Chester cultural centre in £3m windfall joy


Staff reporter (Chester First)

CHESTER’S planned cultural centre is to receive a £3m funding boost from Arts Council England (ACE), it has been revealed.

The news comes ahead of the presentation of a detailed application for the £37.5m theatre, cinema and library complex to Cheshire West and Chester Council’s Strategic Planning Committee in October.

Last year, the Arts Council – which invests £1.9 billion of public money annually, in arts and culture – was over-subscribed and unable to agree the council’s funding application.

But yesterday celebrations were in full swing over news a joint bid between the local authority and Chester Performs, centre operators designate, had been successful.

Cllr Stuart Parker, executive member for culture and economy, said: “This is terrific news, a massive leap forward and a wonderful endorsement of the financial and artistic qualities of our bid.

“From discussions with the Arts Council, some of the key features of our successful application were the strength of the business model and the balance of the artistic and cultural programme. All party support and high level of investment from Cheshire west and Chester were also seen as important factors.”

Work on the Northgate Street complex is due to start next February and timed for completion to mark the 80th anniversary of the opening of the Odeon Cinema, which the centre will replace after lying closed in recent years.

Organisations including the Action Group and Chester Performs were praised yesterday for their efforts to help the venue.

The most significant capital investment in Chester for decades, the project could generate £16.9m annually. It will employ 250 people on site at any one time and a total of 1,500 throughout the contract period.

Andrew Bentley, chief executive of Chester Performs, believes the successful bid will completely transform not only the physical landscape of the city – but also its cultural and social identity.

He said: “We have been working incredibly hard with our local authority, for a very long time, to make this work, and work well – so the success of our partnership bid to Arts Council England is a major milestone for all of us and the city of Chester.

“To have the Arts Council with us on the journey ahead has always been of paramount importance. It’s a very exciting time for this beautiful city.

“We will continue to produce site-specific projects such as Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre, while the new building will be the epicentre of an explosion of new art. It is truly an inspirational project and we are very proud to be at its heart.”

Cllr Louise Gittins, opposition culture spokesman, said: “The success of the ACE bid is a welcome start to the securing of external funding for the Chester Theatre, cinema and library project. We now await the result of the Heritage Lottery Fund bid and an update on potential private donors, as there is still around £4m to be found to fund the current plans.

“We note the commitment made by the executive member in December last year for a ‘gateway review’ by the council’s Public Accounts Scrutiny Panel when the outcome of all bids is known. We’ll look forward to hearing the full financial detail in that forum.”

Chester’s Cultural Centre aims to become a first choice venue for the country’s top touring companies and produce shows for local audiences and touring purposes. It will ensure people from disadvantaged areas have opportunities to enjoy and participate in the performing arts.

The centre will provide support to primary and secondary schools, helping pupils engage with drama, dance and creative writing and provide a major opportunity for voluntary work with thousands of hours available in the theatre and its facilities.

See full story in the Chester Leader

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