Stoke & Staffordshire

We Are Stoke-on-Trent: How painted doors are brightening up Hanley

Qamar Soheil
Image caption Qamar Soheil is a street ambassador with Stoke-on-Trent City Centre BID. He's been supporting traders and shoppers in Hanley since February

Street ambassador Qamar Soheil spends each working day completing at least 25,000 steps as he pounds the streets of Hanley in Stoke-on-Trent.

So the 30-year-old is acutely aware of the challenges facing the high street.

He's seen the "closing down" signs, he's wandered past the empty shops, and he's had to to tackle the graffiti and the fly-posting that has blighted abandoned buildings.

Boarded up shops on Hope Street in Hanley
Image caption Boarded-up shops on Hope Street in Hanley. The Stoke-on-Trent City Business Improvement District (BID) has plans to revive this street

Hanley's high street difficulties mirror many of those highlighted around the UK.

Nationally, about 16 shops are closing every day as retailers restructure their businesses and more shopping is done online.

Hanley is one of six towns that make up Stoke-on-Trent, together with Burslem, Tunstall, Fenton, Stoke and Longton.

According to the Local Data Company, Stoke-on-Trent as a whole has lost a total of 42 occupied shops since September 2018.

There were 167 shop closures, with 125 shops opening up.

Mannequins in an empty Hanley store
Image caption Mannequins in an empty Hanley store symbolise the situation confronting many high street across the UK

Stoke-on-Trent was named earlier this month as one of the 69 English towns, cities and districts that will benefit from a £95m government regeneration fund.

The government said the money would help "breathe new life" into high streets.

Hanley's financial fortunes may not be transformed overnight, but a project with local artists to inject colour and vibrancy into the town feels like a start.

It's certainly given the area that Qamar patrols a brighter outlook.

Broad Street image by Joyce Iwaszko
Image caption An electricity power plant on Broad Street in Hanley has been transformed by the YMCA

The Our Front Door campaign has seen unloved doors in streets and alleyways used as a canvas for local artists - and the results are striking.

"I really love my job," said Qamar. "I love walking around meeting people and talking to them. I can see a real benefit to the Our Front Door project. It really brightens the area."

Foundry Street image by James Rogerson
Image caption On Foundry Street in Hanley, James Rogerson created a striking barcode badger
Gitana Street image by Laura Swift
Image caption One of street ambassador Qamar Soheil's favourite images can be found on Gitana Street. It was painted by Laura Swift

The Stoke-on-Trent City Business Improvement District (BID) involves 436 businesses, and it teamed up with the YMCA and Entrepreneurs Network - a gallery and print shop in Hanley - to tap into the area's creative talents.

Brunswick Street image by Katrina Wilde
Image caption The word Protest on the side of a building in Brunswick Street by Katrina Wilde

"There's a lot to be positive about with the work we are doing," said BID manager Richard Buxton.

"But the issues in Hanley are reflected throughout the country. There are challenges - high streets need to become more inventive.

"We want Our Front Door to be a starting point for a much bigger art project to bring art into the town."

Cheapside image by Tom Edwards
Image caption Directly opposite the offices of The Stoke-on-Trent BID on Cheapside is this door painted by Tom Edwards

Visitors can tour Hanley with a map highlighting the 18 doors that feature in the project.

Hillchurch Street image by Tom Addis
Image caption A young girl and her teddy bear peer through a door on Hillchurch Street. This artwork was created by Tom Addis

"The reaction through social media has been excellent with really positive feedback," said Richard.

"We chose doors that had been covered in graffiti to put something much more positive instead. I think they are amazing."

Lower Foundry Street image by Adam Madeley
Image caption On Lower Foundry Street is this image by Adam Madeley. A survey suggested 87% of Hanley businesses strongly agreed that an improved look and feel should be prioritised for the city centre
Morley Street image by Rob Fenton
Image caption Morley Street image by Rob Fenton, from Entrepreneurs Network, who worked with young artists from YMCA to decide a theme and style for each door

Artists Rob Fenton and Tom Edwards, co-owners of Entrepreneurs Network, both have work on show on the streets of Hanley.

"My main aim in all of the work I do is to help the city of Stoke-on-Trent grow and evolve, so it's great we can be so involved with the BID's plans to improve the look and feel of the area through artwork installations," said Rob.

"The creative people in this city are capable of so much positive change and development, and projects such as this are certainly a step in the right direction," Tom added.

Parliament Row image by Dave Newey
Image caption Tucked away in the Parliament Row alleyway is this image by Dave Newey
Old Hall Street image by Know One
Image caption A painted door on Old Hall Street by Know One is part of the city centre trail with maps available around Hanley

Photographer: John Bray

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