Native Stokie, Bret Shah, aims to grow an affection and appreciation for the city among those who live and work there via the ‘Love Stoke’ project. It started with a Twitter account and the project’s digital identity grew when Bret added a blog and Facebook account. He subsequently acquired a radio show, ‘The Love Stoke Show’, which appears once a week on the local community internet station ‘6 Towns Radio’. Love Stoke carries the tagline ‘Positive, Upbeat, Kind’ because these are the values that Bret instils into the project.
The Love Stoke project addresses the negative image and lack of confidence that many would associate with the City of Stoke-on-Trent. Stoke is a city that has not recovered from the consequences of deindustrialisation that has taken place across much of Britain in the late twentieth century. Accordingly, the city can be characterised by many of the factors normally associated with social and economic deprivation.
In response, Bret draws upon his interest in the developing field of positive psychology to inspire his beliefs and actions in the Love Stoke project. Love Stoke is about ‘blowing the trumpet’ for the contributions that many Stokies are making, no matter how big or small, that benefit their fellow Stokies and the city itself. It also frequently draws upon place-based symbols as resources to connect the people that live or work there and strengthen collective identity. Locally made food (the Staffordshire Oatcake), dialect, and phrases: these are the symbols of Stoke’s shared identity.
But can Love Stoke succeed? Can it alter the image and perceptions of the city? Can it increase the aspirations of Stokies? Perhaps these are the wrong questions to ask and maybe even irrelevant given the difficulty of even attempting to measure such things. Perhaps more importantly, Bret and Co are creating a sense of adventure and fun in finding out: the journey, as is often remarked, is more important than the destination. Love Stoke is not about achieving specific goals as such; rather, it is a process and an experience that those who get involved with the project can feel included, connected, and valued.