Today (Wednesday, 10 August 2016) TV personality Ainsley Harriott presented staff at the Lion Salt Works in Northwich with a prestigious National Lottery Award trophy.
The star, a well known face around Chester these days, is one of the country’s favourite TV chefs and well known for coining the catchphrases ‘Susie Salt’ and ‘Percy Pepper’ on Ready, Steady, Cook. Last year he swapped the kitchen for the ballroom as he starred in Strictly Come Dancing.
Ainsley took time out of his busy schedule to celebrate the achievement with staff and volunteers at the museum which has undergone a £10m restoration with half the funds provided by the Lottery.
The award-winning museum, which opened last June, received almost 6,000 votes to be named the UK’s Best Heritage project in this year’s National Lottery Awards – the annual search to find the UK’s favourite Lottery-funded projects.
Ainsley, who splits his time between London and Chester, said: “Salt...well, it’s everything isn’t it. Whether you’re encasing, mixing a little bit of egg white into your salt and wrapping it around your fish – baked fish in salt. Have you ever done that? That is fantastic especially when you go abroad.
“But more importantly, salt is vital. We need it as part of our lives, not too much but everything in moderation. And to recognise places like this, salt making in a pan, the original way that salt used to be produced and a lot of people don’t know about it.
“And I think it’s fabulous that you can bring children here, communities here and say ‘Hey, look, this is where it all began’, so we understand it.”
People seem to see Ainsley everywhere in Chester these days whether at the Hoole barbecue, in Joseph Benjamin restaurant, out dog walking or in John Lewis. So what are his connections?
“My dad used to live in Manchester and I have got family in Chester so it enables me to be around really.”
And his favourite Chester restaurant? Ainsley is wisely remaining tight-lipped rather than run the risk of offending anyone but concedes we are lucky to have some ‘excellent’ eating places on our doorstep.
Apart from Ainsley, one of the other guests on the day was Paul Stockton, from Middlewich, who worked at the salt works in 1970 when he was a 19-year-old student. Paul, who went on to become a teacher at Knutsford High School, believes the restoration job is ‘fantastic’ and his wife and grandchildren wholeheartedly agree.
Lion Salt Works re-opened after a 30-year campaign to save the UK’s last open pan salt making site in Cheshire. A four-year programme has turned a dilapidated structure into a museum, preserving a key part of the country’s industrial history through interesting and fun displays, including a light and sound show.
Cllr Louise Gittins , cabinet member, communities and wellbeing, Cheshire West and Chester Council , said: “I’m delighted to be here today. Everyone at the Lions Salt Works is absolutely delighted to have won this award and it’s no exaggeration to say that to us it’s like winning an Olympic gold medal.”
She added: “Thanks to the vision of an extraordinary group of trustees, one of whom is here today, we’ve actually been able to restore this site and now it’s one of the most important industrial heritage sites in the UK.
“The team here have made it into a really exciting and vibrant space that’s full of community activities – art, culture and education events.”
The museum wins a £3,000 cash prize, an iconic National Lottery Awards trophy and will be represented at a star-studded Awards ceremony, The National Lottery Stars, broadcast on BBC One on September 12.