Four-year project to boost Stoke's heritage comes to an end

A "ghost sign" was revealed above a shopfront in Stoke's Church Street
A "ghost sign" was revealed above a shopfront in Stoke's Church Street -Credit:Pete Stonier

A four-year project to conserve a town centre's heritage and bring empty properties back into use has come to an end. The Stoke High Street Heritage Action Zone (HAZ) has enabled owners to repair properties and give them a new lease of life through grant funding from Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Historic England and the private sector.

Sites that have undergone work as part of the £3.9m project include the Crafty Lion in Church Street, which was awarded £300,000 towards external repairs and conversion of the upper floors and rear into accommodation, and Spode Building No 5, which received £247,000 for external restoration. Work has also taken place on the historic Stoke Crests on the Church Street Market building and sites in Glebe Steet including the former Harry's Bar - and renovation work to a property in Church Street has unearthed a "ghost sign" for an old business.

Councillor Chris Robinson, the city council's cabinet member for housing, regeneration and planning, said: “Over the past four years, the Stoke High Street Heritage Action Zone (HSHAZ) has supported 17 buildings in the town and two public realm schemes - Spode Rose Garden and the Spode Museum Secret Garden. It has also supported a number of community activities including three WOW project art installations, Stoke Lantern Parades, Hi! Stoke Festivals and the Stoke Minster Greening Project which was led by the Stoke HSHAZ Cultural Consortium group.

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“We are proud of what has been achieved through the Stoke High Street Heritage Action Zone and will now be exploring our options to enable us to continue our work to revitalise and conserve heritage buildings in the town in the future.”

But some local traders have said the town remains in decline despite the work that has taken place over the past four years. One, from Norris Carpets in Church Street, said: "The money being spent is too late.

"This is a steady decline and it hasn't taken place overnight. We've been here over 30 years and the council made a point of everyone having to go to Hanley.

"Then they put in the one-way system and that has destroyed the businesses. A lot of customers come to us because their mothers and fathers came to us, but it's not like that for everybody else."

Simon Boote from Firework Empire in Welch Street said despite the work carried out on a number of buildings in the town centre, they currently remained empty. He added that buildings in Church Street had been damaged over the years by larger vehicles passing by.

"You can see the cracks in the buildings - 70 per cent of the street is Victorian. When it was minibuses it wasn't a problem but now we have the bigger buses and they all seem to come through Church Street.

"What's the point in doing the fronts up when you are destroying them with the traffic? Then you have the air pollution - you are going to put more people in living above properties but you can't open the windows because of the pollution.

"The HAZ scheme has been a waste of money - what's the point of renovating a façade if the building behind it is in such a condition where it can't be used? I would say it has been a complete and utter failure."

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