Movers and shakers are being targeted to secure the final £1m needed to deliver Chester’s world class cultural centre in October 2016.
Cheshire West and Chester Council has committed £29.55m and the Arts Council £3m towards the combined theatre, cinema and library with £36m out of the £37m project already in place.
“The key message is, it’s £1m to go and we have got nearly £200,000 more or less in place,” said project director Graham Lister, who is grateful to MBNA for pledging £600,000 over three years and to the Duke of Westminster’s Foundation, the Garfield Weston Foundation and the Granada Foundation for pledging hundreds of thousands of pounds.
About 500 specially-invited guests from trusts, businesses and the arts world were targeted prior to three performances at this summer’s Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre to drum up money and support. A public campaign will be launched later this year.
Name that seat
Graham, who addressed the audiences himself, is confident the final £1m will be raised but accepts the design may have to be watered down if it isn’t.
He explained: “Inviting them to listen to us was a first stepping stone to us saying: we will be contacting you! We want them to help and they can help in lots of ways – be an ambassador for the project in telling people about it to make sure it’s a big success.
“They can give money – so that money might come from the trust they’re involved with, it might come from their business because there are tax advantages for a business giving money or it could be an individual who says, you know what, I want to buy a seat, I want my name on the back of a seat.”
There are hopes that delivering the new theatre and relocating the bus exchange to free up space will be a catalyst for making the Northgate development retail and leisure regeneration scheme finally become a reality in that area.
And Graham says the theatre will boost the economy at large.
He said: “It’s a deciding factor on whether businesses are interested in relocating to an area. Those businesses will tell you one of the factors in talent retention – keeping people – is good cultural provision. Who wants to live in a city without culture? Look what Manchester has done. It’s put culture at the centre of everything that it does and it makes it an international city.”
The project director is aware of the argument that theatre is elitist and ‘not for them’ but he could not disagree more strongly.
“What goes on on those stages is just one part of what will happen. There will be community projects where people will take part in a show who have never put their foot on a stage before. There’s a workshop programme that will go alongside that will take place in schools. It will grow the cultural economy here, new companies, new artists will emerge. It will enrich and grow and extend the cultural economy which is good for everybody.”
He says there is evidence good cultural provision makes the community a happier place.
“It’s do with taking part, feeling they are connecting with something, it’s do with taking part in workshops and stuff but also seeing shows, stretching them in terms of their imagination. There’s real evidence around that. It’s also a well known fact that good cultural provision improves quality of life.”
The name of the cultural centre has not been decided but it could be named after a rich benefactor. Is anyone being courted at the moment? Graham is remaining tight-lipped. “I’m not going to say anything about that,” he said.