Chester's Storyhouse in the spotlight

20 October 2017

What do theatres mean for the people and the places where they are situated? Councillor Louise Gittins and project director Graham Lister represented Chester at the Theatres Trust conference in London’s Lyric Hammersmith theatre this week (Tuesday 17 October). 

They took part in a session about ‘Civic Pride: Local Authorities & Cultural Placemaking’ that asked the question what are the benefits of investing in theatres and wider cultural infrastructure?  What are the challenges for local authorities in protecting, adapting and building cultural buildings and how can they overcome them?

They were asked to talk about how Storyhouse was delivered and what the placemaking arguments were to persuade the Council and other stakeholders to get on board with the project also what specifically about the design and use of the building contributes to place. 

Delegates heard about the development of Storyhouse, Graham explained that working closely with partners was the key to success giving people a sense of ownership. This included stakeholder management, audience development, business planning, board development, fundraising, project communications, branding and press management, library integration and the development of legal and governance structures.

Councillor Gittins, Cabinet Member for Communities and Wellbeing said: “Being invited to share the success story of our wonderful Cultural Centre with theatre industry professionals from across the country was something both Graham and I were excited to do.

“Storyhouse is already into its second season following sell out shows in the summer. Before opening we anticipated 350,000 visitors to Storyhouse in the first year and already 285,000 people have visited since May.

“The new season is bringing touring theatre to Chester with firm favourites and brand new shows. Storyhouse’s first Christmas presents a world’s first stage show of Enid Blyton’s the Secret Seven. Of course the theatre is just one element and we’ve seen record breaking numbers enjoying the new library and experiencing cinema back again in the city centre. Over 10,000 books have been checked out and there has been a massive increase in library membership.”  Jon Morgan, Theatres Trust Director explained placemaking as: “For me it is about the entire mix of factors which go towards making a place, town or city a ‘good place to live, work or visit’ – health and wellbeing, sense of identity, pride and belonging, vibrant and distinctive culture / townscape, buoyant economy (regeneration, employment, night-time economy).  

“Now, of course theatres are more than just bricks and mortar, they are places where people connect and engage in a communal experience, and it is as much the work they do and the way the very best engage with their local community that constitutes a key part of their placemaking value. But also it is their physical presence as iconic spaces within the town or city scape which can create as sense of identity, pride and belonging and provide a year-round destination which impacts on vibrancy, night-time economy etc.” 

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