“Its giving a space for people to come along and feel free and feel themselves and to talk to one another and meet people they might not have met before. I am wishing them really well and its going to be a fantastic venue. The tables do not wobble! It does remind me of coffee bars I used to go in when I was a teenager which is fabulous !” says Cllr Jill Houlbrook at the recently opened Rainbow Tea Rooms on Bridge street, the new venture by Chester Pride.
Pride chair Warren Allmark takes up the story:
“Its been a three year project. We started off just before Covid with the hope of another venue, which fell through. We found a second venue, that fell through, then Covid hit. We found this venue in January, contracts were signed in February and we moved in in May, so its been a vey quick turnaround. We’ve had a really good team of builders, and army of volunteers’ , many companies have supplied us with tables and chairs for free. There’s been a few sleepless nights!
“Our motto for the our cafe is “everything has its place” so you’ll notice with the cutlery, nothing matches, So you might get a red cup with a blue teaspoon and a black saucer, and that’s to represent that everyone and everything has its place in the cafe, that you don’t have to conform and be the same. Its a relaxed space for all, not just for the LGBT community, but primarily that’s who we serve. Anyone who doesn’t feel comfortable on large noisy places, theres a nice slow pace to the place. We’ve had lots of different people coming in, we’ve had people in wheelchairs tell us that we’re the only fully accessible cafe on the street. There’s space to get around and table service so that helps.
“Overall the feedback has been fantastic, a lot of people have commented that its “bigger on the isnide”- we should have painted the outdoors blue. Its a very long building and its seeped in history as well. The ceiling is suspended and above that its another ceiling, which is listed, I would love to display it but we are talking thousands to get it done. The walls have windows behind, my ideal would to be get rid of the glass front and restore the original pub frontage in, with bay windows, a really traditional Chester look.”
Inevitably some commenters have bemoaned the arrival of another coffee shop. ” When we launched we used the hashtag #ohnonotanothercoffeeshop just to shoot down any negativity. My argument is, the high street is changing and my background is retail, and retail is dead in the water. With Chester because its such a historic city, for any big retailer theres alarm bells: out of all the coffee shops on the street we’re the only one that can take a wheelchair. If you were the likes of Forever 21 for example, theres no unit big enough. Cheshire Oaks and Broughton are thriving because they are purpose built. The only market that’s doing well is coffee shops and hospitality. People can shop online, get everything they need, delivered the next day, and cheaper .What Covid has shown is that you need to talk to people. You can get the atmosphere here from people watching instead of just sitting at home. The high street has changed for the better in some respects… but I do get really annoyed when I see the same comments on Chester’s social media- all the shops are empty- They’re not empty! Theres 42 units in the city and 24 have new tenants going in them, it takes time. If you go to Shrewsbury or York the occupancy rate is actually worse, but we see things as a local not through blank eyes. We have 3 markets here, the locals , which will support to a point, but can be very vocal, and that can be damaging when they’re posting on facebook pages that non locals can see. The student market – without it the city would suffer, and the tourist market, without that the city would crumble…
“There was a post from one of the local newspapers, and they had asked what people think about the races, and it got ripped apart. Its a catch 22, without the races we wouldn’t have the platform that Chester has. With the races, it does cause issues. The racecourse know that and have spent a lot of money this year to address it. There are things that could be done differently, but again things take time, we haven’t all got unlimited pots of money. “
The cafe features and impressive Roman statue donated by the nearby Deva Roman Centre. “Not everyone likes it but its been a real talking point and people have been taking photos of it” says Warren. “Its a focal point. Ironically its going back to what people moaning.. the CHESTER sign, there was uproar about 7 letters in red, but the amount of pictures in front of that sign, its been fantastic, and our statue has had the same effect,” The statue is located at the rear of the cafe in the community space which will house one of the first LGBT libraries in the country and will ne used for workshops and training and drop in sessions.
The icons of pride wall is another talking point. “Its people who have been trailblazers, icons for different reasons, they may have fought for equality, they may be performers who have used their platform to spread the message. My favourite is Alan Turing. When we came up with the idea of the cafe, one of the names suggested was the Turing tearooms We had a 50/50 split with Turing’s Tearooms and Rainbow Tea pot, we had to decide what to do, so we ended up merging the tow names to create the Rainbow Tearooms . He’s my favourite, Cher’s not up there yet but we’re working on it !
“Chester Pride this year will be a two day event to celebrate ten years of pride on the 13/14 Aug. The 13th is the main day with the parade in the city, the mainstage, the markets, the health zones, the older persons area, the bars the food etc. The Sunday has more of a family feel, a quieter day and more relaxed.. Its all free! “
Rainbow Tea Rooms is open 9 -5 Mon to Fri and 9-6 at the weekend