Christine Russell with Deborah Lamb, deputy chief executive of Historic England, Kate Mylchreest, development officer for Storyhouse and Martin Meredith, treasurer of Chester Civic Trust.

CHESTER’S much-loved Storyhouse theatre and library complex is officially a national success story.

Storyhouse, which has surpassed all expectations since it opened to the public in May 2017, has clinched top spot in the Civic Voice Design Awards 2018.

The cultural venue off Northgate Street, which attracted a million visitors in its first year and was visited recently by the Queen and the Duchess of Sussex, was judged to be the best of five finalists in the Historic Buildings category.

And Storyhouse, entered into the awards by former city MP Christine Russell on behalf of Chester Civic Trust, was then given the accolade of overall winner at this year’s awards ceremony held held at The Leadenhall building ‘The Cheesegrater’ in London.

Storyhouse was described by the competition organisers as “Chester’s brand new £37 million library, theatre, cinema and cultural centre carved from a beloved art deco Grade II listed Odeon cinema”.

The Historic Buildings category celebrated structures that have been re-used, retro-fitted or refurbished.

Rivals for the coveted award were the Theatre Royal in York, Thames Lido in Reading, Winchester College Treasury in Winchester, Turner’s House and Sandycome Lodge in Twickenham.

The judges concluded: “Storyhouse is a wonderful project and is now a thriving community facility built on a strong community-led campaign.

“This exemplar shows that while libraries are facing significant challenges nationwide, stories still matter.

"In Storyhouse, the rest of the nation has something to aspire to.”

The awards citation for Storyhouse read: "At a time when libraries are closing across the country, this one bucks the trend.

"Opened in May 2017, after a decade-long absence of a theatre or cinema in historic Chester, Storyhouse is an imaginative re-use of a once neglected classic 1930s cinema.

"The quality of the design and the standard of materials used in the restoration, designed by architects, Bennetts Associates, is first class.

"The development has protected and enhanced the architectural and cultural heritage of Chester and is enticing visitors from outside the city.

"Throughout the design process the visitor’s experience was the cornerstone of all planning activity.

"With the local authority contributing £37 million towards the scheme, the consultation process was rigorous.

"Consultation included a wide range of local resident groups, local retailers and civic societies like Chester Civic Trust and the Archaeological Society.

"The open consultation involved over 800 people in Chester Town Hall and the project team held other workshops in the wider borough, to widen their reach and including those who couldn’t easily access the city centre workshop.

"Not only are library memberships on the increase at Storyhouse, but the library and cultural centre is a hive of activity from morning til night, hosting 111 different community groups who use Storyhouse as a base for regular creative activity each month.

"Neglected no more, Storyhouse is a welcoming communal place for people of all ages and is now a place many call ‘home’."

Mrs Russell, who now chairs the Civic Trust, has said Storyhouse is the “greatest thing that has happened” in the 44 years she has lived in the city.

She described the city centre arts facility as an “inspirational investment” by Cheshire West and Chester Council and a “brilliant example of a great partnership” between a local authority and other supporting organisations.

The partnership involved in the construction of Storyhouse in Chester, including Cheshire West and Chester Council’s Building Consultancy team, Kier Construction and Ellis Williams Architects, earned regional recognition for Storyhouse when it won the ‘Best change of use of an existing building or conversion’ category in the North West Local Authority Building Control (LABC) Building Excellence Awards.

In total Civic Voice, the national charity for the civic movement, had announced an overall shortlist of a dozen schemes across England which had been assessed by an expert judging panel for their high quality design and positive impact on the community.

The panel had shortlisted the schemes into four categories:

• New Build

• Historic Buildings

• Housing

• Public Realm.

The awards give communities the opportunity to celebrate well-designed new build, housing, heritage and public realm projects in their areas. .

They are sponsored by Rogers Stirk Harbour & Partners and Farrells.