Chester’s historic Rows are part of a Government initiative to revitalise 14 historic high streets across the North West.

Covid-19 delayed the launch by Historic England for Chester’s project that welcomes £1.08 million funding to improve the look, develop the uses, and engage the communities for historic areas.

The main elements of the project are to; improve the physical appearance of the Rows through repairs and restoration, enhance knowledge and understanding of local heritage, support the local economy by helping local businesses to enhance their environment and reinvigorating the Rows for the community to enhance their sense of value.

Cheshire West and Chester Council is the lead partner in the High Street Heritage Action Zone. Partnering the Council are: Marketing Cheshire, Chester BID, University of Chester, Grosvenor Estates, Chester Civic Trust, and Big Heritage.

Chester Rows are unique in Western Europe. The half-timbered galleried walkways have their origins in the 13th century, but they have been added to and rebuilt over the following centuries.

The Rows have over 300 commercial businesses, which are a mix of national and local retailers, independent outlets and community spaces. The Rows have suffered a downward spiral because of changes in shopping patterns, growing numbers of vacant shops and buildings falling into poor repair. Some areas of the once bustling Rows are now quieter with less footfall.

The Historic England funding will sit within Chester’s wider One City Plan to bring vibrancy back to this area of the city. Shop fronts will be physically improved, and a diverse range of uses will be sought for the empty premises, with key anchor units filled as a priority.

Working with partners such as the University of Chester and local arts and community organisations, as well as local residents, the Rows will be brought back to life with a range of cultural initiatives that aim to connect a more diverse range of communities so more people can understand and appreciate how special they are and how much they have to offer the city.

Councillor Louise Gittins, Leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council said: “This is a very exciting project thanks to the partners in place to deliver the different aspects. Giving a glimpse of what can be achieved, Place for the Arts in Chester has now opened two art hubs ‘Place 1’ at 4, Bridge Street and ‘Place 2’ at 47, Northgate Street with more to follow.

“These are the first ‘pop-up’ exhibition and studio spaces designed to make Chester an even more exciting and vibrant place for residents and tourists. The shops sell a variety of original art, jewellery, ceramics, photographs, sculptures and original art prints. Each shop is managed through the Chester Art Centre but run by the artists themselves.

“This group will work with others like the Chester Residents Association Group and the Cheshire Artists Network to add to the revitalisation of the Rows.”

Catherine Dewar, Historic England’s North West Regional Director said: “Our high streets bring people together. They are places to socialise, shop, run businesses and be part of our local community. Every high street across the North West has a distinctive history that can be harnessed to help it achieve a prosperous future.

“Investing in heritage improves people’s lives – it means looking after and celebrating the places at the heart of our communities, and the buildings and public spaces which define their character. This investment through our High Streets Heritage Action Zone scheme will unlock the potential of these precious 14 high streets and help them thrive again.”

Before Covid19 many high streets were already under pressure from online shopping and out-of-town retail parks. Other pressures exist with Business Rates that are set nationally and rents that are often also set nationally by landlords outside the area. The new pop up galleries are an example of what can be achieved when working in partnership to bring empty shop units back to life until commercial operators take them over.