nov) and the Award Show at the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery that continues until 11 December.

More details on the festival website www.britishceramicsbiennial.com

10 reasons for visit the British Ceramics Biennial

  1. Enjoy afternoon tea at the Factory Refectory. No ordinary tearoom!  It is run by tea experts dedicated to bringing you the best cuppa alongside tempting homemade cakes, sandwiches, pies and soups.  
  2. Get some hints and tips from celebrity chef Brian Turner CBE. There are still tickets left for this special event on 23 October 2011.
  3. Buy your Christmas presents early. A special selling weekend has been scheduled for November 12/13, the final weekend of the BCB. 
  4. “Have-a-go” yourself at creating your own ceramic art by going along to one of the BCB workshops.
  5. The Great Wall….of Stoke-on-Trent! See the best of British industry on display.
  6. Visit the “Award” exhibition at the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, to view the work of 24 artists and designers who have been specially selected.
  7. Explore the original Spode factory site.
  8. Invest in a ceramics star of the future at the “FRESH” exhibition on at the original Spode factory site. Can you spot the next Tracey Emin or Damian Hirst?
  9. See one of the premier art installations in the West Midlands this year. “Mould Store”, by the internationally acclaimed and world-renowned ceramics artist Philip Eglin
  10. Enjoy one of the associated events taking place across Stoke-on-Trent.