Good news as a new tourist attraction looks set to open in Chester but bad news because it appears to be at the expense of a much loved heritage centre.
The Chronicle has received an anonymous letter suggesting the council is ‘giving’ the history and heritage building in St Michael’s, Bridge Street Row, to a private operator.
That not-for-profit company is believed to be Big Heritage which already runs gory history of medicine attraction Sick to Death on the City Walls – known as the home of the creepy Plague Doctor.
And Big Heritage, which launched a recruitment drive in the summer to staff new projects including a ‘second heritage/tourist site’ in Chester, has not denied the link with St Michael’s.
Plenty of hints have been dropped on social media about the imminent launch of a new venue.
But Big Heritage managing director Dean Paton, who has just reopened a Second World War bunker attraction in Liverpool to great acclaim, is remaining tight-lipped as The Chronicle understands the deal is not yet signed.
He commented: “There’s nothing I can say about anything at the moment.”
This is not the first time a threat of closure has loomed over Britain’s first ever heritage centre which opened in 1976.
The previous Tory administration considered closing St Michael’s which supports people researching and exploring local and family history as well as staging exhibitions.
It also houses a vast archive of images of Chester over the past 100 years as well as film shows from the 1930s.
Amateur historian Len Morgan, 84, of Handbridge , has always appreciated the resource and helpful staff but accepts not everyone recognises its worth.
“It’s one of the best things in Chester if you really want to delve into things,” said Len, who was made an Honorary Freeman of the Borough in 2016 for his dedication to promoting local history.
“I think it’s wonderful. It would be a great loss but people don’t realise what facilities they’ve got there.”
An anonymous letter, which The Chronicle has shared with CWaC, states: “The council is closing down Chester History and Heritage in a few weeks’ time because they are giving St Michael’s church away as a tourist attraction! They are giving it to a firm for free without even asking anyone else if they want to take it over!
“History and heritage will be given a desk in the new theatre for one day a week only. There will be nowhere for folk to go on the other days and the staff are leaving any way. A sad day for Chester history and for all the people who love going there.”
Councillor Louise Gittins , cabinet member communities and wellbeing, responded: “Chester History and Heritage is a much loved service and we are working to secure its long-term future so that local people can continue to track and trace their family heritage and learn about the history of Chester.
“More people are now choosing to access the service online making it more accessible. To reflect the changes to how people wish to use the service, we are currently reviewing how it is delivered and exploring a number of alternative venues in high footfall locations.
“Existing and potential users of Chester History and Heritage will be asked to help to design the service to ensure all of the most valued resources are maintained and new ideas explored.”