Arts Council England has today announced that it has earmarked a £3m capital funding grant for Chester’s iconic Cultural Centre.
The major funding boost coincides with news that a detailed planning application for the £37.5m theatre, cinema and library complex will go before Strategic Planning Committee in October.
Last year, the Arts Council – which invests £1.9 billion of public money annually, in arts and culture – was over-subscribed and unable to agree the council’s funding application.
But today the Arts Council sparked Borough-wide celebrations with the news that a joint bid between local authority and Chester Performs – centre operators designate – had been successful.
Said Councillor Stuart Parker, Executive Member, Culture and Economy: “This is terrific news; a massive leap forward and a wonderful endorsement of the financial and artistic qualities of our bid.
“From discussions with the Arts Council, some of the key features of our successful application were the strength of the business model and the balance of the artistic and cultural programme. All party support and high level of investment from Cheshire west and Chester were also seen as important factors.”
Work on the Northgate Street complex – the heart of Chester’s vibrant cultural offer – is scheduled to start in February 2015 and timed for completion to mark the 80th anniversary of the opening of the Odeon Theatre.
Graham Lister, Project Director paid tribute to the part played by arts organisations across the Borough, particularly Chester Performs, for their vital role in helping to shape the model for the new centre.
“We should also thank the Odeon Action group who have worked tirelessly to ensure the future of the Odeon and have supported this project,” said Councillor Parker.
The most significant capital investment in Chester for decades, the project could generate £16.9m annually and will employ 250 people on site at any one time and a total of 1,500 throughout the contract period.
Andrew Bentley, Chief Executive, Chester Performs believes the successful bid will completely transform not only the physical landscape of the city – but also its cultural and social identity.
Said Mr Bentley: “We have been working incredibly hard with our local authority, for a very long time, to make this work, and work well – so the success of our partnership bid to Arts Council England is a major milestone for all of us and the city of Chester.
“To have the Arts Council with us on the journey ahead has always been of paramount importance. It’s a very exciting time for this beautiful city.
“We will continue to produce site-specific projects such as Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre, whilst the new building will be the epicentre of an explosion of new art. It is truly an inspirational project and we are very proud to be at its heart.”
Councillor Louise Gittins, Opposition Culture spokesperson commented: “The success of the ACE bid is a welcome start to the securing of external funding for the Chester Theatre, cinema and library project.
“We now await the result of the Heritage Lottery Fund bid and an update on potential private donors as there is still around £4m to be found to fund the current plans. We note the commitment made by the Executive member in December last year for a’ gateway review’ by the Council’s Public Accounts Scrutiny Panel when the outcome of all bids is known. We’ll look forward to hearing the full financial detail in that forum.”
Chester’s Cultural Centre will present the best touring work, aiming to become a first choice venue for the country’s top touring companies and also produce and co-produce shows for local audiences and touring purposes.
Providing a focus for audience development and outreach working with other organisations and agencies, it will ensure that people from disadvantaged areas, have opportunities to enjoy and participate in the performing arts.
The centre will also provide support to Primary and Secondary schools, helping pupils to engage with drama, dance and creative writing and provide a major opportunity for voluntary work with thousands of hours available in the theatre and its facilities.