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Case Study: Building Excellence in the Cultural Sector: Storyhouse

Concerned about the long-term health of the city centre, Cheshire West and Chester Council were looking for solutions that would bring visitors to the city for leisure, retail, food and tourism. They set an ambitious vision for the role of culture, with a significant capital and revenue budget commitment. This allowed the 1930s Art Deco Grade II listed Odeon cinema site to be refurbished and extended to house two theatres (one transforms from an 800-seat proscenium and a 500-seat thrust), the cinema and the re-located library service.

Project overview
The council, including their predecessors at Chester City Council, have been working since 2006 with combined arts producers Chester Performing Arts Centre, a charity established with the local authority to develop the project. Their partnership has survived a change to unitary authority status and a number of changes in political leadership.

The charity changed its name to Storyhouse, in line with the name also chosen for its new home, in 2017. Together, the partners worked closely with the borough’s library service to maximise the value of co-location, particularly through the programme but also with operational features such as the longest opening hour for a UK public library. In fact, the two are not housed in separate parts of the building, but the design physically interweaves the elements, with no doors between. The building is run seamlessly, without the normal distinctions that might normally exist between a library and an arts charity. Since re-opening, the building has become a focus for meeting and activity of all kinds for the local community, extending to a much wider range of people than previously. 131 community groups organise at least one activity each month reaching over 100k particpants directly, whilst overall, Storyhouse welcomes over 1 million customer visits per year, becoming one of the UK’s most visited cultural venues.

Image Creator: PETER COOK Credit: Peter Cook/View