Eight, great reasons to visit Staffordshire in 2017

A place to remember

A new, £15.7m Remembrance Centre at the National Memorial Arboretum will be officially opened in March, after which it is expected to welcome some 500,000 visitors a year through its doors. Its appearance has transformed the facilities on offer to visitors at the National Memorial Arboretum’s (http://www.thenma.org.uk/) home in Staffordshire. Improvements have been made to the reception area, restaurant, coffee shop and gift shop, while a new cloistered square and garden has been being added. Entry to the Arboretum is free (£5 suggested contribution); and for £7.50 (adults) and £6 (children and concession), visitors to the new Centre will also be able to take advantage of a brand new interactive exhibition called Landscapes of Life which features fully immersive audio visual displays. The National Memorial Arboretum itself is the UK’s year-round centre of Remembrance: a spiritually uplifting place which honours the fallen, recognises service and sacrifice, and fosters pride in our country.


Shortbreak savings are sheer magic

A range of great-value shortbreak packages – featuring a surprisingly large number of truly world-class theme parks and attractions, and a wide choice of accommodation – at a fraction of the price it would cost visitors to piece together a similar holiday will be on offer throughout 2017. Branded as Staffordsheer Escapes, the full range can be found at http://www.staffordsheerescapes.com. They have been designed to be especially relevant to family groups in search of thrills, spills and adventure; or to couples looking for the perfect excuse to get away from it all amidst some glorious gardens, historic attractions and plenty of opportunities for some retail therapy. Surprising Staffordshire is home to – amongst other attractions – Alton Towers Resort, Drayton Manor Park, The SnowDome, Waterworld, The National Brewery Centre, The Trentham Estate with the UK’s only Monkey Forest, The World of Wedgwood, a fair share of The Peak District, the Cathedral City of Lichfield, Weston Park and the National Memorial Arboretum. Savings of up to 65% are available through the Staffordsheer Escapes website.


Celebrating the Five Towns

Potteries author Arnold Bennett will be remembered in a year that has been earmarked by VisitEngland as The Year of Literary Heroes. Born on May 27 1867 in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, Bennett eventually moved to London, but never lost sight of his native Potteries – despite becoming one of the most financially and socially successful writers of this century. The Potteries became the setting for many of his novels and short stories as Bennett detected a “grim and original beauty” in the industrial landscape of the region where he spent his formative years. And his writings helped put The Potteries on the literary map of Great Britain. Universally recognised as ranking alongside Thomas Hardy’s Wessex in the description and depiction of a specific region and the provincial life it embodies, Bennett’s novels of the ‘Five Towns’ have attracted an enormous world-wide following for well over a century. The Potteries will be staging a full calendar of special events and exhibitions during 2017 to mark the 150th anniversary of his birth, starting with a three-month Arnold Bennett Exhibition at the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery. For further details, visit http://www.arnoldbennettsociety.org.uk/430/2017-programme/.


Bring your flexible friend

A total of 26 new shops are being created at The Trentham Estate in Stoke-on-Trent – one of the best-known visitor attractions in The Midlands. The extension to the popular Trentham Shopping Village will offer a welcome addition to the 60 existing shops, cafes and restaurants, and will represent over £7m of additional investment in the attraction. Highlighting The Trentham Estate’s continued success, over half of the new shops are already under offer to new occupiers – providing yet more evidence of the popularity of the Village’s varied offering to shoppers…and their flexible friends. Construction of the new units has already begun, with the shops expected for completion in summer 2017. Full details of the new tenants will be announced over the coming months. For further information about The Trentham Estate, visit www.trentham.co.uk.


All change at The Shugborough Estate

The Shugborough Estate has now been handed back to the National Trust, after being leased to Staffordshire County Council since 1966. The National Trust plans to open the Estate on a year-round basis (except Christmas Day) from March 21 with some major plans in the pipeline for its future. Visitors in 2017 will notice an improvement in the visitor welcome (https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/shugborough-estate/features/shugborough-handover-completed). The National Trust adds: “Creating a vibrant and sustainable Shugborough will take some years, starting with initial works and progressing through a programme of conservation. We invite you to join us on this exciting journey as we work to create a viable and sustainable estate which is protected for ever, for everyone.”


Staffordshire Day returns on Monday 1st May 2017

The annual celebration of all things great, good and unusual about Staffordshire, “Staffordshire Day” will return on Monday May 1, with great events, special offers and competitions. New for 2017 is a children’s poetry competition with the theme of ‘I love Staffordshire’. Details available at www.enjoystaffordshire.com/StaffsDay.


All the world’s a stage

Despite being born in Hereford, on February 19, 1717, pioneering actor David Garrick still qualifies as a local hero in Staffordshire – having been raised in his mother’s home town of Lichfield, where he was educated at Lichfield Grammar School and, later, at Dr Samuel Johnson’s Edial Hall School nearby. From those early years, Garrick went on to become an actor, playwright, theatre manager and producer who revolutionised acting and pioneered Shakespearean theatre. One of Lichfield’s most famous sons, his story began in Staffordshire, but ended with him headlining some of London’s biggest plays and inventing many of theatre’s current traditions.  Having become great friends with Samuel Johnson – himself born and brought up in Staffordshire – they travelled to London together, virtually penniless, where both later found fame. Johnson’s dictionary was published in 1755, 14 years after Garrick shot to fame on the stage. Garrick’s name also lives on at The Garrick Theatre, in the West End, named after him when it opened in 1889, while his lasting legacy is commemorated in Staffordshire too. The David Garrick Memorial Theatre in Bore Street, Lichfield was pulled down in 1953, but after four decades as the Lichfield Civic Hall, a second Garrick Theatre opened to the public in July 2003.


The 250th anniversary of the modern circus

And let’s not forget 2018 – the year which marks the 250th anniversary of the invention of the modern circus ring by Philip Astley, born in Newcastle-under-Lyme in Staffordshire, in 1742. In 1768, Astley performed feats of trick-riding and equestrianism in the round, and brought together clowns, jugglers, tightrope walkers and musicians in one place for the first time, to form the first modern circus. His show was so popular that in 1772 he was invited to Versailles to perform in front of Louis XV of France. Thanks to National Lottery funding, Astley’s story will be celebrated and explored in a series of high-profile events, coordinated by Staffordshire University. The Philip Astley Story will collaborate with the Victoria and Albert Museum, whose circus collections include significant items relating to Astley and his heritage. Project activities in Staffordshire will include exhibitions, talks and film screenings and a large-scale heritage learning event.