When I first met Patrick Adams it was off the back of a note saying a man called who says he came to Stoke-on-Trent for a party more than 25 years ago and never left.
While thinking that sounds like some hangover, it was in fact true – in part, although the cost of a good home had more to do with him putting up sticks in the Potteries, a place he has become vehemently passionate about, along with the talent and skill of the people who live in the Six Towns and surrounding areas.
The Potteries is for Patrick a place which has nurtured boyhood hobbies and desires, from a love of cycling to a passion for toy soldiers, both of which he believes Stoke-on-Trent has been responsible for helping him run successful business ventures over the past 30 years.
“Apart from the party the initial reason was a cheap house,” he says. “Down south, where I was born, when I first began house-hunting it was the ‘yuppie’ days when everyone had filofaxes. When I came to Stoke-on-Trent, I realised I could buy a terrace house for £8,000, so that’s what I did. “And since then it has been through the Potteries and the people I have met which has given me all the opportunities and opened doors for me.”
Not long after settling down in the Potteries Patrick’s childhood dreams of being involved in cycling came true with the chance meeting of a well-known cycling family.
“I have been a fan of cycling since the age of 12,” says Patrick.
“From having my first bicycle I wanted a career in cycling. I was obsessed with it and always have been from that point.
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“Through living in the Potteries I met a family called the Swinnertons who were well into cycling. One of their sons-in-law won a stage of the Tour de France.
“Two weeks after meeting him I was working for him as a soigneur, an unqualified cyclist’s masseur.
“From there, through various contacts, I ended up travelling around the world – rubbing legs.
“I went to the Isle of Man where I met a bloke called Harold Nelson who became my friend and taught me a lot about the cycling world.
“It was from that point that everything snowballed. I was interviewed by a host of people, Radio 5 Live’s Libby Purves, Peter Satchel. One of their researchers was at a race where I was working and there wanted people who cared for people, looked after the cyclists, so I got on that and stole the show.
“In around 1988/89 I was contacted by the MD of a little company called Red Bull, who only had four people working for him in the UK at the time.
“He phoned me and said he wanted a person like me to gain exposure for Red Bull in cycling.
“So as a soigneur working within the teams I started to take cans of Red Bull to the races. From that they then asked if I could create an event for them, and that was when I came up with the idea of Mountain Mayhem, which is the longest running cycling event of its kind.
“It was groundbreaking when it first appeared. I’d never done anything like it in my life before, creating a 24-hour mountain bike race. I felt I had to use the Stoke-on-Trent area, so I used Trentham Gardens, before it all disappeared.
“The first race attracted 120 cyclists and with the backing of Red Bull I had money to burn in putting on the event. It was on television and such was the success of that first event that Red Bull backed it for a further four years. In which time it grew from 120 to 3,000 entrants.
“As it grew other companies such as Saab and T-Mobile, Go Outdoors all came on as sponsors. I’ve kept involved in the partnership until two years ago when I pulled out.”
Not content with developing one successful event and business Patrick saw an opportunity to apply the formula to another sport – running.
“It was 10 years ago while still involved with Mountain Mayhem I decided to do the same thing with running and created Thunder Run,” he says. “In its first year it attracted 135 people and this year has 2,700 participating in it. It has become the biggest 24-hour running race in the world, with Continental tyres backing it. I’ve employed people and families from Stoke-on-Trent in helping to run it and despite it moving around the country they are still involved today.”
With his natural entrepreneurial drive, Patrick was always on the lookout for the next opportunity.
During his endeavours with cycling and running something very close to his heart had been happening, going on in the background all that time centering on his love of toy soldiers.
“Since the age of five I’ve had a fascination with them,” he says. “Now I’m retired what was an interest and hobby has become huge. In the early days as I looked into it further I saw companies like the renowned toy soldier-maker Britain’s had moved their production overseas to China and were going downhill.
“So I thought, you know what I’ll have a go at this. Twenty years ago I got a man to sculpt me some figures and straight away I started making money from it.”
But, Patrick adds, he also needed painters, good ones.
“I advertised and about 70 people from the pottery industry who had been laid off, got in touch,” he says.
“From there I found a lady named Louise Handley, a former pottery worker who I now rate as one of the best model painters in the world.
“I got her to paint some figures in a style called connoisseur, a lot of mine are in another style called gloss toy, the style she did for me are matte and look a lot more life-like.
“From there it grew and I set it up as a business, one which now exports to Belgium, France, Australia… many countries who all have totally different requests.
“In the UK I have built up a client base of many avid collectors who also commission me to create pieces for them. As for Louise, she now has her own business with clients all over the world with her own work appearing in magazines alongside my own.
“But what has amazed me most over the years is the amount of what I call ‘people in sheds’ who, tucked away in a room, are creating great things in their own homes.
“Now with the help of these talented people I’m looking to launch my first toy soldier event at the King’s Hall, Stoke, after running a show in Birmingham which I decided to move on from, after the cost began to creep up – alot.
“I’m doing alright and so I’ve reduced the table prices and so far it is two thirds filled. However there is also a spare room which I’m looking to expand for the show to incorporate fantasy figures.
“During my years involved with the toy soldier world I got to know a chap who owns the London Toy Soldier Show , who is also a magazine publisher who runs a toy soldier magazine. As he’s soon to release a fantasy toy model magazine I told him about the event I’m putting on and asked him as well as promoting the show would he promote Stoke-on-Trent, to which he replied “of course.”
“So I’m currently trying to fill the show up, there are so many talented people out there. I want to find more people like the ones I’ve already come into contact with – those ‘People in Sheds.’
“There are model clubs coming, individuals all who are interested in fantasy toy figures and models. I’m trying to make a connection with those people who perhaps left, were made redundant from the pottery and other local industries who are using their talents in other ways.
“I want to show off what a great place the Potteries and Stoke-on-Trent is and not the place it can be portrayed as. The strapline, which is on the boxes, has always been made in Great Britain. I suppose it really should say ‘Made in Great Britain, Stoke-on-Trent’.
“Someone told me something that has stayed with me and which I have on a plaque, there are no problems in life only solutions’. It has gone up at each of the events I have done since, some 300, in places in the UK, Spain and America.
“And it is to the Potteries and its people that I’m grateful.”
When he’s not selling toy soldiers they are never far from his thoughts as Patrick can be found at the bottom of his garden locked away in his mini-museum, which houses a collection of thousands of figures he has built up over the years, from a mining village to a Second World War bomber comand.
The Midlands Toy Soldier Fair 2020 will take place at King’s Hall, Stoke September 27, 10am-3pm.
For details email firstname.lastname@example.org, tel: 07588 224961 or visit toysoldierfair.com.