1. To hear Chester Rock Choir is always an uplifting experience. Often found singing on the streets , or at charity or corporate events, the 200 strong choir are part of a national network of choirs with over 20,000 members. Their rousing versions of modern pop songs and classic hits are guaranteed to lift their spirits with their beautiful harmonies. Listen out for their classic version of Erasure’s “A Little Respect” which is a particular crowd pleaser.
2. The mantra for Good for Nothing is “doing not talking” and this is what the organisers of the Chester chapter, Holly Nelson, Nicola Haigh and Rhiannon Bevan, love about their members and what they do. Rhiannon Bevan writes: GFN Chester meet regularly for socials to get together and make connections, but the key focus are their events (known as Hacks) where volunteers will spend a day “hacking” a problem for local projects, charities and social enterprises. The aim is to accelerate the work they’re doing and come up with solutions within a short space of time. The group has grown organically over the last 3 years to over 200 members. They have helped local groups with marketing, digital support and with such a large group of talented people they have saved money and time by providing expert support and doing what would normally take weeks to do in just a matter of hours.
Register your interest or attend a social at http://www.goodfornothing.com/chapter/chester.
3. Cars and Coffee Cheshire by David Brown. What started as a handful of friends having a Sunday morning get together once a month is now becoming established as a popular & very well attended fixture on the calendar. Cars and Coffee offers car enthusiasts the chance to meet, admire vehicles and enjoy coffee and camaraderie.Originally based at the Castle car park, the event has now moved to Manley Mere with the May event being more popular than ever.
4. The Chronicle facebook comments page is a guaranteed source of laughter, righteous anger and hysteria. Marvel at claims that doomsday is on its way thanks to some delayed road works, or how the opening of a pound shop will lead to the devastation of the entire retail sector. Some of the jaw dropping hysteria and hyperbole is a thing of wonder, coming from folk who would moan about the draught if the gates of Heaven opened before them. Blame it all on the racegoers/students/branches of Costa/number of restaurants… “Why can’t we have shops people need…the city will be dead soon. ” At least it shows how much people care…
5. Escape rooms. A couple of years ago Chester had no escape room attractions, and now has Breakout Chester and Escapism Chester, each offering a fun and challenging alternative to a night getting drunk in a trendy bar or attending an open mic night. Both venues offer a variety of scenarios to pit your wits against, and are great fun for groups of friends or team building exercises.
6. Deva Tuk Tuk– another new addition to Chester, arriving at the start of 2016, the ladies behind the Deva Tuk Tuk have brought a fun and exciting new experience to Chester. Alongside pre booked tours, the Tuk Tuk (shipped over from Mumbai) can be hired for weddings, birthdays or other bespoke functions. The Tuk Tuk can often be seen supporting community events such as Pride or the annual Diwali parade. For more details see http://www.devatuktuk.co.uk/index.html
7. Chester Food, Drink and Lifestyle festival is now in its 18th year writes Alan Povey. The event has grown from humbling beginnings when it was first hosted on the Crown Court car park. Today it plays a key part in Chester’s cultural calendar, and effectively kicks off the annual offering of events across the city.
Hosted over the three day Easter weekend at Chester Racecourse, it is now one of the largest and most popular in the U.K. with over 20,000 people visiting across the three days. 8 years ago, “CamperFest” was also added to the event and people from all over the country now descend upon the Racecourse with their tents and camper vans. Utilising the stunning backdrop of the World famous city walls and shiny HQ building, it’s a unique place to spend Easter. The event now attracts 155 exhibitors from all over the area, as well as big name chefs and food celebrities. It even now also has its own art exhibition, inviting local artists from the Grosvenor Museum Art Society to display its work as part of the festival. CFDL is a real family event and is an integral part of the city’s calendar, that has become an annual staple for many people.
8. Chester Little Theatre – Paul Crofts
Hidden away in a quiet Newtown street, Chester Little Theatre is home to the City’s longest running community theatre company, Chester Theatre Club who have been staging plays in the City since 1944. Built in 1840 as Christ Church School, the building has been home to the group since 1962. The Club stages six varied productions a year in the main auditorium as well as playing host to a range of visiting productions and other events.
The theatre’s intimate Salisbury Studio is home to Chester Theatre Club’s thriving Youth Theatre as well as being used for performances throughout the year including the works of local writers whilst recent productions on the main stage have included everything from A Midsummer Night’s Dream to Alan Bennett’s farce Habeas Corpus and the award winning Breaking The Code. Chester Theatre Club recently won the Performing Arts Award at the Chester Voluntary Arts Awards 2017. Despite Chester not having had a large scale theatre during the last 10 years, Chester Theatre Club along with several other Volunteer lead Arts groups across the City have ensured that Chester has been anything but the Cultural desert many would have had us believe.
9. Storyhouse : Despite some nit picking over the lack of locally brewed artisan beer, and the design of the bookcases, Storyhouse has already proven a massive hit, attracting 79,000 visitors in its opening month. Mixing a library, small cinema, theatre, cafe and bar Storyhouse is the new “place to go” in the city. For older visitors the building revives memories of the buildings old life as the Odeon cinema, bringing the space back into use after a decade of lying empty. Meanwhile the youth of the borough can enjoy the extensive children’s library and the range of free activities.
The opening season of shows from Alex Clifton and his creative team have been a huge hit, and touring shows will follow in the autumn, bringing the “big name” shows and acts that Chester have yearned for and deserved for years. Alongside the shows the venue has already hosted a range of community activities including the Women of the World festival in May. On his recent visit Storyhouse was praised by comic legend Steve Coogan who commented “I wanna live in there!”
In 2013 the existing bus shelters were replaced by awkward and pathetic yellow shacks which offered no protection from the elements and held about 3 people. We even suffered the indignity of one of the shelters being taken away in the middle of the night over a payment dispute. Now the “world class” interchange is open public transport users at last have a facility they can be “proud of”. Offering facilities to rival the likes of Wrexham and Birkenhead, toilets and soon, shops, its the very least the city deserves. Along with an eco friendly sedum roof, investment into the city’s infrastructure can only be welcomed. Bus drivers can also enjoy the “on the buses” vibe with the addition of a drivers room. And despite all the fake news, the buses, amazingly can fit inside and drive safely around the station!
A few short years ago it felt like Chester was in the doldrums as things closed down and the city’s image took a battering. Now investment is flowing in, with Storyhouse and the new bus station the main examples. At last the city is looking like it has the facilities it deserves. Alongside this, the much maligned development of Frodsham street is another example of investment into an area that has long been condemned by residents. The carmac coloured tarmac is a fair criticism but again despite social media noise, there has been no traffic incidents now that the controversial “shared space” scheme is in operation. Other examples of the city being tidied and develop include the King Charles’ Tower garden which have transformed a previously neglected area, as well as the forthcoming George street pocket park, and the business quarter next to the train station. Wetherspoons invested a few million in renovating the Bull and Stirrup and the City Tavern will soon open on the new look Frodsham street. And did the Romans have a 24 hour Asda, a Nandos, video screens in Iceland or a fleet of Deliveroo bikes ??
12. The Chester branch of the Samaritans has been operating in the city for 50 years. Anyone who needs emotional support or just a chat about anything that is troubling them, can call , email or speak face to face to the dedicated volunteers. Publicity officer Sally explained to me in 2015 that : “our strapline is “talk to us”. people who are distressed, worried or anxious call us, you dont have to be suicidal. If people can talk to us we can help them explore their options, evidence shows that we can show them there is hope.”
13. Chester FC – Alan Povey writes : When we talk about Chester, and things to be proud about it, very little is mentioned about its football club. Of course, the objective is to support the more “attractive” clubs in the wider region, like Liverpool, Everton or Manchester United. The fact is, Chester should be very proud of its football club. Reformed from the ashes of Chester City back in 2010, Chester FC is today 100% owned by its supporters – a unique proposition. It is also run by volunteers who are elected to the board by the owners, who are its supporters, under the City Fans United (CFU) banner. The football club also has an incredibly pro-active Community Trust who provide amazing opportunities for all people across the borough, through sport. Anybody can have a share in Chester FC, and for just £12 per year, anybody can. For everything going on in Chester, the football club should, in my opinion, play a key part in what makes Chester the city so unique and great. We always hear and read about engagement and community involvement, I believe more people should also see the football club as part of that community too. It is definitely worthy of a place on this list.
14. Chester is home to a growing band of passionate bloggers, who give up their time to champion the array of good stuff that is going on in and around this city, writes Angela Ferguson.
There are too many to mention here, but here’s your starter for 10.
Here at ShitChester( this very blog) there’s everything from looking at events and happenings in Chester to writing profiles of Chester folk, along with fundraising for organisations such as The Samaritans. The site also prides itself on championing local issues and on keeping local politicians on their toes by following – and sometimes challenging – key decisions closely. From time to time, the writer can also be found talking about his love for the city on a range of Flipside Radio shows.
If it’s music you’re after, then check out the fab Schott’s List, run by music guru Dan Schott. Schott’s List champions local music, gigs and events and Dan also produces radio shows and podcasts.
There’s also We Are Chester for all things arts and culture related, including a look at some of the people behind the events happening in the city. We Are Chester, which also has a monthly show on Flipside Radio, is a not-for-profit webzine produced by volunteer contributors. New contributors are always welcomed. One of We Are Chester’s contributors, Tori, also has her own blog, looking at aspects of life in the city. It’s https://whatsthestori.wordpress.com. Last but not least the excellent Chester Beer blog (https://chesterbeerblog.wordpress.com/) which offers reviews of pubs bars and restaurants across the city.
15. BIG Heritage arrived in Chester in 2013 and have made a “big” impact on the city as Angela Ferguson describes. This go getting and dynamic social enterprise has truly made its mark in Chester and beyond. The Big Heritage team bring history to life and aim to use it as a conduit to bring people together to, for example, visit pop up museums and exhibitions. The Big Heritage team also go out to deliver workshops for schools, believing passionately that education and fun are not mutually exclusive. They organise exhibitions and community projects, including the Pride in the Past exhibition in conjunction with Chester Pride. This exhibition, which was staged at the Grosvenor Museum and Chester Market, looked at the LGBT history of Chester and Cheshire. They have even set up a visitor attraction on Chester’s walls, called Sick to Death, which looks at the sometimes gory history of medicine in the city. They also offer archaeology and heritage consultancy services, having worked with CH1 Chester Bid to deliver the Chester Unlocked heritage trails in the city, celebrating Chester’s rich and hidden heritage. Is there no end to their talents? We’re so lucky to have such an organisation in our midst.
16. Bartenders against bombs by Calum Adams
Bartenders against bombs was started back in 2016 by Calum Adams and Ben Iles. Both have worked in Chester bars and restaurants for years, and after seeing the atrocities in Syria and the affect these have on families, children in particular, wanted to do something about it. The aim was raise money through the generosity of people in hospitality to help those children who need it most.
There is no political or religious element to the campaign, simply to raise money and awareness of the repercussions of war. To date they have been mentioned in the houses of commons for their work, and raised over £20,000. The hope is to keep going and raise as much as possible. All the money raised goes to warchild who help any child around the world affected by war.
16. The Bren project by Graham Weaver
The Bren Project is an independent charity operating in Chester and the surrounding area. We have been hard at work since 2007, developing work experience placements for adults with learning disabilities and autism. Our aim is to design and build bespoke work opportunities that place the beneficiary at the very centre of the process: we meet with our beneficiaries and those that know them best to find out about their aspirations, interests, skills and needs. That done, we go out into Chester’s business and voluntary community to find a provider environment that is just right for that individual.
“Bren Bikes” launched in 2015 is the Project’s own workspace, where beneficiaries get to experience working on unwanted bikes, recycling and refurbishing them and offering them for sale. Work experience is not limited to practical bike mechanics, there is a range of activities and opportunities available, including administration, customer service and online sales, not to mention all the “soft skills” which can be developed at the project: punctuality, attendance, work appropriate conduct, work appropriate attire etc. These eight weeks give us an even better opportunity to get to know our beneficiaries prior to going out on an external placement. A second work placement with an external organisation follows , with the full support of a trained job coach. The Bren project are always looking to support more people and to build new partnerships.
17. The annual Raft Race is a fun and colourful regular feature on the summer calendar. Organised and run by the Rotary Club of Chester since the early 1970s the event brings the river Dee to life as themed rafts battle it out to reach the finish line. In recent years the event has been boosted by the addition of UK Fly Board champion Jay St John , who raises above the crowds via jet powered water streams. A great family event , with activities also taking place on the meadows, in 2016 the event raised £6000 for the Hospice of the Good Shepherd and this years event takes place on the 2nd July.
18. The Amphitheatre built in the 1st century by the Romans was the largest of its kind in Britain and used for a variety of activities including Gladiator fights. Abandoned around 350 AD the site fell into disrepair , with the stones being removed and taken to build other structures in the city. Lost to history until eventually uncovered in 1929, only half of the site has been uncovered due to the awkward listed building which sits over the other side. Next to a busy road at one of the gateways to the city the modern amphitheatre is a wide open space popular with residents and Roman tour groups alike which reminds us that Chester has always been a special place and always will be. Dreams of turning Dee House into a visitor attraction have sadly never been realised despite years of aspiration, but how many cities can say they have something of this significance sitting in the middle of town next to a budget hotel?
19. In 2015 the council’s suggestions to regulate the city’s buskers were shot down in flames due to public opposition, and the city retains its vibrant street culture with many popular local performers regularly seen and heard on the streets . On a busy summers day you can see Mr Peewee the drumming puppet in action at the cross, or listen to a melancholic guitarist as an autumn dusk falls. Other favourite musical characters who are an integral part of the city’s makeup include the sand dog man, 1920s inspired Busking Lady and electric violin maestro Ed Alleyne Johnson. Experienced busker, Dave Southern, Mr Peewee himself said that : “a City can be judged by the strength of its street arts culture. Buskers bring vibrancy, life and atmosphere to a town centre. Increasing shoppers dwell time is just one of the ways they support local businesses. Chester has a history of street performance that dates back hundreds of years and continues to attract top class performers from all over the world.” Most people give a donation…
20. Watergate street by Dean Paton …Home to countless brothels, an assortment of violent bars and more anti-social behaviour than you can shake a stick at….. luckily, Watergate Street has come a long way since the medieval period, and whilst the unsavoury happens are consigned to history, we have been left with a stunning selection of historic buildings and stories that make Watergate Street the “historic heart” of Chester. Now packed with cool indie shops and a raft of unique places to eat and drink, Watergate Street is a destination par excellence for visitors and locals alike.
21. Carriage Shed is another example of the investment coming into the city, in this case transforming an abandoned part of the railway station into an attractive new public space. Opening in 2016 the covered walkway has hosted artisan markets and street food events so far. Theatrical performances are scheduled for the summer, and Carriage Shed will also host a Vegan festival on the 20th August. Also on offer is “The Paddock” offering al fresco food and drink for passing racegoers or the general public. The venue has great potential as an events space with the artisan “Maker’s market” earlier this year being a huge success.
23. ” The Venny” by Ben Powell.
Established over 40 years ago, the Blacon Adventure Playground, otherwise known as the Venny is a fantastic and completely unique play facility for young people in the area, open every single day of the year. It is a fully-staffed, fully-interactive playground, where children are free to explore their ideas and make their mark. It is a safe space to enjoy, without ever being boring.
Alongside the excellent play equipment, which is soon to be improved further, there are a range of other facilities, which help to make the Venny one of a kind. These include the urban farm, with a variety of animals that young are encouraged to interact with and care for. There is also an environmental play area, where children can learn more about local wildlife and sizable indoor space, which now houses the fast growing Blacon Boxing Club.
Finally, the latest feature, a “Pump Track” is being unveiled this summer, which will allow young people to try out their BMX, skateboard and scooter skills on a facility designed by Clark and Kent Contractors, whose projects include the BMX track for the London 2012 Olympics.
24. Situated in the historic market hall, the “Chester in Lego” display has been growing in size since first introduced to the market in 2014, raising over £1700 for various charities in the process and helping to drive footfall into the building. Featuring lovingly created replicas of city landmarks including the Eastgate clock, the walls and Rosie’s nightclub the creator regularly makes new additions to respond to current events. Look out for the police helicopter, Romans, a few superheroes and a politically incorrect tribute to the defunct Platinum Lounge. Lego fans can see the display in the market from Monday to Saturday.
25. One thing we aren’t short of in our fair city, is places to eat and drink writes Rachel O Kelly. From the elegance and fine dining at restaurants such as the Michelin starred Simon Radley at the Chester Grosvenor, the innovative yet affordable menu at The Chef’s table, or the award winning Sticky Walnut in Hoole. Alongside the usual roster of high street chain, standing proudly alongside them, fighting their corner are our fabulous independents. Ginger. Marmalade and Joseph Benjamin, to name but a few.
Chester can take you anywhere in the world – you want authentic Italian? We give you Sergios, 40 years and still going strong. Authentic Polish dumplings? Well you can get them handmade right on Brook Street at Pierogi. French cuisine at Le Petit France, we have everything from an Istanbul BBQ, to the good old fashioned chippy! If a quiet, or not so quiet drink is more your thing, then you’re spoilt for choice too, from trendy wine bars, to quiet pubs with character. Cool bars I’m probably too old for, and the regular chains you see in every city.
You can have a cocktail looking over the River Dee, and a glass of wine in the library! Which other city can give you that! And hey, you’re never too far away from a Costa wherever you are, or even a Tesco!
26. The Night Church at St Peter’s Church at the Cross may look like one of our many trendy bars from the outside with its neon sign and high vis security staff, but wander inside and you will discover a quiet sanctuary away from drunk partygoers and the angry slurred noise of the late night city streets. Running since 2011, the twice monthly event offers quiet sanctuary to night time revellers and drunks in search of spiritual consolation or just a cup of tea and a biscuit. The relaxed atmosphere , where you can just sit and think, light a candle, listen to some music, or talk to friends and strangers offers an oasis of calm in an increasingly troubled and confusing world. All are welcome regardless of faith or belief. A hidden gem.
27. Chester Races and Chester really does seem to have that ‘Love/Hate’ relationship says Rob Jeffries. Whilst attendance is debatable since the recent alcohol restriction for those wanting to watch from the Open Course, it’s popularity is still there and is an integral part of the culture of Chester.
For the purists, the May Festival is where those future Classic hopefuls show their promise, most recently this year where runner-up in the Chester Vase, Wings of Eagles, went on to become the 40-1 outsider winner of the Epsom Derby.
After this though, despite a successful initiative from Chester Race Company to bring horses to Chester with the incentive of an owner not leaving with less than £400 back in 2016 (increased to £500 this season), only a handful of races are entryways for notable racing glory elsewhere, and a general day at the races is something more par for the course beyond the three-day meeting. That is where Chester Race Company have made great strides in marketing the remaining fixtures and the additional Polo days so well – it keeps the course thriving throughout the summer months.
The Roodee is the oldest course in the United Kingdom, and for all the talk of boycotts over the beer over two years ago, it would be unfathomable to think that a course steeped in such history would ever be consigned to the scrapheap. However in recent years with Folkestone Racecourse now planned to be redeveloped for housing, one would hope such an iconic part of our city does not follow suit.
The problem with Chester is that it is in such a unique location – unique in that racegoers are attracted to the city likes moths to a flame up an extremely narrow thoroughfare up Watergate Street. Most other racecourses are positioned a relative distance away from a central town or city location, allowing for attendees to spread more naturally around the bars and restaurants.
Hopefully as Chester grows the wide offering this may allow for this, but it is wrong to make a judgement that Chester is a no-go area on a race evening. I myself have never felt threatened enough if I am out with a group of people on a same night. Others may have different tales no doubt, but the vast majority of racegoers do have the ability to behave accordingly; it is those who cannot handle their alcohol intake, whether that is surpassed on course or afterwards in the city, that are in the small minority.
Whatever your opinion on that , Chester Races as sporting events go, cannot be ignored for the fact the course draws in a bigger attendance throughout the year than that of the main local football, basketball, rugby and cricket sides combined. Whether more needs to be achieved from both sides of the Love/Hate divide of how to retain visitors in the city or have them return for a non-race day – that remains to be seen. However, as Chester makes itself more visible with the breadth of cultural offerings we have, it can and will surely play a major role in making sure Chester is firmly noted on the map.
28 Rachel Walker offers a personal view of Chester Pride now in its 5th year: My first involvement with Chester Pride came in 2013, when I accompanied my mum in a civic capacity as Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress. We were instantly struck by the energy and colour of the event, which then took place in the Town Hall Square, a venue it has now outgrown. I clearly remember the huge cheer that went up when we appeared on the Town Hall balcony, flanked by local drag queens, flying the rainbow flag!
Since that day, I’ve been increasingly involved with Chester Pride as the day has grown and morphed into the fantastic festivity that we see today. Five years down the line, from that first stage, Chester Pride now takes up the whole of the Castle car park, offering a huge range of entertainment, activities, food, drink and more. The colourful parade has become so long that it almost meets itself coming back, and every year we are joined by an increasingly large, varied crowd of revellers who take to the streets to celebrate equality and diversity in the city.
This year, Chester Pride is marking its 5th birthday with a day that’s bigger and better than ever – the main stage will feature favourite acts from preceding years, the health and welling zone offers a chance for people to network and meet local charities and service providers (and pick up some freebies), the indie stage will showcase local music talent; there will space for children, a tent for older LGBT people and a dedicated young people’s zone. And let’s not forget where you’ll find me on the 19th – helping to host Chester Pride’s own cabaret tent, the Glitter Lounge, where you’ll find the weird and wonderful, burlesque, boylesque, music, dance and possibly even karaoke! If it’s sparkly, we’ll have it!
But it’s not just the chance to strut my stuff on stage that gives me a reason to love Chester Pride. It’s all the other things – the time and care that goes into planning the day, the team of dedicated volunteers who make it happen, the local businesses and people who generously donate to keep the event afloat, the fabulous costumes, the goodwill and positivity that’s generated on the day.
Whenever people ask me why I got involved, I tell them about the group of teenagers I watched in the parade one year: it was their first Pride, they were excited but nervous, only just come out – and for the first time they were surrounded by LGBT people, buoyed up on a wave of solidarity and carnival atmosphere. There they stood, in the midst of the noise and colour, wrapped in their rainbow flags, smiling and secure – safe to celebrate their sexuality with their new Pride family. That’s why I love Pride.
29 St Mary’s Creative Space tucked away in a side street behind the castle inside a former Church has been a real asset to the city’s cultural offering in recent years. The performance and rehearsal space hosts a range of music and drama events, including shows by the renowned Theatre in the Quarter. In the past St Mary’s have hosted work from Chester Operatic Society, Chester Film Society as well as various professional touring productions. In the many years where Chester has lacked a formal “theatre space” St Marys has been one of the adaptable venues that has kept culture alive in the city. In July a “mini Eisteddfod” will take place at St Mary’s bringing a miniature version of the iconic festival to Chester city centre.
30. In 2014 city centre businesses voted in favour of forming a Business Improvement District (BID) funded by a levy on business rate. Glossing over the coke truck row and the summer of discontent over the busking proposals, the BID has been involved in a wide range of activities designed to boost footfall and improve the city centre . The BID have championed a rows clean up, planted flowers all over the city, organised fashion shows, paraded some giant squirrels at Easter, championed “Chester unlocked” and organised a dinosaur trail across the city. At Christmas the BID has come into its own delivering free activities for children, meet and greets with the loveable giant Elves as well as the spectacular CheStar which surely graced many an Instagram page. Katie Jones of Weasel and The Bug toy shop said that : ” As a new business, I’ve found the BID to be an invaluable tool to help my growth and development. They have offered help with advertising, created a video on why people should shop independently and local. Held dinosaurs and Easter trails to encourage new customers into our shop (which it did) they helped us network with small and large businesses as well as keeping us to date with other promotions and events in the city, giving us the chance to join in and have our say. They are a bit like a comfort blanket, always offering support and promotional help when ever its needed. As a business you can use the BID as much or a little as you like, its like most things in life you just have to get involved!” Over the 5 year BID term £2.5 million will have been raised to fund city improvements.
Thanks to all contributors: Rhiannon Bevan, Dave Brown, Alan Povey, Paul Crofts, Rachel Walker, Angela Ferguson, Calum Adams, Graham Weaver, Rachel O Kelly, Ben Powell, Dean Paton, Dave Southern, Rob Jeffries, Katie Jones