North Staffordshire Oatcake Obsessions

Young people working on oatcake project

Heritage Grants

Stoke on Trent, West Midlands
Caudwell Children
Young people with disabilities explored the history of the Staffordshire oatcake, developing a range of accredited skills, and creating a performance and exhibition.

The charity, Caudwell Children, builds the skills and independence of disabled children while providing respite care. Young people engaged in a programme of creative activities centred on the Staffordshire oatcake. Known locally as the ‘food of the gods’, oatcake shops were once social hubs on every street corner.

Over 5 days, the young people learnt about the heritage of Stoke-on-Trent and the possible origins of its oatcakes. They recorded people’s memories, met the historian, Toby Jug, and visited local heritage sites. Their research inspired a range of artwork, a travelling exhibition and The Mighty Oatcake performance.

‘I loved meeting new people and making new friends’.

Young participant

Supported by volunteer buddies, the young people developed accredited skills, including research and interviewing, project planning and team working. For many participants, there had been few opportunities to engage in challenging activities, and they gained greater confidence and independence, as well as new friends taking part in the project. Their families enjoyed learning about local history through the young people’s work, and discovering their hidden talents, as well as receiving a much-needed break as carers.

Making a difference

  • Oatcake Obsessions involved a wider range of people in heritage. Young disabled people often feel isolated from the communities in which they live, and many don’t take part in activities outside of school. Consultation for this project showed that many had rarely if ever, visited galleries or museums and didn’t see how they were relevant to their lives. Caudwell Children spoke to 20 young people, and identified an interest in the local oatcakes as well as making artwork and films. The project was developed especially to appeal to the group, and to engage their families with heritage as well.
  • 52 young people and their volunteer buddies learnt about the heritage of Stoke-on-Trent, through their research, conversations and visits to a local pottery and an oatcake shop. This learning was supported by a variety of heritage organisations, including project partner, Letting in the Light.
  • The heritage of oatcakes was identified and documented through interviews with local people. A wide variety of artworks explained the significance of oatcakes, forming the basis of an exhibition, and a performance, which were both shared with a wider audience.
  • Disabled young people developed a wide range of creative and heritage skills, including research, oral history, photography, graffiti and animation. They also built social and life skills, such as teamwork and financial planning. On completing the programme, young people gained an ASDAN accreditation (Award Scheme Development Accreditation Network, a nationally recognised scheme that links with the National Curriculum).
  • Project volunteers received training in disability and autism awareness, child protection, health and safety, and recording feedback and observation for accreditation. They also developed a range of practical skills to support young people’s activities. All of the volunteers felt that the experience would help their career prospects, and enjoyed the impact it had on the community.
  • The programme helped to improve participants’ wellbeing, with young people experiencing decreased isolation, and increased self-image and confidence. Families also benefited. Many parents and carers said that they felt less stress and anxiety from having respite care, and some found their child’s behaviour more manageable as a result of the activities. Taking part enabled one of the young people’s parents to spend valuable time alone with their other child, which had previously been difficult to do.

Lessons learnt

The project faced a few challenges. Parents and carers were not always able to bring participants to the activities. Caudwell Children then arranged for transportation to and from events so that no one missed out. The project included young people with autism, who do not always want to be involved in activities. It was necessary to ensure that all of the venues used were suitable, for example, not too noisy.

While participants enjoyed all of the activities, there were some highlights. The pottery enabled everyone to make an item, a new experience for all. Young people were also inspired by interviewing people at different locations in Stoke. This helped them to learn from different perspectives about what life used to be like compared with now.