The smell of the greasepaint and the roar of the crowd are just a few short months away as excitement builds ahead of the opening of the Storyhouse cultural centre which has already won its first award.
Business people and residents went on a tour of the Chester city centre building this week where they learned the Royal Town Planning Institute recently handed over a Collaboration Award for its work with organisations like English Heritage but also the community.
And backers are now looking for individuals and businesses like those on the tour and beyond to help secure the final £500,000 towards the £37.05m council project which will house a 800-seat theatre, library and single screen cinema.
The idea is not only motivated by financial need but a desire to connect Storyhouse with its public by giving people the opportunity to have a stake in the centre when it launches next spring.
For large companies there are ‘naming’ opportunities within the different rooms costing from £30,000 up to £350,000. Residents can have their name or that of a loved one or their organisation or business mounted on a plaque attached to one of the seats for 20 years, with prices starting at £240.
And the opening programme will be announced soon as the project, based partly in a contemporary extension but also within the former grade II-listed Odeon cinema, last Monday celebrated 80 years to day since the 1936 opening ceremony attended by Mr and Mrs Oscar Deutsch, the founder of Odeon Cinemas and film star Douglas Fairbanks Junior.
Cheshire West and Chester Council leader Cllr Samantha Dixon told those gathered on the tour: “We couldn’t have embarked on this journey without our supporters and financial backing; the people who believed in Storyhouse and all the benefits that it will bring for our wellbeing, for our economy and for our national profile.
“So you are among a very few people who have actually been inside this building but we are really hoping that by the time the doors open you will be seeing about 650,000 people a year through the doors, enjoying the space.
“It’s a really unique building and it’s one that’s close to the hearts of people who live, work and visit this city. It’s a place where I think imagination is nurtured, encouraged and celebrated – well, it will be, definitely! So we hope you will join us on this journey and I want to thank you very much for coming along today. We are nearly there. It’s a very exciting time.”
Businessman Les Owens, managing director of Trustland Group, which includes The Coach House Inn in Town Hall Square, is a personal donor.
Speaking to the tour group, he said: “I’m doing it, yes. It’s going to enhance my business. Guess what guys, I could sit in The Coach House – my business is going to, without doubt, be busier because of this place – but it’s not good enough to just sit there and watch. You have got to get involved. I think if you are really that keen and interested then I think as a business, as an individual, you should get involved.”
Well known Chester businessman Stuart Williams mentioned that he and five friends were all paying to have their names on seats, saying: “It’s for Chester, isn’t it.”
And the economic pulling power of the theatre can be witnessed even before it launches as a nearby cafe opens up in Northgate Street called Stagedoor Cafe.
Follow progress on Storyhouse by visiting: www.storyhouse.com