Anthony Bunn, Editor of Duck Magazine, pays testament to The Donna Louise after a recent visit with the Stoke City Football Team
Fifteen years ago, I wrote a piece for The Guardian newspaper........Stoke-on-Trent had recently been voted something like the Least Desirable Place to Live in Britain. You'd think that as a Stoke City supporter, any title would be more than welcome, yeah? This obviously wasn't the case. So, I took to the laptop to write a riposte, a defence of The Potteries.
In my article, I commented how cities are hard to change and that you have to do the very best with what you've got. The likes of Chester, Durham and York are aesthetically stunning places. But the city of Stoke-on-Trent really is left holding the ace card.....
That ace, is me and you: its people.
Stoke-on-Trent has a distinct and unique population within its boundaries, and its six towns each have their own individual identities. In the Potteries, people actually get on with each other. Those people like getting on with each other. And people from outside of S-O-T often note and comment on this when they move or visit here.
It's people that make cities great. Not state-of-the-art, visually stunning, this-that-and-the-other. That may help, but Stoke-on-Trent is a great city purely because its inhabitants are great. Personally, I simply love living amongst honest, hard-working, sociable, and fun people.
You want facts? You want the ultimate example? Simply head down to Grace Road, ST4 8FN.
I did today.
My magazine, Duck, has the Donna Louise Children's Hospice as its chosen charity, and it's been my pleasure over the past eighteen months or so to visit the Donna Louise a number of times. I'll admit, at first, the thought of visiting kind of scared me. As a father of three children, the thought of youngsters being ill and in pain is not one I wanted to see first-hand. Why? Predominantly because, like everyone reading this, I feel it particularly unfair that children ever have to suffer in life. I also thought I'd leave there with a glass-half-full and negative attitude. Indeed, I fully expected to be sat in my car, crying, after leaving ST4.
How wrong can you be?
Today was the afternoon when Stoke City players visit, just before Christmas– and it's an eagerly awaited day. And I don't just mean for the staff, youngsters and their families, either!
Last year I spoke to Glenn Whelan and Jon Walters at the Donna Louise. What was immediately clear was that this is a visit that is loved by the players, too. There was a genuine interest and affection for a place that is everything great about our great city.
Today, Glenn and Jon were joined by fellow Republic of Ireland international Shay Given. All three are parents themselves, and so their visit possibly resonated even deeper for the Potters stars.
"Yes, this is an amazing place", commented Given, before continuing, "and it's an absolute honour to visit here. This is a time of the year when it's all about kids and their families enjoying Christmas and the festive period together, and if us coming here puts a smile on a few faces then that's fantastic!"
And Given also paid special homage to those who work at the Donna Louise.
"They are unsung heroes. Truly special people. I suppose that many people don't realise the work that they do, but I'd just like to say a huge thank you to those that work here, and to keep up the amazing work".
The overriding feeling you get after visiting the Donna Louise is one of positivity. It's a place absolutely brim-full of smiles, laughter, hugs and joy. During the afternoon, I spoke to players, parents, children and staff – and there wasn't one moment when I wasn't met with a wonderful, life-affirming smile. It's something that everyone should experience. Seriously, phone them up and get yourselves down there and look at the facilities and the people inside. You will come away bathed in a glow of love and positivity.
From the moment I was met at the door by the beaming Mel Williams (Head of High Value Partnerships) to when the players posed with everyone under the Christmas tree at the end of their visit, I understood just why everyone who goes to the Donna Louise is truly touched by the place.
When I was a child, Christmas was all about the generosity of human spirit. I often wonder if, in 2016, we have we lost the true meaning of what the festive period is all about? Possibly. But visiting the Donna Louise again showed me why Stoke-on-Trent - my city, our city - truly is a great city. It's all about the people, folks.
And our city is truly blessed to have the Donna Louise within its midst.
Editor, Duck magazine