Storyhouse, Chester

An innovative cultural centre in the heart of Chester with an award-winning design, focused on encouraging the community and visitors to spend time there. This case study forms part of the Value of culture - regeneration section of our online Culture Hub.


Storyhouse, Chester

Background and history

In the mid 2000s, city partners came together in recognition of the need to strengthen Chester’s arts and cultural offer, and Chester Performs was set up to lead the development of new events and performance activities. The opportunity to develop a new performing arts venue was quickly identified.

Although slowed by the economic downturn, a preferred site emerged which Cheshire West and Chester Council purchased in 2011. Chester Performs evolved into Storyhouse and was appointed to operate the new cultural centre, which would incorporate theatre, cinema and a library, integrally designed around the central spaces in the building. Storyhouse opened its doors in May 2017.

Funding for Storyhouse

  • Cheshire West and Chester Council: £33 million
  • Arts Council England: £3 million
  • MBNA (Bank of America): £0.6 million
  • MBNA (Bank of America): £0.6 million

Timeline

  • 2004-2005 – Chester Performs created
  • 2007 – Chester Gateway Theatre closes
  • 2009 – Open air theatre and outdoor events programme commences
  • 2011 – Council purchases Odeon Building
  • 2011 – Decision to select former Odeon cinema as site for new facility
  • 2013- Decision to relocate central library to new facility
  • 2015-2016 – Design work to integrate library into Storyhouse building
  • 2017- Storyhouse opens
  • 2018 - Storyhouse secures national RBA and Civic Trusts Awards

Delivery of activities

Storyhouse incorporates a main theatre, studio, cinema and library, along with archives, ICT equipment, reading spaces, bars and a restaurant area. A key feature is the RIBA award-winning design of the building, which includes the incorporation of many of the library bookshelves being located around the central foyer, a bar/café and a restaurant, encouraging users to dwell in the space.

Supported by over 160 volunteers, it delivers an extensive array of community arts, cultural, health and wellbeing activities, including:

  • public/free performances, including some put on by local theatre groups, as well as local school performances and young people’s performing groups
  • educational and skills development activities, including several aimed at young people around youth leadership, mentoring and confidence building
  • activities engaging people with disabilities and learning difficulties, including signed storytelling sessions, support with loop systems and audio-described performances
  • health and wellbeing events and support groups, with Storyhouse providing facilities for regular meetings.

Impacts

Geography

one million visitors recorded one year after opening

Footprint

15 per cent increase in footfall in key local in Chester city centre attributed to Storyhouse opening

magnify

100 full-time, part-time and casual staff, plus 160 volunteers

100 jobs directly supported – including around 40 full-time, 30 part-time and 30 casual/seasonal staff members

15 per cent increase in footfall – footfall count data shows that from early 2017 to early 2018, footfall around Storyhouse increased by 15 per cent, bringing potential new spend to surrounding city centre businesses

one million visitors recorded within one year of opening, with Storyhouse representing an additional strength to Chester’s significant tourism offer

160 volunteers – with benefits from volunteering including developing skills and confidence levels, as well as deriving personal satisfaction and making new friends

150 community groups supported – Storyhouse is regularly used as a venue or meeting place by over 150 community groups in the area

community cohesion – an estimated 54 per cent of users report that they are not there to see a play or to use library books or the café/bar facilities, but are just spending time in the building, in line with the aspiration for a primarily community-focused facility.

Learning points

Community-focused centre: any major new cultural centre of this type launches with the challenge of developing a programme and wider offer that will generate the level of usage and revenue to sustain it through its early years. Alongside this, Storyhouse and Cheshire West and Chester Council set clear objectives and priorities to establish it as a community-focused centre (rather than a visitor-focused centre) from the outset, and to ensure that it offered something to residents and communities across the whole area through its programmes and activities.

Celebrating local history: both projects were developed on the foundations of the history and heritage of Margate, enabling the town to regenerate in an authentic way, and this has helped both in attracting and engaging visitors locally and from further afield.

Breadth of funding sources: Thanet District Council and local partners have been very successful in identifying funding sources, making an effective case and securing the public sector funding needed, as well as attracting private sector investment and individual contributions to make the projects happen. For both projects, the developments occurred over a long period and required long-term commitment from the council.

“Creativity and risk-taking: bold decisions were taken about the location, design and function of the new cultural centre. This required creativity and a willingness to take risks, as well as political and substantial financial backing from Cheshire West and Chester Council, and support from other public, private and community sector partners. It is the community’s space, not ours. That was very much what we wanted – that this became a place for the community. We just look after it for them… Culture and art can change lives. It’s for ensuring that communities that haven’t been able to access libraries and the arts can access it.”

Councillor Louise Gittins,Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Communities and Wellbeing, Cheshire West and Chester Council