Stoke-on-Trent’s Olivia Thackstone is in the running to become the country’s Tourism Superstar for 2020.
VisitEngland’s Tourism Superstar award, now in its ninth year and run in partnership with the Mirror newspaper, recognises and celebrates those in the tourism industry who go the extra mile to ensure tourists in England have an amazing and unforgettable visitor experience.
In announcing their shortlist for 2020, they revealed: “The standard was extremely high across the board and the panel had a very difficult time on Tuesday 28 January selecting only 10 finalist. However, the top 10 VisitEngland Tourism Superstars for 2020 have been chosen, and all the winners notified, so look out for the announcement of the shortlist in the Mirror on 29 February so do please cast your votes.”
Named in that shortlist, Olivia inspires and leads her own team as Front of House Manager at World of Wedgwood in Stoke-on-Trent. Working alongside VisitStoke and World of Wedgdwood, she submitted her very own version of the local tourism initiative entitled #MyStokeStory – and included the reasons why she should be considered for the title of Tourism Superstar 2020.
She explained, “No other city is named after its main industry – The Potteries. No other’s name has graced the table of the world’s Kings and Queens; and no other has people quite like us. From the smoke and fire of the furnaces and bottle ovens, objects of beauty were delicately crafted. It’s where people are born with coal in their blood and their feet in clay. Where “Ay up ducks” and “Asta thee ‘ad a gooden” are comforting phrases passing through lips of jolly potters and jiggers.”
She represents her destination by bringing to life the stories of its people, sharing her knowledge and experience to give visitors the best experience. “That’s why people visit my city, Stoke-on-Trent. And this is MyStokeStory,” she added.
A complete copy of her 800-word entry follows at the end of this piece.
The competition itself generates tens of thousands of votes and hundreds of pieces of local media coverage, as well as the national media exposure secured through the Mirror partnership. Votes will open on 7th March and close on April 21.
Now that the 10 shortlisted candidates have been chosen, they have been filmed going about their daily roles as tourism ambassadors either in London or in their local area; and their mini films of around 45 seconds can be found at www.mirror.co.uk.travel from 7 March to 21 April, where the public will be able to vote for their favourite finalist.
While the Mirror will also publicise the online voting mechanism on its website and in the paper throughout the campaign, and via Twitter, VisitEngland will promote the campaign via its various corporate and social channels.
The most successful candidates in the past have been supported by robust destination-led media and social media campaigns throughout the voting period; so VisitStoke and World of Wedgwood are both now keen to generate a considerable amount of support for Olivia during the citing phase of the competition.
The winner will be required to attend an event in London on St George’s Day, 23 April, and will also be invited to attend the VisitEngland Awards for Excellence 2020 ceremony in June.
Here’s Olivia’s original entry for the Tourism Superstar competition:
My city. My story. My pleasure.
The people of Stoke-on-Trent & The Potteries are renowned for their warmth of welcome they offer to visitors.
Everyone who has experienced the amazing cultural events, venues and attractions of Stoke-on-Trent has ended up with a story to tell. From the welcome they receive and the world-class artistry they observe, to the fascinating history they become part of and the stunning settings they explore.
This is precisely why #MyStokeStory now exists: create your very own Stoke story, and then share it.
And this? Well… This is Olivia Thackstone’s #MyStokeStory – and the reason why she should be named Tourism Superstar 2020.
Olivia was brought-up in the tourism and hospitality industry in the guest house run by her parents in Newcastle-under-Lyme. Little did she know how much that would influence her career, and provide her with such passion for “The Potteries”. Growing-up and meeting people from all walks of life opened her eyes to diverse cultures, trades and personalities. Guests staying at her childhood home ranged from doctors working at the local hospital to families from Australia visiting the area. Often, she would think, “Why would anyone want to visit my city?”
Olivia is a first generation “Stokie”. She wasn’t especially academic at school, but she could talk non-stop about saggarmaker’s bottom-knockers, downdraughts and dippers – as well as how bottle kilns work; and she found an aptitude for guiding friends and relatives around local attractions.
Seeking a job that could combine history, art and leadership, she started an apprenticeship in the hotel industry, where she learned the art of hospitality from her first manager…who also nicknamed her “the local guidebook”.
But this didn’t satisfy her hunger for history. Aged 23, she started a Blue Badge Guide course for the Heart of England. The youngest participant by far, she describes the experience today as the hardest but the best thing she ever did.
On completion of the course, Olivia was quick to find a position as Tour Guide at World of Wedgwood – a recently opened, world-class visitor attraction in Stoke-on-Trent – where she was not only surrounded by beautiful objects rich in history, but was also able to share her knowledge with visitors who consistently passed comment on her passion for Wedgwood and The Potteries. She would simply reply, “It’s in my blood”.
Her confidence grew after each guided tour ended in applause. And she learned more and more about Wedgwood: including how to use the potter’s wheel.
Olivia has a natural way with children. Running community groups since she was 18, she has the knack of being able to keep them engaged by “spinning a yarn”. (She can even thank the story of Josiah Wedgwood’s leg amputation for her next promotion: her boss overheard her telling the story to a group of children and noticed how captivated they were as Olivia described how Josiah survived “having his leg chopped-off whilst still being conscious”! She duly got the role of Education and Events Officer, working closely with the V&A Collection at World of Wedgwood).
Now, Olivia inspires and leads her own team as Front of House Manager. Because of Josiah, Olivia and her team live and breathe Wedgwood. He is the reason for Olivia’s passion, and epitomises what it means for Olivia to be from Stoke-on-Trent. Born to a family of potters, he always strived to become the best he could. Olivia lives by that rule, and motivates her team to be the best and inspire visitors with his story.
Looking back at her childhood question – “Why would anyone want to visit my city?” – Olivia now says “Why not?”
She explains “No other city is named after its main industry – The Potteries. No other’s name has graced the table of the world’s Kings and Queens; and no other has people quite like us. From the smoke and fire of the furnaces and bottle ovens, objects of beauty were delicately crafted. It’s where people are born with coal in their blood and their feet in clay. Where “Ay up ducks” and “Asta thee ‘ad a gooden” are comforting phrases passing through lips of jolly potters and jiggers.”
Olivia explains that to someone from Stoke there’s no better feeling than when you are in a restaurant or café and tentatively turn over the plate to see its origin. And the delight that spreads across your face on seeing “MADE IN STOKE-ON-TRENT”, or “WEDGWOOD”.
Olivia represents her destination by bringing to life the stories of its people, sharing her knowledge and experience to give visitors the best experience. “That’s why people visit my city, Stoke-on-Trent. And this is MyStokeStory.”
A true ambassador for Wedgwood, Stoke-on-Trent and The Potteries, she is being nominated and backed in this bid by the same people, the same energy, and the Potteries pride which carried her city to the brink of becoming the UK City of Culture in 2021.