Interview with Hannah Ault

Director of Valentine Clays board member of Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce and Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Local Enterprise Partnership and newly appointed chair of the Staffordshire Place Branding initiative 

Can you tell us a about your life and career up until you joined Valentine Clays?

“I left Stoke-on-Trent aged 19 and went off to London to study Product Development for the Fashion Industry BA (hons) at the London College of Fashion, now known as the University of the Arts London.

“I spent a placement year in New York working in the PR department at American Eagle Outfitters. Aged 21, this was great experience, and I learnt a lot about standing on my own two feet.

“Once back in the UK, and having completed my degree, I got a job on the Arcadia Group graduate training scheme as a buyer’s assistant.

“Although I enjoyed the job, I was determined to make a career for myself in PR and left a year later to join Modus Publicity as a fashion/showroom assistant. This led to opportunities helping to assist with London Fashion Week shows and managing press coverage for clients.

“Following this I joined Prada UK in a similar role, helping with showroom and press requests. Working within the fashion industry was not quite what I anticipated so I moved back to Stoke and worked as a holistic therapist to save up money to go travelling.

“Back in the UK after my travels, which took me around the globe, I got a job in marketing for a local spa before joining a marketing communications agency where I worked for clients such as Steelite, Emma Bridgewater, and Stoke-on-Trent City Council. After two years I was offered a role as marketing & PR manager for Emma Bridgewater, this was a fantastic opportunity, not only to develop a new role but to focus on tourism marketing. Whilst there I was fortunate to get involved in helping to set up Stoke-on-Trent’s first literary festival.

“It was then in January 2016 that I joined the family business, Valentine Clays, having worked on the company’s marketing for a few years.”


What was it like to re-join the family business after building your own career?

“To be honest it was always my end goal. I remember having conversations with my Dad when I was completing my A-levels about joining the business.

“At the time he actively did everything he could to try to put me off the idea. I have always been proud of what my family had already achieved, and I could see the potential for growth and was keen to help to drive this forward.

“The biggest struggle I had was convincing my Dad who wanted me to make a more successful path for myself, so my career to that point was really trying to show him that I could be an asset to the business.

“I would encourage anyone running a family business to look at all family members in the same way. Had I joined the business when I was 18 what would I have been able to bring to it? I am now able to use all my previous experience and business knowledge to develop Valentine Clays.

“It has not always been easy, as you can imagine with most family businesses, but I love everything we do and what we have achieved. I can honestly say that I get out of bed every day and look forward to going to work. I have my Dad and Grandad to thank for this, without them there would be no Valentine Clays.”

Valentine Clays has totally transformed as a business – what sparked this transformation?

“It is my Dad; he is a real entrepreneur with great vision. We work well as a team along with the other directors in the business. The initial transformation started with the fact that we needed more storage facilities to enable us to grow. This expansion grew legs to the £4m project we are currently working on. And this is just the start, there is more growth planned over the coming years. Watch this space!

“Expansion plans started around eight or nine years ago before I joined the business. We knew then what we were planning and how it was intended I would join the business and help to lead on the expansion plans. I am fortunate to have family support and a great mentor in my Dad who shares the same visions as myself.

“We have been working over the past few years on restructuring our business as well as constructing new facilities and it has been great to watch this evolve. Our strength is in our people and the fact that we all share the same vision and values, essential to help continue our growth.

“Another aspect of our transformation is the LoveClay Ceramics Centre, which is where my tourism marketing background comes in. It is great to be able to build something which benefits our local community, demonstrates the importance of clay, and helps put our great county on the map. The success of our ceramic workshops, courses and events has been great to see and we are fortunate to have master potter, Jon French working with us to build on this.”

Tell us about the new production facility opening later this year?

“We started construction on our new production facility nearly a month ago. The aim of the development is to ensure growth to meet the demands of the ceramics industry worldwide. Currently, at our Birches Head factory we have 14 production plants, and our new facility will ensure we can increase production and maintain quality. This will also allow further opportunities to develop new products and specialised ceramic recipes. Our logistical team are currently working on planning the new factory around lean manufacturing.

“We are also developing our technical expertise and service to our industry to ensure we give as much support as possible.”

After decades of decline, is Stoke-on-Trent firmly back as the world centre of ceramics?

“We have always been that despite what may have been portrayed. From my involvement with organisations such as the LEP, Chambers, and as the newly appointed chair of the Staffordshire Place Branding initiative, it is evident that as a city and county we are not particularly great at promoting ourselves. This stems from being humble people and it is engrained within us not to shout about the great things we achieve. I am hoping that this will soon change.

“Ceramics has always been there and is constantly evolving. It is not just about tableware, although that is of course extremely important. Ceramics features in every aspect of our lives. We literally would not be able to function without ceramics.  There would be no mobile phones (which contain around 250 ceramic components). There are ceramic joint replacements, turbine blades used in aerospace, car and Formula One components, and we would not be able to leave earth without ceramic tiles on space rockets.

“Apart from these amazing ceramic innovations we are also a city of creatives and have some of the most skilled ceramic individuals in the world. We just need to ensure that these specialised skills are kept alive by an industry that is looking forward.

“We are special and unique and we need to focus on ensuring this message reaches the young to encourage them that there is a bright future for ceramics and for Stoke-on-Trent.”