Plans to maximise the full potential of the flourishing China Halls event space – and make sure the benefits are felt and shared at venues and businesses across the whole of Stoke town centre.
A decade after the Spode Works closed its doors, the site has been brought back to life and is now home to 50 artists’ studios, a 26-room hotel that is fully occupied most nights, a popular café and a revamped and extended visitor centre. The transformation and ongoing regeneration of the site as a creative village has been led by the city council, which bought the site in 2010. In the last three years, the council has invested more than £3 million in conversion works and the demolition of nine derelict buildings. External funding bodies have provided a further £1 million.
The China Halls, a vast space that was the factory’s main production area, is now being used as a unique venue for private functions and events. These have included Stoke-on-Trent Beer Festival, black-tie charity balls and several dance music events, which have attracted DJs including Radio 1’s Annie Mac – with bookings and enquiries continuing to come in.
Now the city council is beginning to look at ways to maximise the commercial potential of the China Halls, and improve the way it connects to the rest of the town centre. One idea being considered involves making the China Halls more visible and accessible from street level, and improving public access to it. This could potentially be done by knocking down the council-owned Gordon House building on Kingsway, and the five shop units below. Although the idea is still in its infancy with no decisions made, the council has recently met with the shop tenants to talk through the possibility with them. If it did go ahead, the businesses would be supported and offered alternative accommodation in the town centre on nearby Church Street, and full engagement with residents and businesses would be carried out.
Cllr Daniel Jellyman, cabinet member for regeneration, infrastructure and heritage, said: “One of our key priorities has been to invest time and money into bringing the Spode Works site back to life with a modern day purpose, and we’re really pleased with the progress made with the creative village concept. Spode Works has so much potential to be a catalyst for regeneration and we are starting to see that potential being realised. Our philosophy is clear – a successful Spode Works means a successful Stoke town centre, and we see the two going very much hand-in-hand. What’s good for Spode Works should be good for the town centre and its businesses, and vice-versa.
“Since we started to market the China Halls as an events space, demand and interest has really taken off. It’s a unique space to have not just for Stoke-on-Trent but also for the Midlands, and you can see that with the type of events it’s already attracting. We’re lucky to have this type of space available and I believe we would be missing an opportunity if we did not try and maximise its full potential. A thriving China Halls would be really good news for other businesses in the area and the town centre as a whole, but we need to make sure the two are more integrated than they are at present. It’s imperative we try and get more leisure-based activities in our town centres for the future. We have to change if we are to prosper. This means looking at ways to make the China Halls more visible, improving the entrances and enhancing the commercial opportunities for the building.
“We are evaluating all options in respect of the China Halls and Spode Works site, and meeting with the businesses was very much the start of a conversation we want to have with them about how the future for the town might look. We are at the early stages of considering how the buildings known as Gordon House could be opened up to create a courtyard and access onto Spode Works and into the China Halls. It’s important to stress no decisions have been made at this stage and it’s not something that is going to happen suddenly overnight.
“Some of the businesses have been there for many years and have built fantastic reputations, and we obviously want them to stay in the town and continue to thrive and be successful. If this idea is something we did choose to pursue, we’ve told the businesses we would support them to relocate to premises a short distance away in Church Street. I think that would be a really good opportunity to breathe new life into that part of the town centre.
“We will of course engage with all businesses and residents if we get to the stage where definite plans are on the table, but we are not there yet. This is an exciting time as we plan ahead for what Stoke town centre could look like in the future, for the next 50 years or more.”
For all media enquiries please contact the Communications Department at Stoke-on-Trent City Council on 01782 232987 (jouralists only).