Architectural debates are rubbish.
We’ve all been there: a panel of similar designers with similar views taking it in turns to talk at length about their similar work – too polite, too deferential, too dull. At best they are lukewarm love-ins, critically impotent, elitist and stuffy. Turncoats is a shot in the arm. Framed by theatrically provocative opening gambits, a series of debates will rugby tackle fundamental issues facing contemporary practice with a playful and combative format designed to foment open and critical discussion, turning conventional consensus on its head.


Glazing over the cracks

12:00pm, Saturday 21st July 18

“Heritage relies on belief over truth, persuasion over proof; It satisfies us and comforts us only by freeing itself from authenticity.”

Finn Williams, The Future of Heritage : ARC 11

Romanticising Stoke on Trent’s Potteries is unprogressive and deceiving. These emptied, monolithic factory spaces and vast brownfield sites are the ghouls of industrial history – rather than resurrect them, its time we lay their ‘heritage’ to rest.

Stoke on Trent was built on clay and coal – its pot banks and pits booming from the 18th century, until the decline as a result of a losing battle to globalisation, mechanisation and finally, Thatcher’s government. Factories once employed adults and children to work long days for a low income. Ill health was rife, with many workers suffering from ‘potters rot’ as a result of using lead glazes, most then dying from respiratory diseases caused from the workplace.

Sites where steel, kilns and mines once stood have remained derelict, vacant and underdeveloped for too many years. Now, these emptied, monolithic factory spaces and vast brownfield sites inhabit a large percentage of Stoke on Trent but the ‘Potteries’ account for around only 10% of the city’s employment. Yet the council-led campaign for city of culture would have the country believe the potteries are an intrinsic part of our identity. This is an opportunistic myth.

Stoke-on-Trent is at the cusp of gaining a new identity – one that is full of life and possibility, but in order to do this, we need to let go of post industry paralysis. Take the plunge, stop clinging to the past and embark on a new future.


12.00 – 13.00
Stay Flexible! with Chloe Cooper
A warm up to improve your performance as an audience member in the upcoming debate. Moves will include: taking a position, being swayed, sticking to your guns and u-turns.

13.00 – 14.30
Turncoats Debate


The Panel

  • Paul Williams Culture, Education & Tourism Consultant. Following an academic career spanning 25 years where he taught, researched and undertook consultancy work around ceramics tourism, place-making and cultural-led regeneration, Paul Williams was seconded to lead Stoke-on-Trent’s UK City of Culture bid. Through his cultural connections work and as Chair of the Cultural Destinations Partnership, Paul continues to support the city’s broader cultural development.

  • Anna Francis is an artist and researcher whose practice aims to rethink city resources, through participatory art interventions. She creates situations for herself, the public and other artists to explore places differently: often experimenting with leading and instruction by creating manuals, kits or leading guided tours. In recent years the interventions which Anna has worked on focus on the city of Stoke-on-Trent, and use an action research process to recognise untapped resources, plan responses to site, take action to change the way the site is viewed, and potentially, make changes, which can be temporary and sometimes permanent. Through this, Anna aims to gain an understanding of the role of artists and arts organisations in the development of places. Anna is Associate Professor of Fine Art and Social Practice at Staffordshire University, and a Director of AirSpace Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent’s artist led exhibiting space and artist’s studios. http://www.annafrancis.blogspot.com

  • Olivia Bright Exhibitions and Campaigns Assistant at Historic England. Historic England is the public body that helps people care for, enjoy and celebrate England's spectacular historic environment. They protect, champion and save the places that define who we are and where we’ve come from as a nation. Working with communities and specialists they share their passion, knowledge and skills to inspire interest, care and conservation, so everyone can keep enjoying and looking after the history that surrounds us all. Olivia joined Historic England in September 2017.  She was the Exhibitions Assistant on ‘Spirit of the North’ in Newcastle, a free photography exhibition by John Kippin exploring contemporary Northern identity’s complexity, on at Bessie Surtees House until September. She is assisting on Historic England’s major exhibition in London, ‘Immortalised’, which explores England’s memorial landscape: from love locks on bridges, to street names and statues the exhibition questions who has been immortalised, who is missing and what the future of commemoration might be. Immortalised opens on 4 September at the Workshop in Lambeth and is free. Before her current position she worked as a freelance curator specialising in the intersection of craft and contemporary identity. Her show ‘Realm of Ruin’ was a new commission of work by ceramic artist Bryony Rose; the immersive show explored metamodernist contemporary culture and Dario Gamboni’s concept of destruction and decay as the natural order over preservation.

  • Joseph Hamblin Joseph is currently completing his masters in architecture and spatial practices at Central Saint Martins. His thesis proposes how a string of brownfield sites in Dartford town centre can be used to start a locally driven regeneration. He has worked on a variety of housing, community and landscaping projects and promotes an embedded approach to architectural practice.

The Oasis Social Club Spode Works Stoke-on-Trent


Turncoats is a provocative global debating society turning public discourse on its head, shaking and serving over ice. It is off the record, offline and riddled with devil’s advocates hiding in plain sight.  Prepare for big arguments from surprising places, where the only allegiances are to the spirit of the fight.

Turncoats is a project founded by Phineas Harper and Maria Smith with the support of Robert Mull and the Architecture Foundation. For all enquiries write to hello@turncoats.uk.

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