With customary bleakness, January saw the usual raft of store closures including Patisserie Valerie following the national collapse of the chain. Short lived Gino’s Gelaterie on Northgate street also closed their doors for the last time. By contrast Lowe and Sons, one of the oldest businesses in the city were reborn following a takeover from Powell’s Fine Jewellery. Meanwhile a development of 1,300 homes was approved on Wrexham road in one of the year’s many “WTF” happenings. Lightness came from Steve Cresswell at the Standard’s report on a food related crisis at Cheshire OaksFebruary
Northgate street continued to evolve as artisan Dutch style chip shop opened on Northgate street. Gustum closed on the walls after 2 years but was replaced by a Vegan cafe, joining the city’s second branch of Jaunty Goat (also Vegan ).
Question Time came to the Town Hall and as predicted, gave prominence to former UKIP Parliamentary candidate Steve Ingram. The programme and the BBC in general came under increasing criticism throughout the year for its alleged bias.
“Pizzagate” brought some fun back to social media with a tweet about a freshly cooked pizza being casually carried into the Storyhouse auditorium during a performance of Ghost. Also spotted by a member of the crew, see photo, the observation was picked up by 2 hit chasing local news outlets and sparked a “debate” about the rights and wrongs of theatre eating etiquette.
The Invaders guide to the museum was a quirky highlight of 2019, despite the almost total lack of publicity. The institution of the period house at the Grosvenor museum was dragged into the 21st century with contemporary additions and tweaks by artist David Ferry. Visitors could enjoy such delights as a Georgian bachelor surrounded by empty takeaway containers in front of a 26″ TV. Meanwhile the Victorian Parlour had been invaded by a hen party complete with cocktails and blow up doll. Offering a fun reflection on some universal themes, the event seemed curiously ignored by the Chester public.
A crowded month saw local elections with Labour losing overall control but the Conservatives failing to take much advantage despite pledging the return of Free after 3. Leaders Sam Dixon (Labour) and Lynn Riley (Conservative) both stepped down post election.
Nigel Farage’s democracy loving Brexit party came to town , hosting a rally at Old Hall. In a frightening incident the author of this blog and his colleague were escorted off site for the crime of live tweeting from the event, and accused of being there to disrupt the proceedings. Despite no evidence of this, several took to twitter to post false allegations, including Old Hall, which resulted in legal action being taken. The barrage of abuse and lies was a personal and depressing low, but the widespread sharing of the blog at national level, shed a light on the tactics of the party, who proclaimed they would “change politics for the good” but wouldn’t let us hear how. Old Hall’s apology failed to reach us.
Popular Northgate street wine bar Covino also made it big in the national press by standing up to “reality stars” The Real Housewives of Cheshire who demanded a free meal in exchange for social media coverage. Owner Christopher Laidler, publicly shared the request accompanied by a vomiting emoji and commented that: “I think people really enjoyed it. People see these people on TV on a programme they’ve made about themselves and how wealthy they are, behind closed doors, asking for freebies, which doesn’t sit well. From my point of view it was delusion that their endorsement of my restaurant would be considered a good thing to the public.”
In lighter news , new Lord Mayor Cllr Mark Williams was appointed and soon proved to be a worthy successor to the engaging Alex Black. A great sport and likeable personality, he embraced social media using novelty phone covers to raise money for his nominated charities.
A personal highlight of 2019 was the Upton Scarecrow Trail, back after the success of 2018’s event, this year with a movie theme. Organised by Mill View school PTA ,the colourful trail offered 35 brilliant creations of iconic film characters including Batman, Darth Vader and Jaws. A larger scale version would surely be a hit in driving footfall into the city centre, in the same way the Rhinos of 2010 did ??
A hole appeared on Frodsham street leading to widespread derision due to the dodgy repairs not matching the dirty caramac colouring of the still debated street.
In another big social media storm, a planned pigeon cull at an apartment complex near the canal was cancelled following a public campaign by a resident. Initially the property managers had planned for the pigeons to be shot to death, but resident Donna Boden, who described the birds as her “feral flock” overturned the decision.
Local celeb/legend delighted his public with a book signing in WHSmiths. Yeah boi! Ainsley received an MBE in December.
The delayed Supertrees were finally completed in August. There had been frustration about the delays to the project and the flooding in the subway, but the project was delivered by Super Steve and his team 3 months behind schedule. The subject of an eternal social media battle, the metal frames/trees were not loved by all, who derided the (private) cost of the scheme, and the alleged removal of healthy trees. Despite this, the Supertrees project was a testament to the community coming together and offering a forward thinking vision that brilliantly regenerated an urban wasteland. Work remains, with murals to be painted and a lighting scheme to be devised, but with all planting complete, the roundabout can now be a pleasant place again. And for those that hate the trees, the option remains to just not look at them… And real trees have actually been planted….
Despite a last minute petition from Northgate street business holder Rod Cox, the much delayed (decades) Northgate development was passed by the Council’s planning committee. The reduced Phase 1 included new restaurant space, cinema, car park and a new home for the flourishing Chester market. “Why are they building more shops?!” asked the regular loons. In the meantime the derelict former bus station housed a shipping container covered in street art, but lacked all purpose and explanation. Construction is scheduled to begin in early 2020 and will not include a rooftop bar.
A row brewing since earlier in the year came to the fore in the summer. The chains erected by businesses on the rows were first noticed on twitter and gradually more started to appear, with 2 particularly egregious additions from Debenhams, one being used to apparently block access to a key viewing platform. The debate centred around the ownership of the platforms outside businesses on the rows and whether applying ugly metal chains was the right choice to enhance our heritage. The worst chain was eventually removed but 2 ugly barriers remain on Eastgate row, with access still restricted and our rows diminished.
Finally a protest by everyone’s favourite Church of Hate outside Storyhouse’s Rocky Horror Show was disrupted by cast members who performed The Time Warp to great effect in the faces of the local bigotry. The show of support for the LGBT community was powerful and uplifting to see.
Video, thanks to Maurice Roberts : https://inchesterwalls.com/
Early in October, protesters from the homeless community took over Hamilton House, the council’s recently established homeless hub, claiming squatters rights, stating that the council’s homeless provision was inadequate. The uprising came just a few weeks after charity SHARE had withdrawn their volunteers from Hamilton House due to an increase in drug related behaviour which they stated put their staff at risk.
The protest attracted huge media attention as the group, led by mystery man Wayne Lammond was soon evicted at huge cost, before a winter campaign of moving from one unoccupied building to another began. The protesters attracted a lot of public support, but the lack of clarity over what support was available for the vulnerable homeless community muddied the argument. The debate over whether or not to give money to people on the streets added to the toxicity of the situation. The protesters claimed they weren’t being supported, despite the services from Forfutures, and charities including CATH, SHARE and Soul Kitchen. The increase in homelessness over the last 5 years has been plain to see, but the truth behind the situation, in this brave new world we live in, was no longer an absolute.
Les’ Fish bar closed down after only being open for 4 months. The business never really took off, having filled the empty unit left by Steak and Shake. Disappointed Les blamed the failure on the high rates as well as the lack of trade. However the very limited opening times also played their part… Les’ unit joined the ranks of empty premises on Frodsham street….
The Knife Angel sculpture, at Chester Cathedral was one of the highlights of the year. The striking and disturbing art stood outside the Cathedral’s west entrance, and was built from 100,000 bladed items collected during national amnesties. The work of sculptor Alfie Bradley, the Angel was built to raise awareness of the horrors of knife crime. Having toured Cathedrals across the UK, it soon became part of the furniture, attracting daily crowds and impressing with its dark vision
The subtle festive lights cast their warm melancholy glow over the city, for a business as usual Christmas in Chester. Parades, tired arguments about the Christmas market, and the CheStar were this year complimented by a BID led Gingerbread shop window campaign. The Cathedral’s always excellent Christmas tree festival was boosted by the addition of a tree made entirely of plastic bottles. However the spectre of the general election cast its shadow over December, bringing an end to a year of political chaos. Chris Matheson triumphed over Conservative rival Samantha George , despite her pledge to “Cherish Chester” and the unpopularity of Jeremy Corbyn.