Bloom & Albion, the combined retail unit /makers space opened on Bridge street inside the old Bookland building in late 2021. With their Art House Cafe opening soon, co founder Andrew Bruce spoke to us about how a passion for creativity and print making inspired the business , as well as outlining their exciting plans for the future

Co founder Andrew Bruce and cafe manager Laine on Bridge street row

Andrew is one of the trio of owners alongside Kirsty and Lisa. “Lisa and I studied architecture, and we have always had a passion for creativity. Kirsty has a background as a maker, she does ceramics and jer work is available to buy in the store. ” Lisa became interested in print making, specifically letter press making which was the main form of printing until the 1960s. “With letter press you need a lot of equipment if you want to do it properly. We decided to go big and share it with people, and we have amassed one of the largest collections of vintage printing equipment in the country, and probably the largest publicly accessible letter press studio in the country as well. We were going up an down the country for 3 years foraging for equipment.”

The group found a home for their impressive collection in a North Wales industrial unit, setting up as The Foundry. “We did a lot of heritage craft workshops whilst we were restoring equipment and sorting through equipment. We had a hospitality offer as well and we enjoyed that aspect. We were looking for a permanent venue and saw an opening in Chester. Its always been a creative city but in terms of a cultural place where people can come and be creative theres been very few opportunities for that. ”

The Undercroft houses the huge collection of printing equipment

Bloom & Albion are a social enterprise and are not run for profit. “We needed a commercial element to sustain us. The funding pathway is difficult and not sustainable. The aim is that when we become self sufficient we hope to be investing around £30,000 a year into the arts.”

An Albion printing press from 1833

The ground floor of the historic 4 storey building (dated 1664) comprises the retail space and stocks goods from independent makers from the UK and abroad. “We always use ethically sourced and environmentally friendly companies. Theres very little plastic in the store. ” The undercroft , dating from the 13th century comprises the makers space and is filled with historic printing equipment. The area will be well known to Cestrians as the much loved and missed Bookland, a popular 1990s shopping spot for the teenage @shitchester . “Bookland are still the landlords” says Andrew. “It’s nice that we have brought this old form of printing back into the old book store, theres a synergy there. In that space we are going to teach letter press printing, we have a potters wheel…We like to call it a hot desk for makers, makers can become members and pay a small fee to use the space and collaborate with others.” This area will be opening soon.

The Art House Cafe

The new Art House Cafe on the second floor has a modern fresh ambiance with its white walled art gallery feel. With access at row level, the cafe will also open in the evenings Wed- Sun as a restaurant. “Because we are passionate about creativity we wanted an outlet for our chef to be creative, so we will be doing themed nights every Wednesday. Throughout the year we will have different events on , we might bring the potters wheel up for example and have the potter working up here while people are eating their lunch. We are about connecting people with creativity and we want to be open for all, we do have some access restrictions as we are a listed building, one of the oldest on the street.” Makers fairs and building cultural links with other groups and venues also feature in future plans. Food will be prepared on the floor above which houses a substantial kitchen. ” We are also trying to be an independent option for food to go. We have struggled not to go to Sainsburys or Boots since we moved in, so there will be a food to go fridge.” B& A have approval from the council for alfresco dining, a key feature in the streets post pandemic revival.

The top 2 floors of the building will consist of artist studios and multi purpose spaces. “There will be 2 artist studios available for rent and a 5 person art studio . We’re in in talks with the University of Chester, we will offer the place to art/design students so after their degree they can create a business and we can retain them in Chester and we can coach and mentor them. That will be a dragons den style pitch, students can pitch a business plan to apply for the place. A lot of makers and artists come out of university, and they have the experience of creating and making but they dont know how to market their work, sell their work or value it. A lot of artists dont pursue it as a career because of this.” The 4th floor will be an exhibition/ event space alongside a large creative space available for public bookings. ” Ideally we want the top two floors to pay for themselves, we aren’t after any margins on that.”

Secret staircase- one of the buildings many historic features

“It was a risk when we opened the store in October 2021 just before the winter wave. It felt like a risk worth taking. Its been tough, the message has been around the impact on hospitality, but there has been a massive impact on shops. We traded well over Christmas .January was hard, but we haven’t come into this naively , we weren’t expecting to be millionaires. We struggled with builders and materials due to shortages in the construction trade I feel Chester is still heavily visited . Its identity is changing. We want to be a place where we offer an experience. I know that phrase is used a lot on the high street, but we want the whole place to be an experience. ”

Bloom and Albion are on facebook, Instagram and twitter. Follow for updates on their progress as more sections of the building open in the coming months

%d bloggers like this: