The first anniversary celebrations of a group dedicated to make Chester thrive and realise its full potential have taken place at Storyhouse.

The sell-out event for Chester Great and Small (GAS) saw an audience of 150 gather in the venue’s Garret Theatre to check-in on progress, just 12 months after GAS held its launch there.

The key takeaway from the evening was the ‘art of the possible’ – that transformational change can happen through strong leadership and genuine and creative collaboration between the public and private sectors.

Proceedings were formally opened by town crier, David Mitchell, who introduced Louise Stewart, Chester Race Company CEO, GAS ambassador and recently named ‘Woman of the Year 2024’ by Downton in Business.

She explained why she decided to join GAS when she arrived in the city, saying: “GAS was developing as a movement in a way that I could get on board with. When I came to Chester, I was welcomed by a group of people who wanted me to know stuff: how important the racecourse was to the city, why I needed to engage with the community, and what they hoped the racecourse would be, could be and should be.”

“I was reminded of other cities where I’ve worked: Bristol, Durham, Manchester, Newcastle and York – many of them in placemaking and regeneration, heritage and tourism – at a senior level in public, private and third sectors. Places where I’ve had a tiny hand in developing and the fact that it was groups of people forming, just like this, that made positive change happen.”

GAS chair Tim Kenney followed with an overview of the past 12 months on projects such as: the opening of ōH Design Foundation, the forthcoming Chester Green Weekend, the imminent launch of the ‘how to’ guide Re-imagining the Rows, Digital Chester and the One Chester App.

He also gave insight into bigger picture themes that came out of the international property expo MIPIM last month, the most notable for Chester being devolution, particularly topical as a potential deal for Cheshire and Warrington was under discussion.

Another key theme highlighted was ‘culture breeds capital’ – not the other way around – meaning that places lacking in the culture stakes will find it much harder than culturally rich locations to attract investment in the face of economic uncertainty.

Mr Kenney added: “I can’t say the past 12 months has been either speedy or agile, but it has yielded results – GAS ambassadors are now leads/co-leads in four out of the five OCP groups and a number of older projects have becoming unstuck with the support of GAS.

"This is all about connecting Chester and this time last year that wasn’t the case. As a CIC, GAS has virtually no funding, no paid staff and not enough time to do all the amazing stuff we want to do. Collaboration takes time and patience and relies on the generosity of people’s time and goodwill.”

The special guest speaker was Andy Spinoza, best-selling author of Manchester Unspun, who told the inspirational story of how the city went from 1980s decline – with the legendary nightclub the Hacienda being a catalyst for its regeneration – to become an international destination for culture and sport and one of the fastest growing cities in Europe, with the Manchester city-centre economy forecast to be worth more than £6bn annually by 2025.

Simon Riley, CWaC chief operating officer, gave an update on the OCP but was unable to participate in the panel discussion and Q&A that followed, due to the Cheshire Police and Crime Commissioner pre-election period, called Purdah.

GAS ambassadors Tony Barton, Bense Burnett, Andy Farrall, Mike Hogg, Colin Potts and Helen Tandy participated in the panel discussion which was moderated by Izzy Grey. During the Q&A session, the panellists were asked a variety of questions ranging from a progress report on Dee House, to a potential “tourist tax” and what does Creative Chester mean.

The evening was wrapped up by GAS vice-chair, Tony Swindells, who set out a vision for the city with a rousing ‘call to action’ saying: “Chester is in danger of being left behind and without our collective efforts may fall further…we simply cannot let that happen on our watch. We need to act like a city and present like a city on the world stage.”

To watch the event video, find out more about GAS or to get involved. visit