Gladstone Pottery Museum Under Threat

7th December 2013


Words from Phil Rowley, a member of the former Gladstone museum trust, a former chairman of the Friends of Gladstone and a regular and long-serving volunteer at the museum.

Gladstone Pottery Museum

Stoke-on-Trent City Council recently published its budget proposals for the next couple of years.

One of these reads as follows “Restructure and review the Museums, Culture and Tourism services and associated teams to provide an overall structure that can manage museums and cultural activity and promote this as part of the tourism offer. ….” (my emphasis). More detail is also given “…. – a review of the operating model at Gladstone Pottery Museum, there will be fewer hands-on activities for visitors but more space will be provided for self-employed artists to work”.

The proposals would involve the museum’s demonstrators becoming self-employed – a ludicrous idea as they all only work part-time. It has also been suggested that individual craft potters could work for themselves at the museum.

They would, obviously, be working for themselves and have their own production targets and would have no time to chat with visitors and there would be no ‘hand-on’ activities.

If this were to come about it seems very unlikely that visitor numbers would be maintained and there would obviously be loss of income from admissions, have-a-go charges, as well as museum shop and cafe sales. There is an obvious risk that, should the savings not be possible, the museum would close. There are now hints that equivalent savings could be made elsewhere in Gladstone’ budget, but the possibility of this being possible seems remote to say the least.

Given the City Council’s often-repeated statement of its support for local tourism, a budget change potentially leading to closure of one of the best and most widely-known attractions seems a strange suggestion to make. Logically, one would have expected more support for the museum in order to boost visitor numbers- and income – not less !

About Gladstone

For over 200 years the Stoke-on-Trent area has been so dominant in the production of ceramics that it was often known as “The Potteries”. Gladstone was created to preserve a typical small 19th century ‘pot-bank’ (pottery factory) with a complete collection of buildings and bottle ovens to show visitors how such wonderful products were produced by the very skilled local workforce.

While the Potteries Museum in Hanley has the world’s greatest collection of ceramics produced in the area, Gladstone’s aim – as a ‘working musuem’ – has always been to show how these products were manufactured and especially the way of life of the Victorian pottery worker – the two museums therefore compliment each other.

Apart from its unique buildings, it is the people who actually make the museum a unique place to visit. A variety of demonstrations are given every day – throwing, casting, ceramic flower-making and decoration and visitors have the opportunity to ‘have a go’ themselves under the expert and patient guidance of the friendly demonstrators.

Many a family leaves the museum clutching the treasures which they have made during their visit. Unlike many museums, Gladstone’s demonstrators are not doing piecework, where every lost minute reduces their income, so they are always able to talk to visitors and answer their questions.

The well-known tourism site TripAdvisor has posted 176 reviews of Gladstone and 171 of these rate the museum as either “excellent” (132) or “very good” (39). Many of the reviews compliment the museum’s demonstrators – sometimes by name. I can do no better than quote from a visitor review in August “… The staff are the museums biggest asset who were all friendly and enthusiastic. …..”

Over the years Gladstone has won many awards – including Museum of the Year – and this year it has been awarded a TripAdvisor ‘Certificate of Excellence” and it is currently rated as the top visitor attraction in the whole of Stoke-on-Trent. It also recently won the public online vote for Enjoy Staffordshire Tourism’s ‘small visitor attraction of the year’ and also the Heritage Education Trust’s Sandford award for its educational activities.

Gladstone is also probably the most-used image of the area in both newspapers, magazines and on television.

How you can help

The time available to act is short – the consultation period on the proposed budget ends on Friday 20th December – so if you wish to help save the museum, please act quickly!

Comments can be submitted to the City Council by email to budget2014@stoke.gov.uk. Councillor Adrian Knapper is the City Council cabinet member responsible for museums, so I suggest that you also copy your comments to him (adrian.knapper@stoke.gov.uk) so that he is aware of your views.

If you do submit comments by e-mail, I would be grateful if you could also send me a copy of your message so that I can judge how things are going : my e-mail address is ‘phil@philrowley.plus.com’. If you don’t have access to e-mail, comments can also be submitted in writing to Budget 2014, Freepost Our City – no stamp is necessary in the UK.

If you have visited Gladstone as an individual or as party of a family group, please include your comments on the museum demonstrators and whether you enjoyed ‘have a go’ activities. Please also indicate whether you would have visited the museum if there were no demonstrators and no possibility to ‘have a go’.

If you visited with a group, could you please indicate what the group as a whole thought of the museum demonstrators and please also indicate whether the group would have visited the museum if there had been no demonstrations to see. Please feel free to copy this document to other group members so that they can submit their comments !

If you are submitting comments from outside the UK, could you please include the town and country from which you are writing.

The City Council has encouraged anyone submitting comments on the budget proposals to make alternative suggestions and savings ideas.

I can suggest several alternatives to the cuts at Gladstone. The City Council’s own figures estimate extra expenditure of over £5M on building its proposed new civic offices – to which many local residents object. Two City Council owned venues – the Regent Theatre and the Victoria Hall – receive annual operating subsidies from the council – these have grown from a total of £100k in 2000 to £626k in 2012/13 – I think that it’s time that both faced their share of the pain being handed out to everyone else in the budget.

If you know anyone else who might be interested in offering their support for Gladstone – whether an individual, family, club / society or school which has visited the museum, you don’t need to seek my permission to pass on copies of this document – I positively encourage you to do so!