The little gallery with a big heart has closed.

The Paperboat Gallery on Whitby Road, Ellesmere Port, run by local artist Sonja Moss-Dolega, opened its doors in summer 2013 thanks to a scheme to bring empty properties on the town’s historic high street back into use.

Showing a range of art, it offered local artists and craftspeople the opportunity to display their work alongside courses in pottery, painting and textiles.

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The owner of the property had applied to the council for a refurbishment grant for the long term vacant shop, a newsagents until it closed its doors in 2007 after 23 years of trading.

Jessica Turner, Sonja Moss-Dolega and Christine Holme of the Paperboat Gallery
Jessica Turner, Sonja Moss-Dolega and Christine Holme of the Paperboat Gallery

In return for the grant, the landlord offered the council the opportunity to nominate an organisation to use the space on a peppercorn rent for two years.

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Sonja said at the time: “In the few weeks since the Paperboat Gallery opened its doors, the gallery has swiftly become a hub for local artists. We’ve already been very busy with requests from people keen to share their passion, talk to like-minded people and look for an opportunity to sell or exhibit their work.

“This is a great opportunity for my team and I to put Ellesmere Port on the arts map.

The work of artist Sophie Burke can be seen at The Paperboat Gallery in Ellesmere Port in January.

“Our aim is to bring the arts to the town and its people. In the gallery, we exhibit all kinds of artwork for sale and we also want to put on a variety of courses in things like pottery, drawing, painting and textiles.

“The art team is also going to reach out to the community by delivering art-related projects to educational institutions and organisations which are caring for the elderly and disadvantaged younger people.

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“As I myself live in the town it’s been great meeting people and getting them involved. I want to help them to bring out their own creativity. Sometimes people just don’t realise how talented they are. And doing art is proven to be a positive and relaxing activity for all of us if only we can find the time for it.”

The contemporary textiles group at The Paperboat Gallery

Former Ellesmere Port and Neston MP Andrew Miller, who officially opened the gallery, said: “The new art gallery in Whitby Road has been created in an shop which was closed for six years and displays the right ambition that is needed to improve our town centre.

“It is important that art, culture, science and engineering get opportunities to offer residents the best, promote creativity and support the growth of the local economy.

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“I hope the Paperboat Gallery’s new shop front sets new standards for other shop refurbishments in the high street to improve the appearance of this gateway into the town.

“I wish Sonja and the others involved in the Paperboat Gallery community interest company the best on their exciting ambition to bring arts to Ellesmere Port and I was delighted to formally open the gallery.”

Lisa Edwards, Christine Holme, Cllr Justin Madders, Dave Thomas (Circle Cabs), Sonja Moss-Dolega (The Paperboat Gallery), Jochem Hollestelle (Town Centre Improvement Manager) and Pauline Billing
Lisa Edwards, Christine Holme, Cllr Justin Madders, Dave Thomas (Circle Cabs), Sonja Moss-Dolega (The Paperboat Gallery), Jochem Hollestelle (Town Centre Improvement Manager) and Pauline Billing

Sonja beat off stiff competition to use the space which became known as ‘the little gallery with a big heart’ with everything from pottery to an exhibition of work by a young and talented artist in the first few months.

The gallery was involved in the first ever Ellesmere Port Arts Festival held in spring 2014 while that autumn saw a series of workshops bringing together holistic therapy and arts and crafts exploring their impact on health and well-being.

Last year the gallery and Trinity Methodist Church collaborated in the town’s latest major arts project, exhibiting entries in Ellesmere Port’s first Open Art Award.

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Conceived by Sonja, the award was open to all artists aged 18 and over with a total of £850 of prize money on offer.

Last summer saw animal themed summer holiday events for youngsters sponsored by Essar Oil.

The autumn programme featured sessions on reiki combined with pottery, reiki and painting, relaxation and mosaic making, aromatherapy and pottery, reflexology and print making and reiki and Christmas textiles.

The Big Draw with Paperboat Gallery visitors
The Big Draw with Paperboat Gallery visitors

But recently Sonja announced: “The Paperboat is moving on and will be leaving 5 Whitby Road by the end of April!

“Our next destination has not been confirmed yet officially so you will have to be as patient to find out as we have to be.”

The gallery said thank you to its friends and customers with a sale.

Chris Dod at Bridge House Skills Centre and Whitby Park Community Cafe posted on Pride in the Port: “All the best Sonja and hope to help you move in somewhere else in the near future” while Tony Terry, previously at Ellesmere Port’s Fab Lab, added: “Very sorry to hear that, Sonja.”

Peter Shaw doing a portrait on the opening day of the Black and White exhibition
Peter Shaw doing a portrait on the opening day of the Black and White exhibition

Businesswoman Lindsey Letman commented: “So sorry people missed your talents and creativity and also to help people in Ellesmere Port to find their art side” while Ellesmere Port artist Christine Holme added: “How very sad. Let’s hope that this doesn’t spell the end of your dream.”

Fears were expressed the premises could be occupied by ‘another’ takeaway.

Sonja herself said: “In a few days the place will look again as it started three years ago. A big thank you and goodbye to all our customers and friends!”