The ‘25 Pairs of Hands’ project is an oral and visual history collection based in Stoke-on-Trent, designed to record memories of the Middleport Pottery employees past and present, and those who were connected with or have memories of the works and local area. This oral history project has been led by The Prince’s Regeneration Trust (PRT) which owns the Pottery, with support from Staffordshire University and the Unity Foundation, and funding from the Halcrow Foundation and the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The aim of the project has been to train and up-skill young people in this deprived area, giving them valuable new skills, increase their employment prospects and instill confidence and a sense of pride in their heritage and community. The project has also given older people in the community a chance to talk about their memories and experiences, and feel valued and respected.
Six young people from the Unity Foundation, a social enterprise based in Stoke-on-Trent, have been recording the memories of Middleport Pottery employees. As part of the Unity Foundation’s ‘Progressionz’ project which supports disadvantaged young people who have found mainstream education challenging, they have been working with students from Staffordshire University taking part in peer-to-peer learning and sharing skills. This, along with training has given them valuable communication and media skills, and increased their employability, prospects and confidence.
According to the Pottery’s Visitor Services Manager, Teresa Fox-Wells, it became clear quite early on into the project that the pupils were far more engaged by the practicalities of the ceramic process than any other aspect. They also had no idea about the opportunities in the industry, or the relevance to them. When asked if they thought that there were any opportunities in the industry, 100% of pupils replied negatively and several expressed the opinion that the industry was “dead”.
Following a presentation on the background of the project from Teresa, the project ran practical workshops to challenge their negative perceptions and to increase their confidence. The pupils were hugely creative and produced some very imaginative additions to the ‘2000 Kilns’ project.
The students were keen to explore more techniques and to visit the pottery to better understand the processes. To that end, a site visit and factory tour was arranged in late March 2014. The pupils greatly enjoyed it and spent a lot of time speaking to the factory workforce, asking questions and increasing their understanding. The factory staff were very welcoming and approachable, and seemed to enjoy sharing their skills with younger visitors. They even offered special experiences including the opportunity to actually go inside a kiln and to try towing, which is a machine-based sponging technique. The tour was filmed by Staffordshire University’s Unique Productions (see below).
Work placement for local young person
The Halcrow Foundation funding has also provided a six month paid work placement at Middleport Pottery for a local young person, Amy Mountford, who previously wasn’t in education, employment or training (NEET). Amy assisted the Pottery’s Visitor Services Manager, Teresa Fox-Wells in the administration and event management of this project. Following her placement, she was actually employed by PRT as a Visitor Services Assistant at the Pottery.
Teresa said: “Amy had previously worked in childcare but had been out of work for some time and was looking to learn new skills. We were very impressed by her enthusiasm to learn.
“Amy has proved to be a very diligent worker who asks lots of questions and shows great initiative. She had never worked in an administration role but has taking to it well and, as a natural people person, she is very much enjoying the interaction with visitors. Amy had limited knowledge of the heritage facilities in the area so has been enjoying information gathering visits to other local attractions and shadowing heritage professionals to get an idea of job roles in the industry and what they involve.
“Amy has been visiting Staffordshire University to observe the oral history interviews taking place and has absorbed a great deal of information from the interviewees.”
Teresa went on to say that Amy played a key role in the oral history project, organising and carrying out interviews following her training. Recordings have been made by Unique Productions at Staffordshire University to create a film of the project. The recordings have all been accurately transcribed by Amy and will be stored as part of the archive for the future. They feature a wealth of information and some fascinating stories.
Teresa said: “Amy has been a crucial part of the project and has proved very successful at engaging with the pupils. She is an excellent role model and her experience challenges their assumption that there are no opportunities for younger people. Amy has also recently passed her First Aid qualification and achieved a Welcome Host award in Customer Service. She is now confident to travel on trains and has attended events on her own by train, which she would previously have lacked the confidence to do.”
The milestones of the project:
- Created one six-month placement for a local NEET young person.
- Worked with six students aged 14-16 years from the Unity Foundation providing training and personal development.
- Collected 25 interviews from local elderly people for use in the heritage interpretation at Middleport Pottery and deposit in the historical archives.
- Using the memories as inspiration, the six students produced several art pieces to achieve their Level Two Arts Award.
- Produced a book documenting the oral histories recorded in July 2015 Middleport Memories is now available to buy from the Middleport Pottery visitor centre, price: £5.
- Produced a film about the project in August 2015, which can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=awsNWm-3uVc
- Produced a second film about a tour of Middleport Pottery’s Burleigh factory by young people from the Unity Foundation.
Stoke-on-Trent is ranked seventh most deprived area in the UK for educational attainment and twelfth for income affecting children. In an area of significant poverty, young people are most at risk; disillusionment, lack of aspiration and unemployment are commonplace and many are disengaged from the community.
About Middleport Pottery
In June 2011, the PRT stepped in to buy and save Middleport Pottery, an important part of Britain’s heritage. The charity then embarked on a £9 million, three-year project to regenerate and revitalise the site for the community of Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent.
In June 2014, HRH The Prince of Wales, President of PRT, opened the refurbished Pottery, containing the Burleigh factory, a visitor centre, cafe, shop, activity areas and workshops and offices for creative businesses. The Pottery is now a major visitor destination and has won eight awards to date.
Middleport Pottery is also the setting for the BBC television series, The Great British Pottery Throw Down.
To book a factory tour or to find out more, go to www.middleportpottery.co.uk, or www.facebook.com/MiddleportPottery. For more information on the restoration project, go to www.princes-regeneration.org/projects/middleport-pottery-stoke-on-trent