“I’m at a press conference mate.. Can you phone me in a few hours babe?” said music blogger and SC team member Dan Schott as the lights dim in the Grosvenor museum lecture theatre… The team joined other local media and bloggers at the press launch for “Chester unlocked” a new initiative from the CH1Chester bid in partnership with BIG heritage
The chief executive of CH1 bid Rita Waters introduced the scheme : “ Last year ..the businesses in Chester city voted overwhelmingly in favour of introducing the business improvement district into Chester city centre. .. We are incredibly lucky in Chester to have such a rich and vibrant heritage and history, it cant be bought ..but it certainly must be celebrated….it is not unique in Chester, that increasing competition from out of town retail centres and an increase in online trade, we are suffering in our city centre…Our retail offer combined with our rich history remains a strong draw to many…we are working hard alongside 509 CH1 Chester bid members to maintain and build upon this.”
Last year when the BID was formed a series of pledges was set out in the business plan and one of those was the delivery of distinctive events and festivals.” Chester unlocked is one such event” The partnership with BIG heritage and the BID members has “ brought our history, the very foundation of this city, to life”
Dean Paton of BIG Heritage took over the story : “We exist to get more people excited about heritage and about the past. I believe we can change peoples lives through heritage..” Unlocked aims to build upon and use heritage as a tool to bring vibrancy and regenerate areas.
The premise of Unlocked is that 30 micro museums will be located in businesses and cultural sites across the city on “Hoot’s route” The guide on this trial will be Hoot the Owl , the Owl that sits on the shoulder of the goddess (of wisdom) Minerva. Her shrine stands in Edgar’s Field in Handbridge. “ We have looked at finds that have never been seen before.. and we’re gonna say “lets give them back to the city” . Retailers have bought into the idea via the BID and in most cases the displays reflect the current nature of each business and show the contrast between past and present. For example in GAME on Foregate St, there are some 2000 year old Roman gaming counters, Toni and Guy- an Anglo Saxon comb and an Edwardian dress outside Top Shop.
Dean explains that the idea is a “world first” and an opportunity for the Grosvenor Museum to expand across the city using “guerrilla archaeology” bringing the artefacts and displays to the people.. “this isnt great Saxon hordes, this is the archaelogy of the people, for the people.” .
As well as the heritage trail there will be an education programme visiting schools, as well as events with traders including ancient wine tasting at Corks Out and a Roman menu at Chez Jules.
At the end of the presentation there was a brief question time where Rita Waters welcomed and encouraged the role of social media in spreading the word and also stressed that the individual retailers will be promoting the displays. Rev David Chesters of St Johns Church commented that the scheme was “long overdue.. this must not be allowed to wither, it must go on and on” The initial lifespan of the displays will be until the end of November, when they will be extended or renewed based upon their success.
We set off on a tour of some of the businesses involved :Jez of Cinderbox coffee champions Chester Unlocked and says customers have already noticed the display and been asking about it :
In between posing for photographs with a Viking and a Roman Niki Davies of Chester health on Bridge st row said to me : “its going good . I heard about it and then I had to join CH1 to be part of it, I already knew about BIG heritage from when they were in Bromborough and I jumped at the chance “ (to be involved) We have apothecary items on display, we’ve got weights a drug bowl, and something else”
The tour carried on at Castle galleries in the Grosvenor centre and then onto Penhaligons on Eastgate row where some Victorian perfume bottles are on display
Liz of the Chester tourist guides told me : “ I think its very exciting for Chester, that theres so much interest in Chester, all our wonderful finds have been hidden away in the dusty archives.. its magnificent that they can at last be displayed, I hope we can keep the momentum up!”
Great to see another new project for Chester and I hope its embraced by visitors and Cestrians alike. I look forward to checking out the full range of exhibits soon.
Dan checks out some Victorian glass
Thanks to James Marshall, Kate Northcott and Daniel Schott.