A summer of discontent began in July when the Cabinet revealed plans for a consultation on a public space protection order (PSPO) Measures to control busking were suggested by some , as well as bird feeding laws. Most controversial was the implication that homeless people could/would/might be fined for rough sleeping. The PSPO inspired a vocal fightback on social media, and the busking community was soon mobilised for a potential struggle. A “Soul kitchen” to help feed and support the homeless was also founded by activists in response. Cwac met with representatives of the busking community to allay fears that buskers would be subject to licensing and /or regulation. Although the majority felt that the proposals were unworkable and draconian, (a similar scheme had to be dropped in Liverpool for these reasons) a few felt that Britain had gone mad and controls were needed to prevent businesses from musical abuse. The debate raged over the summer.
Twitter storm #2 was the Racecourse’s announcement that race goers would no longer be able to bring their own alcohol onto the venue. Watergate gallery owner Alex Sharp spoke out about damage to trade during race days , as well as damage to his property caused by drunk racegoers. A “boycott Chester races” page appeared on the facebook and the axing of the loss making Chester Rocks added to the antipathy. The move brought Chester in line with other courses and entertainment venues over the country.
The Cathedral opened up a Falconry centre next to the Dean’s Field, adding another attraction to the city, complimenting the Cathedral at Height tour which opened the previous year. You can now recreate your favorite scene from “I’m Alan Partridge”.
July also saw the Race for Life, and the Raft Race, with flyboarder Jason St- John back in attendance to torment the sailors with jets of water. SC also covered the Dee 106.3 local heroes awards evening, with many moving and inspirational tales being told. Russ Hughes gave an emotional tour of his Brook St memories in one of the years most popular blogs. https://wordpress.com/post/shitchester.wordpress.com/819. Platinum lounge went before the licensing committee and its fate was sealed soon after. The team also attended the open day at the Harold Tomlin’s day centre and learnt about the role of Chester Aid to the Homeless (CATH) , a charity which receives minimal funding from Cwac but provides many forms of support to the homeless.
In another interview 86 year old Marie Payne spoke about the changing face of market trading in Chester over the last 50 years https://shitchester.wordpress.com/2015/07/16/market-memories/
August saw the beginning of a social media campaign by an alliance of Hoole residents backing the bid for victory in the Great British High Streets campaign. SC was on the scene covering a promotional visit by ex Coronation Street star Ian Puleston-Davies. The actor, a Hoole resident said he was “smitten with the village” and the campaign gathered momentum with a similar show of support from the Lord Mayor. The campaign showed the strength of community spirit in Hoole and was backed by countless locals and businesses. I found myself interviewing Ian and also helping out filming a video promoting the Hoole offering. Thanks to @NottingHoole and Mark “Hoole” Williams for involving me in the adventure.
Chester Performs excelled again with the return of Theatre in the Park. Romeo and Juliet was great summer entertainment, and Juliet actor Jessica Clark spoke to the blog about her love for Chester and excitement about the new theatre.
“You might not find your Romeo , but you’ll find your Kevin, or your Brian..
The performance by the Youth Theatre group “What the walls saw” sits up there with the highlights of 2015.Thought provoking, puzzling and beautiful, taking place in various locations around the Grosvenor Park and ending with music and dance inside the wooden auditorium. Just brilliant
Lego Chester took a trip to Stalybridge for the Manchester brick show and received a great response from fellow Lego builders and members of the public.
Campfire social performed live in the Lache on another show on Flipside radio, with co hosts “lovely ” Bev and Amy.
The siege of Chester was re-enacted over the August bank holiday with hundreds of soldiers marching from their Handbridge camp through the city. Re enactments took place over the city centre, with a scuffle at the Cross and the Plague Doctor prowling on Eastgate St. Organised by the Sealed Knot society it was another fine example of Chester building on its historical legacy and building for the future. A plaque was unveiled by the busy Lord Mayor remembering those killed in the devastating siege of Chester of 1645-46.
The sun set on Gorse stacks car park for the last time, with the area being closed off to make way for the “world class bus station”. Work did not begin for several weeks after closure, and the Ship Victory pub was demolished , saddening many. The bus station expected to open in Jan 2017 will allow the current bus station to be demolished and built upon for the Nothgate development. While many criticised the loss of a key car park, few noticed the larger Delamere St car park which had opened a few hundred yards away as a replacement.
Activities in September included an interview with local boxer Paul Economides, by sports reporter Rob Jeffries. From a boxing gym in Hoole to the new Islands atttaction at the Zoo with its misty and atmospheric boat ride, to St John’s Church for the launch of a new ghost book, September was a busy month. Giants of Queens Victoria and Elizabeth paraded to mark the current Queen becoming the longest serving monarch.
Days later was the visit of City Slide to lower bridge street, and after some initial teething problems, provide another fun spectacle for the city, where “nothing ever happens”
Council leader Dixon took time out from her busy schedule for a photo shoot promoting the relaunched Lego display. Thanks to the support of Maxiflow and market manager Karen Bates, the display area doubled in size and now includes a section of the city walls and a recreation of the Siege of Chester. We continue to raise money for local charity Space, via donations.
Comedian Mark Thomas organised a protest against the PSPO along with members of Soul Kitchen and busking campaigner Jonny Walker. Mark and Jonny were pushed around the city on a trolley in a “lying down” protest , including a mass lie down outside Cwac HQ. The protest received national coverage and led to an increase in responses to the ongoing consultation. “The most relaxing protest I’ve ever been on” said Thomas afterwards.
Time for another parade in October with the fantastic colour and spectacle of Diwali , the Hindu festival of light, uniting cultures in an evocative celebration.
The judges for the Great British High street awards visited Hoole and were welcomed by local press, bloggers, community representatives including @NottingHoole and Mark “Hoole” Williams as well as Cllr Dixon and Hugo Denim jacket. The judges were full of praise for the strength of community spirit and the co operation of businesses from small independents to chains.
Tram tour Local character and data expert John Murray provided a blog highlight towards the end of the month with a tour of Chester’s historic tram routes. https://shitchester.wordpress.com/2015/09/23/tramspotting-with-john-murray/ I later joined John on Gavin Matthew’s new look afternoon show on Dee106.3 to talk about Chester’s transport legacy,
The Chester Marathon and Pride took place on the same packed weekend., once again highlighting the packed Cestrian calender. The atmosphere for the parade was electric, and up to that point easily the busiest of the year. A Police marching band played “Dancing queen” as many groups came together to celebrate diversity and inclusiveness. The Marathon ,now in its 6th year was expected to raise over £700,000 for charities.
Carmella De Lucia of the Chronicle, long time SC supporter had a role reversal when she was interviewed, and spoke about the challenges of journalism in the social media age, as well as her affection for the close knit team on the newspaper.
A mental health conference at the Town Hall organised by Chester Plus, another fantastic charity was eye opening , not only in terms of the struggles faced by many, and the continuing stigma attached to mental health, but also the support that is available in the community. For many its the “little things” that matter , and provide the hope in the darkness.
Cultural lynch-pin Matt Baker was the next blog subject, and he spoke at length about his work in the Garden quarter and beyond. The Handbag of Harmonies and Theatre in the Quarter front man commented on Chester’s often criticised cultural scene: “You only have to look at the Midsummer and Midwinter Watch parades, all the very strong amateur groups, schools that create really good work, colleges, The Hammond, the Kings School, Theatre in the Quarter, Chester Mystery Plays and all other theatre and dance organisations.” Of the forthcoming cultural centre he said that it would “ act like a mothership… the sun which all the planets move around, and not as a vacuum cleaner” https://shitchester.wordpress.com/2015/10/28/matt-baker-interview/
Two local heroes were interviewed in November. Dedicated Margaret McKeegan told me all about the thousands of pound she had raised for charity over her lifetime, in particular her support for military causes. An inspiring woman. Meanwhile Adam Dandy of Dandy’s Topsoil outlined plans for a Chester “Share shop” a new charity shop/cafe supporting homeless people and refugees “everywhere” The Share shop is opening soon and is another reflection of the strength of activism in Chester.
The PSPO result came in following the consultation, with over 70% opposing plans to regulate busking. Measures to criminalise rough sleeping were also rejected , but bird feeding and begging will be considered by the Cabinet in 2016. Sadly there was no victory for Hoole, but the judges created a special category of “Best newcomer” to recognise Hoole’s great effort.
UKIP leader Nigel Farage visited Chester for a political rally, and seemed to be preaching to the converted at a packed and very hot Crowne Plaza. Coverage on ShitChester seemed to cause some offence, and the free “Say no to the EU ” wicker bag I was given will be unlikely to see much use.
Ruth Anne Pollard of Dee106.3 was next up in the SC social hot seat. Another blog favourite, Ruth spoke about how her religious faith had helped her through difficult times, as well as her love for her Dee colleagues and Chester the Cat! An ever present with the Dee team at events over the city, and a kindred spirit she said that Ruth’s positive philosophy is that “no matter what you’re going through, I believe that everything happens for a reason, even when you’re in those low places, and you think that there’s no way out, there is. That’s when the light shines through.”
John Holt entertained staff and customers in Chester market for another blog. We also attempted to perform a card trick on any elected member at Cwac HQ, but after waiting in the rain for 20 minutes no one turned up…
@ShitChester continued to champion local businesses with a number of blogs in the final quarter of the year. We broke the news of Ginger wine and deli opening, replacing the much loved Harvest Moon. Also on Northgate st , Dawn from Marmalade spoke about her expansion and the growing sense of confidence and optimism on the street. New Alexander’s owner Jamie Northrop met us for a chat and outlined his plans for the future after a long drawn out sale process.
Green party leader Natalie Bennett visited the Upton protection camp, which had been on site for over a year protesting against plans for test drilling and potential fracking in the future. One camp resident told me that ““we don’t really want to be here in a muddy field, but its important to be here to stop the fracking. ” Fracking has been a hugelu divisive issue and will continue to be so in the future, with several heated exhanges across the council chamber. Only days later the camp was served an eviction notice by a Manchester court and IGAS were supposedly preparing to bring their drill in. At the time of writing the date of eviction has passed and the camp remains..
The festive season opened with a (cracker) bang as Cllr Mike Jones’ “joke” that the new red Christmas baubles were politically motivated. The twitter exchange made the national news and led to many rows between elected members as Mike fanned the flames. The conflict continued when it emerged that one of the community Winter watch parades had been axed and replaced with the visit of the infamous Coke truck. The response on social media was alomost uniformly negative, with the decision and responsibility in bringing the corporate lorry to the city shrouded in mystery. Disruption to the always excellent season of Christmas parades is always to be regretted and many commented on the health risks of Coke and the apparent corporate sell out. The backlash led to the parade being re arranged instead of cancelled.
Former nemesis Cllr Mike Jones agreed to be interviewed and commented on Baublegate and broke the news that he would rather fight 100 duck sized horses than one horse sized duck. He was disappointed by the demolition of the Ship Victory but said that not enough people had spoken up to save it.. “there was little support for its retention” he said. Of the controversy and criticism attached to his time as leader he commented that “When you’re making the right decisions for the right reasons for the greater good of the borough, my conscience is clear so I can sleep at night. I cant think of anything that I’ve done that I’m not happy with….
The Christmas market returned , largely the same as last year but with the addition of dirge like music which sadly limited my involvement. The BID funded activities including the Elf characters and the fantastic 3D glasses were a big hit, along with Santa’s post office on Northgate st. Parade season began with the light switch on the 19th November, another excellent spectacle themed around the 12 days of Christmas, and boosted again with a phantom Santa appearing at various places on the route and a fireworks display.
Watching from the Dee 106.3 bus the disappointment was clear when the lights failed to turn on due to technical problems. However as Ruth Anne Pollard commented “it was the people that lit Chester up that night”
Following the lantern parade, with a giant Angelic figure leading a large group of school children through the city, the coke truck arrived the following week. It was a popular event , and despite the uproar it didn’t herald the death of the city’s soul , as many had claimed. Popular with families and young people, it should be viewed as an extra event, and although not for everyone, it was no reflection on the city’s culture which seemed to be doing quite well on its own. The lorry drove away and life returned to normal . Contributor Tiffany Elliot interviewed Rita Waters, shortly after she had announced her resignation from the BID, with Rita defending the visit : “Primarily, it ticks our boxes of the marketing and events plan, so it brings in people and brings in trade”
The winter watch parades were a big hit, as usual a group of religious protesters stood at the Cross. The rearranged second parade, combined with the Roman Saturnalia parade was the most memorable night of the year. The Romans marched through the city, with the “Emperor ” addressing the citizens of Deva, before combining with the Winter watch. Impossible to fault, and truly the best of Chester.
The end of the year saw an interview with Dean Paton of BIG heritage who revealed some of their plans for 2016, including an exhibition about Roman medicine at the Grosvenor museum. We also visited the Food bank in Ellesmere Port and reported on another consultation on the Northgate development- will it get planning permission in 2016?? Guest writer Hannah Golightly vistited Bloop Bubble tea on Frodsham St for a chat about this new independent business in the city.
And that was it! There are several things I have had to omit for space: the solar bins “row”, the fake plaques that were allegedly removed by the council, the Santa dash, the pedestrian queues at the boarded up clock,the Chester Triathlon,..So much has happened and it has been an emotional journey for us all. Here’s to a great 2016
Big thanks to all those that have helped with blogs this year , and those that have provided logistical support. Thanks to Kate, Jamie, Chris, Dan, Bev in particular, and Jennie . Thank you to our friends at Cwac also Chris Matheson MP for the tour of Parliament. The support of the local media is hugely appreciated , including Gavin Matthews, Carmella De Lucia, Neil Bellis and the always ipad-wielding David Holmes.
A special thanks goes to the staff of Jim’s haberdashery in the market for watching over the Lego display. Thanks to all the individuals and organisations who have contributed to the blog.