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Theatre in the Quarter outline vision for St Mary's Centre

Artistic director Matt Baker promises a key venue in the city's vibrant cultural life

The bells rang out to celebrate a Chester theatre company promising to bring cohesion to the cultural offer in the city.

Artistic director of Theatre in the Quarter Matt Baker had arranged bell ringers, led by David Adams, and city town crier David Mitchell, to herald the launch of his company’s new role in running St Mary’s Centre as a cultural hub.

The presentation, at the former St Mary’s on the Hill church, was attended by stakeholders and user groups of the centre, which Mr Baker promised would be a ‘key venue in the city’s vibrant cultural life’.

Head of culture and recreation at Cheshire West and Chester Council Mike Dix described the new project as an ‘adventure’ with hopes that the centre becomes a ‘cultural destination’ in the city.

The venue will continue to be owned and managed by CWaC but Matt Baker and his team will curate activity there.

Collaboration and community

A main focus of Theatre in the Quarter’s vision is collaboration and community and Mr Baker hopes to engage existing culture groups, schools, colleges and the university to produce a strategic programme of theatre, film, dance, comedy and music.

He also outlined the possibility of developing seasons and festivals at the venue including Christmas and summer seasons and a choir festival.

In 2013, Chester submitted a bid to become City of Culture in 2017, a gong eventually claimed by Hull, but did not even reach the shortlist of four.

At the time, the panel, headed by Brookside and Hollyoaks creator Phil Redmond, described the Cheshire West and Chester Council entry as ‘not a strong bid’ and one reliant on the UK CoC ‘being a catalyst to develop a cultural offering from a low base’.

He also said that a bid was not about infrastructure or venues, but about ‘sharing a common cultural theme.’

A steering committee made up of members of user groups will now be formed to move the vision forward and a main task will be choosing a name for the cultural centre.

Graham Lister, project director of RE:NEW, which will transform Chester’s old Odeon cinema into a theatre, library at cinema in 2016, was at the St Mary’s centre launch and spoke of the importance of the cultural venue centre being run by the community.

Other groups represented at the event were: Chester Music Society, Soundbox, Chester Fringe, Chester Performs, Chester Ladies’ Choir, Chester Literature Festival, Chester Writers, Chester Bell Ringers, The Harmonettes, Minerva Arts, Cheshire Dance, Action Transport Theatre, Homegrown Dance Theatre, Chester Micro Plays, Guild of Chester Tour Guides, Chester Film Society, Tip Top Productions, Chester Folk Festival, Chester Mystery Plays, Chester Civic Trust, Chester Rock Choir, QLP Music Service, Chester Operatic Society, A Handbag of Harmonies, Northgate Quarter Association, the RSPB and local residents.

If you would like to nominate someone to be on the St Mary’s Centre steering committee contact Jane Dawson on 07813661949.


David Holmes
Chief News Reporter
David Norbury
Mike Fuller
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