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Former Chester Enterprise Centre site could become new history centre

Multi-million pound plan is joint initiative with Cheshire East Council

Cheshire Archives and Local Studies in Duke Street, Chester

A new state-of-the-art history centre could be built on the site previously occupied by Chester Enterprise Centre which burnt down in December 2010.

The current Cheshire Record Office in Duke Street, Chester , is said to be ‘no longer fit for purpose’.

Cheshire Archives and Local Studies is a shared service between Cheshire West and Chester Council and Cheshire East Council.

Under proposals due before both authorities’ cabinets next week, the county archive would be rehoused in two new bespoke history centres – one in Chester and one in Crewe . These would be climate-controlled environments to house the collections, better display them and make them more interactive and accessible to the public.

The archive ranges from the middle ages to the present day and includes ‘8km of archives’ from businesses, schools, hospitals and local clubs and organisations. In addition it has tens of thousands of photographs, maps and books covering all aspects of Cheshire’s history.

The former Chester Enterprise Centre land off Hoole bridge.

The £13m joint scheme, if approved, would see each authority contribute £4.2m each with the remainder of the money being sought via a bid for a Heritage Lottery Fund grant. The proposed site for Chester’s new history centre is the former business enterprise site on Hoole Road. Crewe’s history centre would be located at the ‘Old Library’ site in the town centre.

Councillor Louise Gittins , cabinet member for communities and wellbeing, said: “Currently the archives service helps over a million people each year, through visits to the record office, outreach events, support for community history projects, services in libraries and through its websites.

“Sites in Chester were identified through discussions with Chester Growth Partnership, the Chester One City Plan and the Chester Heritage and Visual Arts Strategy. Feedback has also been considered from existing users from a 2014 consultation. The new proposals will protect our irreplaceable heritage for future generations, whilst also making them more accessible.”

Ellesmere Port Labour councillor Louise Gittins

Under the proposals the new centres will incorporate facilities for exhibitions, events, research and more space for volunteers, while also allowing for the better preservation of the county’s rich written heritage.

The project also sees the service developing plans to make the archives more accessible throughout the county through an expanded outreach programme and digital access. The proposals will be more fully developed over the next two to three years including consultation with residents, service users and new users.

The history centre in Chester would house the majority of the collections. It is described as ‘a natural, logical home for the service’ given the city’s long history as the seat of county government. The centre would be an access point for research, exhibitions and interpretation connected to the history of the county and its people and for events and workshops.

It would also be the home of the county-wide Local Studies collection. The collections will also be used to support wider story-telling throughout the city and wider borough through exhibitions and interpretation in other venues such as museums and libraries. The need for a new facility in Chester is a strategic priority within the Chester Heritage and Visual Arts Strategy, adopted in March 2017.

The Crewe history centre would specifically reflect the story and heritage of the communities of Cheshire East.

The decisions will be taken at a meeting of Cheshire East Council’s cabinet on September 12 and Cheshire West and Chester Council cabinet on September 13. Subject to funding, the proposal new facilities would open in 2022/23.

Hoole Enterprise Centre fire. Pic by Clare Willoughby.

In the meantime, the developer behind the new business quarter by Chester Railway Station has applied for planning permission to create a temporary car park on the former enterprise centre land as a short term measure. Muse Developments says the 100-space car park would serve the occupants of One City Place which is the first of seven proposed buildings as part of the business quarter.

Eventually, present occupiers of One City Place will be provided spaces in the wider development.

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