'Passionate' Prince Charles applauds Middleport Pottery project
POTTERY workers at an historic factory believe the future is bright for ceramics – after Prince Charles gave the industry the royal seal of approval.
His Royal Highness visited Middleport Pottery yesterday as the historic building prepares to undergo further change as part of an ambitious £8.5 million overhaul.
And staff at the site are set to be joined by dozens more employees as work continues to transform the business into a tourist attraction, along with a fully functioning factory.
In 2011 the Prince's Regeneration Trust charity bought the site in order to protect its future along with 50 jobs.
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Yesterday's visit gave the prince an opportunity to meet pottery workers and receive an update on how the multi-million project was progressing.
Ros Kerslake, chief executive of the Prince's Regeneration Trust, said: "It was wonderful to be able to show our President, the Prince of Wales, the progress we have made at Middleport Pottery.
"He was shown plans of the site and we talked about the community and heritage activities and facilities that we are creating to benefit Burslem and beyond.
"The prince has been determined, passionate and fully involved in this project from the outset. It is his dedication to local communities, craftsmanship and celebrating an area's history that first led to the creation of the PRT and our subsequent regeneration of this precious example of British industry and heritage."
Along with a tour of the main buildings, the prince also visited the factory's original bottle kiln and pottery producers.
Vanessa Hornsby, aged 56, of High Lane is one of the workers whose job was saved following the investment. The mother-of-two, who has worked at Middleport Pottery for the last 25 years, said: "I think we would have been dead and buried if it wasn't for the interest shown by the Prince's Trust."
The prince's visit is the second time he has been to the distinctive Port Street building, have previously called in two years ago.
Vanessa, who previously worked as a lithographer for Midwinter Pottery, added: "We managed to speak to him last year as well and he was a real gentleman.
"It is nice to know that they really care about what we do here."
Vanessa admits the area where she works as a biscuit selector – a process of checking ceramics for faults prior to glazing – is like 'stepping back in time' with the historic bottle kiln situated through a nearby door.
Her colleague Shirley Davies was also given an opportunity to speak to the prince.
Shirley, aged 52, said: "I have never spoke to a member of the royal family before.
"He asked me what I was doing and what my role involved and I explained to him."
The mother-of-three has spent 21 years in the pottery industry having worked at Emma Bridgewater and Royal Stafford.
Shirley, who also has a granddaughter, believes the city is set for a pottery resurgence.
She said: "I remember when there were pot banks on pretty much every corner and in every town, but it is a lot different now and it is a real shame to see how so much has gone.
"But I think more people are looking to buy pottery that is from this area and will check the stamp at the bottom of the products. Some of the older patterns are proving very popular now and it is nice to see that stuff coming back."
Future visitors to the factory will also be surprised to see the process of production has defied too much technological development.
Using a piece of pottery Shirley carefully taps the ware to check for cracks – a process she does simply by listening to the noise it produces.
She said: "So much is done by hand and I don't think people always realise that."
Such has been the success of the factory, it has been able to take on a number of apprentices. The new breed of pottery workers admit they never envisaged a role in the industry with so many firms being forced to close.
Zoe Hannon, aged 18, of Burslem, a trainee transferer, who started at the firm in April, said: "When I came for the interview they told me about all the things that they do here and it really impressed me.
"I never thought I would be doing a job like this with how the pottery industry is, but I really enjoy it.
"I am optimistic about the future of the industry in the area."
Fellow apprentice Becky Jones, who started in July, is also enjoying her role at Middleport.
The 18-year-old, of Hanchurch, said: "The job does require a lot of patience but I enjoy it.
"I don't think people always realise just how much goes in to creating these products."
More is planned for the site with officials hoping it is a fully functioning tourist attraction by Spring 2014.
Proposals include creating a cafe and restoring a set of Victorian offices which will feature as part of future tours.
Penny East, communications executive for the Regeneration Trust, said: "The prince wanted to visit the site in order to see the progress which had been made since it was acquired in 2011.
"It will look very different to when he first saw it, with a lot more work planned."
A key part to the development is to create a hub where trainee construction and ceramics workers can come to learn their trade.
The scheme will be open to those aged between 16 and 25, with the chance to work while gaining a qualification.
That project, combined with roles up for grabs in both the factory and tourism side of the operations will see roughly 60 jobs available.
The factory's newly-appointed visitor services manager Teresa Fox-Wells added: "It's an exciting project to be part of."