Originally, this was going to be compilation of Chester moans, safe in the knowledge that we love Chester but that not everything is perfect and that the tarmac of Frodsham street is not paved with gold. After nearly a decade of championing Chester, blogging to promote business and culture, whilst pointing out the great and not so great, defending the city from its (mainly internal) critics, some themes have become common. There are those that say the Chester city council (sic) /university/racecourse/ “brown envelopes”/ movement of the bus station, have all ruined the city. Just look at the response in certain quarters to the historic market opening date – they’ve ruined the market they say (despite no one actually seeing if open yet). The same market that will actually be a “food court” despite offering phone repair, Plants and flowers, butchers, bakers, fishmonger, eyewear, vintage clothing, plastic free / zero waste shop, fresh produce, fresh pasta, and cosmetics and skincare….There are people round here still weeping about the demolition of the old Market 50 years ago, people who won’t be happy until Mercia Square is recreated in virtual reality or smoking in pubs comes back. Which is all fine if that’s your opinion. I must have been listening to a lot of Mansun lyrics at the time, or my mind was weathered and clouded by stuttering emotional or physical health. I can only disappoint u. Someone nudged me in the street and now I’m negative.
Over the years the hounds of social media have attacked me for “driving away investment”, being too positive, being too negative “betraying my roots” (for changing twitter account name), being a “shill account”, being a “jumped up tweeter”, left wing political agitator, stirring up division, selling out and being conservative and being “an egotistical” (sic). So yes, sometimes things aren’t great in life and all the factors pull you down, oh it’s awful, Chester is dying, the constant death ever since Owen Owen left. It takes its toll.
Things are imperfect. You can live in a city brimming with cultural opportunities and historic assets, but high streets will fade and the unfortunate homeless will gather in the empty shop doorways as they do anywhere in the UK. Being a historic city doesn’t shield you from social or economic reality. I’ve never particularly supported the “perfect Chester” vision, all shining perfect fairy tale world we all want perfection but must settle for the best available option, enjoy a perfect moment and then return to the problems and grind, the snapshot of a social media post- an oasis in a world that often feels like it’s gone very wrong.
We asked the question in the interest of debate ” What don’t you like about the city?” The responses were intelligent and a call back to the early days of Shitchester when a smaller number of followers aired their grievances and maybe someone somewhere was taking notes. Here’s a few.
“What’s with the lack of toilets?” as Jerry Seinfeld might say. Strange to imagine that only a few years ago the Grosvenor shopping centre had 2 large toilet blocks in a central location, perfect for tourist drop offs on Pepper Street. We were winning at life. Yes there are toilets in the groves, the park and the makeshift graffiti ridden ones in the old Gateway- but for sure we’ve regressed here and need to improve to buck this national trend.
Lack of museums was another point. The underrated Grosvenor Museum only has space to display a fraction of its collections yet hosts an interesting calendar of rolling exhibitions. Recent additions like Sick to Death and the revived Deva Roman Centre have been great additions, but it’s always been a battle cry echoing through the decades that we “don’t do enough with our history!” Imagine a Museum of Chester charting the city’s development from Roman to Medieval to Civil War to Jordan’s book signing in WHSmiths. From cannonballs and Roman vases to Hollyoaks scripts and Orville the Duck.
We can dream, meanwhile big assets like the Castle sit there and sit there defining Slow Chester. And whilst there have been many parts of the walls restored in the last ten years, the 2020 collapse which heralded a dark 2 years remains bereft, like a metaphorical relationship collapse which the weeds just cannot disguise.
Perhaps Chester’s biggest migraine, Dee House still awaits restoration and reuse with its broken Hammer House of Horror windows with a sign trolling it’s Georgian Elegance. Knock it down people say, and who can blame them when it’s been left to rot by successive councils. The recent expert working party group recommended retaining the building and concluded that there was nothing beneath the listed building to be discovered, noting that the landowners Historic England opposed any excavation. However, emotion often trumps facts and until something is done there will always be a vision of a mini-Coliseum rising from the ashes and making everything amazing once again.
Historic buildings and the clash with the needs of the modern world angers some. Yet look around the city and we see Chester is a mix of many layers of history, the Roman remains, the Victorian and the Georgian, the 60s modernism and the formerly pink Boujee. The Pepper Street car park is as much “Chester” as the Town Hall. The Northgate car park doesn’t fit in with Chester they say, maintaining the lie that Chester is one homogenous entity. Walk down one street and you can see the additions made by the passing generations.
Parking is another bone of contentment for many, with the unfair comparison to the vast free parking of retail parks. Someone needs to do a study of how expensive the council run car parks are, preferably a paid journalist, and compare it to parking charges in comparable cities. Is parking in York free? With public transport much less than satisfactory here, who could blame car users for speaking out? Parts of the suburbs are not accessible by bus once you get past 7pm, theres’s a taxi shortage, and Stagecoach are currently unable to even supply timetables for 2 revised bus routes on their own website and app, it feels like another regression. They’ve even screwed the previously decent trains to London! Still, you could always travel via E-scooter
Honourable mentions to the much maligned but totally safe Frodsham street, the hated (but used worldwide) Solar Bins, the music scene, the decline of retail and of course the Races which leave people literally afraid to leave their homes. If you haven’t noticed by now, writing this blog over the last 8 years has been a sticking plaster for my mental health, somewhere to champion the positive over these negatives and to throw my arms around something completely. Having a chat about the things that don’t work quite as well is the least we can do if we want to keep on marching towards Utopia. There’s so much that makes us great and a great place to live and work- the massive Storyhouse cultural offer, investment everywhere, pop up happenings, dinosaurs on parade, the green spaces… or just that special Chester magic of an Eastgate clock sunset. I could list more but I’d just be repeating earlier blogs.
As I crawl out of the pit (for a while) I remember how one tweeter replied to the question of what she disliked about Chester replied with great insight: “small minds, the people that hate change. People don’t realise how good they’ve got it”.
Anyway, if you love something, you love it for the best of its dark, and bright.