The Stoke-on-Trent Central constituency has risen to the challenges presented by COVID with a phenomenal community response. Those who know the city will not be surprised to learn this, as Stoke has demonstrated throughout its industrial past a remarkable resilience and a profound sense of place. This was the home of steel, pits and pots: nothing is left of the first two industries and gone is the heyday when Stoke-on-Trent was the world centre of ceramics manufacturing – though there is a resurgence of advanced ceramics research and manufacture, and I have been lobbying hard to bring an advanced ceramics campus to the city to harness the new opportunities in this natural home of ceramics.
As a recently adopted “Stokie”, I am aware of the common purpose that motivates so many organisations, public services and businesses in the city, so it was no surprise to me that the bet365’s Denise Coates’s Charitable Foundation, donated £10 million pounds to the local NHS charities. The Royal Stoke teaching hospital is in the heart of the city and during lockdown the most common vehicles on the roads, which reminded us all of the fragility of our existence, were ambulances. Philanthropy is second nature to those who have made good in the city, from Josiah Wedgwood to John Caudwell, Emma Bridgewater to Lou Macari. It is the spirit of togetherness that has kept people strong during lockdown, and the amazing organisation of the Collaborative Network, made up of many local public and Third Sector organisations and Staffordshire University, which has delivered food and care packages to the vulnerable, homes for rough sleepers, contact for those at risk because of digital exclusion and PPE for front line workers.
The challenge going forward is to retain the capacity within the community to continue the support once furloughed volunteers start going back to their day jobs, to step up when more people need help because of job losses. Our brilliant community champions will face more challenges at a time when they are exhausted from the work they have already done. In Stoke-on-Trent Central, the “levelling-up” agenda will be all about growing the local asset base, creating opportunities for the most left behind by investing in capacity building in community development.