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"Community Maker" - building a cohesive community through an arts and culture project in Stoke-on-Trent

Stoke-on-Trent is world-famous for its pottery, and a creative project using clay has helped to build a cohesive community in a newly regenerated part of the city. This case study forms part of the Value of culture - building cohesive communities section of our online Culture Hub.

The ‘Community Maker’ project focused on the Portland Street area of Hanley, where 33 houses have been refurbished and sold for £1 each as part of a long-term process of social renewal and urban regeneration led by Stoke-on-Trent City Council. This housing intervention aimed to ‘change the rhythm’ of the area and support the development of a happier and healthier community.

‘Community Maker’ formed part of the cultural sector’s response to place-making for the area, bringing long-term residents together with new arrivals to build an active and engaged community. It began when a local artist (and £1 home owner), Anna Francis, approached British Ceramics Biennial (BCB) with the idea. BCB’s community engagement programme acts as a catalyst for positive social change through cultural activity in Stoke-on-Trent, a city with some of the lowest cultural participation rates in England (34 per cent). The idea was to work with local people to explore personal stories, cultural identities, ceramic heritage and relationship to place through the making and sharing of food and through designing and making ceramic objects together.

Impact of the project

The project created a space for people to get together, eat, talk and make ceramic items – and, through these activities, to explore how the community could develop. The communal meals provided a neutral, relaxed space for conversations on issues such as what makes a strong community, what resources and support the community would need to develop, and what was already there to be celebrated.

‘Community Maker’ has contributed to the creation of an active community group of residents eager to play their part in its renaissance. Participants said it had a positive impact on their perception of the area, its heritage and people. In total, 256 residents took part in activities including walks, ceramic workshops and meals. Feedback from participants included:

It was wonderful to see so many people getting involved, as well as lots of young people who brought some great ideas.

I enjoyed meeting useful people to help our growing community.

Looking to the future  

Participants expressed a need for a permanent community space, and in response Stoke-on-Trent City Council offered a disused pub to be used as a multi-use community centre. As a way of involving the community in the design and delivery of this asset, a public arts and cultural programme took place, the Portland Inn Project, with activities designed to bring people into the building and get them involved in the discussion about its future. The evidence gathered fed into a business plan which demonstrated the sustainability of a creative community centre with social enterprise, meeting the need for a community space and creating employment and training opportunities.

Key learning points

  • Using community meals and ‘make’ sessions to bring people together was a great way of creating space for productive, if at times difficult, conversations.
  • Using an action research approach to involve local people in decision-making tells you if and how something will work and empowers people to take action and engage further in their community.
  • The need for sustainable business models for community buildings is necessitating a more creative approach: new buildings need flexibility built into the plan so they can evolve and develop in relation to the needs, wants and resources of an area.
  • Community asset mapping is an excellent way to involve people in identifying potential resources in their area and changing views of a place.

For further information contact Dena Bagi, Community Programme Manager, British Ceramics Biennial: [email protected]


This case study has been developed in conjunction with Arts Council England