Chester’s new 37m cultural centre Storyhouse has been reflecting on a hugely successful first six months since its opening in May this year.
The centre has reported 508k visits, 125k tickets sold, 140k books loaned and 111 different community groups regularly meeting at the venue.
The programme has included: home-produced theatre performances, touring shows from UK and beyond, nation’s favourite stand-ups, film festivals, the Women of the World Festival, more than 700 cinema screenings, Chester Literature Festival, music concerts, storytelling, workshops and a raft of community events.
During its opening season, Storyhouse produced and staged theatre productions at Storyhouse and Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre. The programme included new writing, re-imagined classics and Shakespearean history and comedy.
Plus there were classical music concerts performed in the theatre and Storyhouse’s majestic foyer by some of Europe’s most esteemed musicians.
The inaugural touring season welcomed Frantic Assembly, BalletBoyz and Blood Brothers.
Storyhouse screened more than 70 different films including blockbusters, independent and world cinema, classic re-issues and family favourites.
A series of films was curated for Chester Pride along with the Not So Wasted Youth film festival handpicked by Storyhouse’s Young Film Programmers and one of the UK’s first VR (virtual reality) courses in partnership with BFI Film Academy.
Moonlight Flicks open air cinema was a sell-out welcoming more than 7,000 movie fans to Chester’s Roman Gardens.
The WOW Festival in May saw more than 5,500 visitors to Storyhouse. Over 50 speakers attended, its line-up included talks, debates, panel discussions, workshops, classes and networking events.
The Chester Literature Festival welcomed former PM Gordon Brown, broadcasters Jeremy Vine, Pam Ayers and Jon Snow and Ted Hughes prize winner Hollie McNish was guest director.
Storyhouse’s rep company was made up of 26 actors, three musicians and two trainees – the largest outside of London. Over 100 musicians, singers and storytellers have already performed at Storyhouse.
October saw Storyhouse’s first digital commission, artist Bedwyr William’s computer-generated video brought Chester’s Roman Baths back to life.
The first National Theatre Live screening took place in July.
Accessible performances were available across all home productions.
Andrew Bentley, CEO at Storyhouse, said: “We have had an incredible six months since we opened Storyhouse’s doors in May. It’s been wonderful to see Chester’s communities using the building in so many different ways.
“2018 is set to be another fantastic year as we welcome more of the UK’s finest touring work to Chester and create more brilliant shows both at Storyhouse and at Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre.’”
The Storyhouse community programme was launched in early May when 300 primary school aged children carried over 5,000 children’s books from the old library inside the brand new Storyhouse library.
The library has welcomed more than 3,500 new members and over 140,000 books have been loaned since May and 780 primary school aged children took part in the national Reading Challenge – a record for the borough up 145%; 3,400 children (many under one-year-old) have visited the children’s library.
A total of 111 community groups call Storyhouse their home, including a sci-fi reading group, crochet and knitting group, reading for the visually impaired and a French conversation and wine group.
Storyhouse are working with charities and organisations from across the borough including P3 who support a community of people who identify as LGBT+ but feel disenfranchised from regular LGBT social activity.
Among the community event highlights were The Great Get Together– a weekend event in memory of MP Jo Cox organised in partnership with the charity Bright Life; The Big Feed - Breastfeeding Friendly Chester launched Storyhouse as a breastfeeding friendly venue and saw over 300 mums and their babies participate in a ‘big feed’; hundreds of people have become ‘dementia friends’ by accessing dementia friends training; young people have set up an alternative to going to the pub organising weekly activities in and around Storyhouse.
Sexual heath charity Body Positive has been providing free condoms and sexual health advise to young people and adults. Canal Street Day Care Centre, LIVE!, Vision Support, PHAB, Dementia Action Alliance and Rowlands Lodge have all tried, tested and subsequently endorsed Storyhouse for accessibility.
Schools from across the borough and beyond have attended tours, explored the building, watched films, performed in the Garret Theatre, attended the theatre, listened to storytellers, participated in workshops and loaned books from the library.
In the evenings, The Den (dedicated children’s library) is used by groups Sew Cool Chester and Fusion Choir. There are also sessions for older members of Chester’s community on how to engage with the digital world.
Storyhouse launched a raft of programmes for young people: the youth theatre for ages 5–25 now has 100 members. The return of the Storyhouse Young Company and a tri-annual young leaders programme providing 14- 25 year olds with the opportunity to gain vital work experience. This year’s participants all gained the nationally recognised Arts Award.
And Storyhouse scooped five prestigious awards during November. Architects Bennetts Associates who designed Storyhouse scooped Best Refurbishment at the national Building Awards – the longest running and most prestigious awards in the industry. Storyhouse was also crowned Best Public Building at the Brick awards, plus IS Group won Best Sign for Storyhouse’s iconic led illuminated lettering. It won Best Leisure Entertainment venue at the FX Awards.
At the annual Marketing Cheshire Awards Storyhouse won Large Visitor Attraction of the Year beating off competition from Chester Zoo and The Ice Cream Farm.