A CONCEPT store, gallery and creative hub in Chester was officially opened last week by the CEO of the British Fashion Council.

Chester Design Foundation, which will contain the ōH Concept Store and ōH Collective atelier studio, opened on Bridge Street on Thursday (November 2).

The mission of the recently formed Foundation, an entrepreneurial community interest company (CIC), is to support the growth and development of the creative industries in the city – both start-ups and scale-ups – so that a sustainable place on Chester’s high-street is a genuine reality and migrating to Liverpool, Manchester or London to progress is optional, not conditional.

Professor Caroline Rush CBE, chair of the Creative Industries Trade and Investment Board (CITIB) and CEO of the British Fashion Council (BFC) – which organises London Fashion Week and the British Fashion Awards – performed the honours by cutting the ribbon at 1pm, before delivering a lecture to University of Chester creative faculty students.

Later in the day she was guest-speaker at a partners’ and sponsors’ event: ‘Let’s put creativity at the heart of Chester’s future’ which included the inaugural catwalk show from the ōH Collective of designers, followed by the first ever fundraising auction for the Foundation.

Professor Rush said: "When I was first introduced to the ōH team there were immediate synergies between the British Fashion Council’s mission and the ambitions of the Chester Design Foundation – giving a platform for creative talent to grow, mentoring them to grow sustainably and enabling them to reach new audiences from business networks to consumers. It is with great authenticity that the Foundation is today able to open this incredible – design, making and retail-testing – hub, in such a prestigious location and in a beautiful building. Our high-streets are at the heart of our communities and it is wonderful to see the Chester community come together to make this possible."

Commenting on central Government’s recently published Creative Industries Sector Vision for 2030, she continued: "In my role as chair at CITIB I’ve seen for the first time the creative industries become a priority sector for Government with its ambition to achieve £78bn in exports by 2030. The development of those creative industry eco-systems outside of London are absolutely key to the UK’s prosperity, now, and in the future. But in today’s climate, with so much uncertainty and squeeze on spending, we need to double our efforts to support local independent businesses."

A natural progression

The original ōH Concept Store opened at 11 Lower Bridge Street and provided customers with slow fashion and handcrafted and sustainable products. It became a natural meeting place for many of Chester's creatives, who were previously working out of their bedrooms or relying on online sales.

The ōH Collective atelier studio offered gallery, workshop and atelier studio space as well as retail-testing to a variety of makers and creatives. The ōH Collective now comprises 14 start-ups and scale-ups. Currently fashion-led, but also including a carpenter, a potter, a sculptor and a product designer.

That evolution has necessitated the move to 22 Bridge Street, Chester – a Grade ll listed building which, at 2,500 square feet is not only four times larger, but in a prime location.

The Foundation is working with a number of partners – Chester Race Company, Cheshire West and Chester Council and University of Chester – to champion local talent, empower growth and drive positive change towards Chester’s creative future.

Una Meehan, University of Chester Deputy Director of Partnerships said: "Today is a celebration of the power of partnership and community. There is clear evidence of the impact of creativity in placemaking and the way that creative work builds community and social capital. The associated wellbeing benefits of happiness and health are often underestimated. Creativity is an essential component of the entrepreneurial mindset and the city’s ability to support this kind of incubator workspace can bring together the next generation of businesses that will support Chester’s future prosperity."

Bense Burnett chair of the Foundation commented: "The Foundation programme offers a development route for creatives which is currently unavailable. Our mission is to stop the talent drain by bringing them together with mentors, educators and industry leaders to support and encourage inter-generational talent to reach their full potential. Just imagine, if we had multiple units in the city-centre where creatives and designers could display and sell their work on our high-street – how much more interesting and vibrant Chester would become!"

The ōH Concept Store will – alongside the Foundation programme – continue to showcase a curated and unique selection of inspirational and aspirational lifestyle products, in addition to what’s produced for sale by the ōH Collective designers.

Monika Swindells, managing and creative director of the Foundation said: "For the first time, people with the right experience and creative vision have come together. They are professionals who understand the challenges of business as much as the creative process and development. But, above all, they understand the need to collaborate. We are so fortunate to have the support of our visionary partners, who see the value in giving creatives a real-life, high-street, retail-testing experience, and who have all played a fundamental role in getting this ambitious social enterprise off the ground."

For further information, visit: www.ohfoundation.uk.