We Are Stoke-on-Trent: How painted doors are brightening up Hanley
Street ambassador Qamar Soheil spends each working day completing at least 25,000 steps as he pounds the streets of Hanley in Stoke-on-Trent.
So the 30-year-old is acutely aware of the challenges facing the high street.
He's seen the "closing down" signs, he's wandered past the empty shops, and he's had to to tackle the graffiti and the fly-posting that has blighted abandoned buildings.
Hanley's high street difficulties mirror many of those highlighted around the UK.
Nationally, about 16 shops are closing every day as retailers restructure their businesses and more shopping is done online.
Hanley is one of six towns that make up Stoke-on-Trent, together with Burslem, Tunstall, Fenton, Stoke and Longton.
According to the Local Data Company, Stoke-on-Trent as a whole has lost a total of 42 occupied shops since September 2018.
There were 167 shop closures, with 125 shops opening up.
Stoke-on-Trent was named earlier this month as one of the 69 English towns, cities and districts that will benefit from a £95m government regeneration fund.
The government said the money would help "breathe new life" into high streets.
Hanley's financial fortunes may not be transformed overnight, but a project with local artists to inject colour and vibrancy into the town feels like a start.
It's certainly given the area that Qamar patrols a brighter outlook.
The Our Front Door campaign has seen unloved doors in streets and alleyways used as a canvas for local artists - and the results are striking.
"I really love my job," said Qamar. "I love walking around meeting people and talking to them. I can see a real benefit to the Our Front Door project. It really brightens the area."
The Stoke-on-Trent City Business Improvement District (BID) involves 436 businesses, and it teamed up with the YMCA and Entrepreneurs Network - a gallery and print shop in Hanley - to tap into the area's creative talents.
"There's a lot to be positive about with the work we are doing," said BID manager Richard Buxton.
"But the issues in Hanley are reflected throughout the country. There are challenges - high streets need to become more inventive.
"We want Our Front Door to be a starting point for a much bigger art project to bring art into the town."
Visitors can tour Hanley with a map highlighting the 18 doors that feature in the project.
"The reaction through social media has been excellent with really positive feedback," said Richard.
"We chose doors that had been covered in graffiti to put something much more positive instead. I think they are amazing."
Artists Rob Fenton and Tom Edwards, co-owners of Entrepreneurs Network, both have work on show on the streets of Hanley.
"My main aim in all of the work I do is to help the city of Stoke-on-Trent grow and evolve, so it's great we can be so involved with the BID's plans to improve the look and feel of the area through artwork installations," said Rob.
"The creative people in this city are capable of so much positive change and development, and projects such as this are certainly a step in the right direction," Tom added.
Photographer: John Bray
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