The Duke of Westminster opened a ‘one-stop shop’ for Chester’s charitable sector following a £1.3m revamp.
The Blue Coat School in Upper Northgate Street has been transformed into ‘The Bluecoat – the Centre for Charities and Voluntary Organisations’.
Chester Municipal Charities delivered the centre which will serve as its own headquarters as well as being home to nine other groups including Barnardos, Chester Talking Newspaper, CAB, Warrington and Cheshire Carers, Chester Voluntary Action, Chester Aid to the Homeless and Vision Support. West Cheshire College will run courses in basic skills, such as English and maths, for the unemployed.
The base will include a training suite and a meeting room for hire. And there are plans to provide a fully-equipped conference centre for up to 120 people.
Opening the centre, the Duke said: “I have lived in Chester since 1967, the year of foot and mouth, and the Bluecoat building has always been such an impressive and such an important landmark within Chester. It’s great to see it has been resurrected in a cause such as this.”
His Grace jokingly recounted his great ancestor Sir Thomas Grosvenor had commented 400 years ago that the Bluecoat was ‘no longer fit for purpose’. However, on the plus side Sir Thomas had married Mary Davies and in her dowry was included 500 acres of swamp, pasture and orchards that today is 300 acres in Mayfair and Belgravia, forming the foundations of the Grosvenor empire.
To hilarity in the room, he said: “So he may have got it right on the one hand but it got it pretty wrong on the other hand. But it is 400 years since Sir Thomas made that rather sweeping statement and 400 years later here I am, the direct blood line from Sir Thomas, reopening the Bluecoat in another incarnation.”
Among those in attendance were the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Chester, Bob and Sandra Rudd, representatives of the charities and funders including MBNA, Cheshire West and Chester Council and Chester Civic Trust. Labour opposition leader Cllr Samantha Dixon donated £1,000 from her members’ budget to renovate the iconic ‘blue boy’ at the front of the building.
Former Chester MP Christine Russell, a trustee of the Municipal Charities, who has driven the vision, said: “ The Bluecoat, one of Chester’s iconic landmark buildings, will provide high standard office space for 10 local organisations and act as a resource centre for community and voluntary groups across the city. The synergy between the individual tenants should lead to a more effective delivery of advice and support services in the city.”
The Grade II* listed Bluecoat building dates from 1717 when a charity school for boys from poor families was built on the site of St John’s, a medieval hospital.