A look back at some of our favourite news stores and rows of the last 12 months….
- In January Chester FC made the international headlines when the club was threatened with legal action by the Welsh Government for breaking Covid regulations over the Christmas period. With the pitch located across the border, the club had hosted 2 games with attendances higher than the 50 allowed in Wales and were called to a meeting with North Wales Police and told they could not host further games. The future of the club was under threat thanks to the Welsh Government’s sudden interest in the English team despite not offering any financial support or ever contributing to policing in the past. Spurred on by Wrexham fans’ skill with google maps and some sneering partisan elements in the Welsh media, the row rumbled on for 2 weeks until Cardiff announced a rules change to allow the return of spectators. Pointless.
2. In March an incident at Chester Zoo summed up the horror of the age when a brutal murder was captured on camera. The horror unfolded when a monkey climbed a 20ft pole to grab a seagull from the sky, before repeatedly bashing the poor bird against the pole in a five minute long ordeal. In the disturbing viral video the monkey is then seen to lick blood off its fingers. “When I zoomed in I could see he was battering the f**k out of this seagull.” said zoo visitor Bec Adamson. We were happy to recreate the scene in our Lego display.
Artist Julie Colclough with her Grosvenor Park inspired artwork
3. Public art was on the rise in 2022- with a series of Spring Bloom art installations, and new art in the Supertrees roundabout, but the highlight was the city wide mini mural trail painted on BT Cabinets. Commissioned by Chester BID, BT Openreach gave special permission for the cabinets to be painted for the benefit of the city’s community. Having long championed street art and its benefits this simple brilliant idea added interest to the streets and provided a canvas for the varied talent of the local artist community. The trail was extended later in the year with more brilliant commissions; all we need now is the long awaited Russ Abbot mural.
4. “Once a Desert ” a world class art installation set against the historic and beautiful backdrop of our Cathedral was a memorable highlight. Created by artistic duo Heinrich and Palmer, whose previous work includes installations at London, Exeter, Hull and Lindisfarne castle, the event was made possible by Arts Council England and by the Government’s cultural recovery funding. With promotional images giving little away, expectation for this event was high and as soon as darkness fell visitors gathered in the nave to watch the 20 minute looped video projected onto a transparent 17.5 metre high cloth suspended from the vaulted ceiling of the building, with the atmosphere enhanced by atmospheric lighting. The immersive and emotional audio visual experience showed the formation of the rock used to build the Cathedral before showing the Cathedral itself materialising, echoing God’s creation before finally fading away. The kind of thing you pay £15 to see in London.
5. The Chester sign , loved by many, hated by many was a cool addition to the Cathedral grounds and soon became a hugely popular photo spot, despite critics complaining that it should be blue or put elsewhere, or that it was tacky and not in keeping with the historic city. Queues formed for photo opps, graduates loved it but as usual many people didn’t get the point. The sign suffered from its letters being damaged and rearranged , and was later decorated to highlight the work of local charities before being displayed ay Chester Pride and the open air theatre. In a short time the sign became an icon. failing to ruin Chester in the process and currently sits in the Cathedral gardens next to the bell tower plotting its next move.
6.. When it was announced that the that the iconic Ark sculpture on the roundabout outside Chester Zoo was to be removed the Upton Conservative team launched an appeal to save the Ark which they described as a “cultural asset” stating that Labour were neglecting Chester’s landmarks. A petition was launched with the row centring on who was responsible for the decision. Cllr Matt Bryan (Labour) stated that removal was a “zoo decision” but Cllr Jill Houlbrook stated that the Ark and roundabout were the responsibility of Cwac. However the ark was lifted from its home on the old roundabout and transported to Changing Lives Together, a charity in Winsford to be renovated as part of their work in the community. Facilities & Development Director at Chester Zoo, Cathy Lunn, said: “For more than a decade the wooden ark has been positioned on the roundabout where the zoo entry road joins the A41. Sadly, over time it has now reached the point where it’s beyond repair. In the immediacy, a new planted feature will take its place but eventually we hope to find a suitable, long-term replacement for it – something which is fitting for our role as a world-leading centre for excellence in wildlife conservation and science.”
7. The next part of the apocalypse was the plan to set up a floating pontoon for motorboats where people can have barbecues and drink alcohol on the River Dee, the barbecue donut boats. Initially passed by Council planning, despite objections from residents and rowing clubs, the plan would have seen patrons cook their own food on the boats whilst drinking alcohol supplied by the business. “Our plan is to provide access to the river for an alternative recreation and leisure purpose, enhancing the city’s tourism.” said business owner Andrew Conroy. After an intense campaign by business owners in the Groves, including reference to an ancient Covenant, the council U-turned on the decision and the development was blocked. The boats exist somewhere in the multiverse alongside the student village and the glass slug.
Matt Baker leads the celebrations
8. In June Chester marked the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee with a military parade followed by and a beacon lighting ceremony and musical performance in the evening. A moment of unity and celebration was made more poignant in September when the Queen died and Town Hall square hosted a moment of silent reflection introduced by Lord Mayor John Leather “The Queen was sure in her faith and steadfast in her duty, bringing constancy through 70 years of change. We will remember Her late Majesty with affection and gratitude and silently give thanks in our hearts for her unswerving devotion to us and to our Country.”
9. In September Stagecoach merged the 51 (Upton) and 53 (Kingsway) bus services providing the worst of both worlds for the bus using community. With little advance publicity and no timetables available until 2 months later the privatised and above scrutiny bus company failed to reply to numerous communications asking for explanations about the changes. For Kingsway residents it added extra time to their journey home having first to travel all the way through Upton, and for Upton residents travelling to town they first had to journey all the way through Kingsway, all adding up to an at times congested service. Meanwhile the 51 service route was cut , with both of the new routes failing to service some of the old stops. Stagecoach failed to inform local media of the changes they were making and even members of the council were (apparently ) unaware. When pressed by Cheshire Live the bus company replied “Unfortunately, due to a reduction in demand for services since the pandemic, we have had to make these changes to ensure our services are sustainable for the future. Consultation with Public Transport Officers was undertaken in the early summer “. Not the most fashionable story of the year but two fingers up at the bus using community, with the Council barely interested despite lip service paid to promoting public transport….
10. Without a doubt the biggest news story of the year (and most toxic debate) was the opening of The New Market . 25 years in the making, the opening saw huge crowds descend on the new venue and huge online rows about whether the new building was a “food court” or a “market”. Many were saddened by the departure of long standing traders from the old market, with the Cheese Wedge, Ian’s 5 a day, Death by Tacos and Bookingham Palace taking up spots on the high street. Geoff Hughes, longstanding butcher and icon of the old traditional market cut the ribbon and alongside the other non food traders (fish, phone repair, flowers and plants, vintage clothing, opticians etc) is no doubt delighted to read every single day on facebook that he works in a FOOD HALL, mainly by commenters that hadn’t set foot in the old market for decades. Much of the criticism was based on the lack of “traditional” market traders most of which had all left the market years ago, because people stopped shopping there. Historians of the future may note that the revival of the market 2017-2020 only happened because of the addition of a food court, or they might go back to whining about the market before last- this move inspiring another wave of can’t change the past nostalgia. Regardless of what people want to call it, New Chester Market has become a very popular meeting place and venue, continuing the live music in the evenings from the old market and attracting new people to Chester and as part of the Northgate Development represents the future of Chester as parts of the old one fade away: “Food Hall!” (Every body part remains crossed for the cinema and remaining units in the development).
11. A surprise December by-election was called following the shock resignation of MP Chris Matheson. Labour threw everything at the seat with many high profile visitors, but it seemed the Conservative party had given up on Chester with a third candidate parachuted in from outside the city. “Give me two years to make a real difference for Chester ” said Cheshire East based Liz Wardlaw in a very low key election battle. We were denied Rishi Sunak electioneering at the Cross or Jacob Rees Mogg touring the Food Bank, but the high number of candidates added some interest, including The Leader and co founder of the Official Raving Monster Loony Party. Howling Laud Hope set up his office in the Bull and Stirrup but could only manage 0.5% of the vote. Labour’s Sam Dixon, former leader of the Council won 60.8% of the vote to the Conservatives 22.2%.
12. Dinosaurs visited the city in a fun (and free) one off event in August. The green and orange Stegosaurus gently rampaged through the historic core, delighting crowds of children/ families and people with nothing better to do on a Sunday afternoon. Alongside all of the other excellent street events, including Pride, Chester Passion, the Watergate street festival and the numerous parades, the dino visit was an example of the many new ideas making the city as vibrant as it is.
13. Aside from their Hollywood funded soccer success and their failed capital of Culture bid , Wrexham also made the news with a Guardian feature on the top 6 alternative travel locations in the UK (alongside Birkenhead and Warrington). The article praised Wrexham saying “The most purist form of tourism is to travel in search of nothing, whether that’s a colourful version of empty spaces (Patagonia, Death Valley, the central Asian steppe) or a ghost of what has been. Wrexham, from the latter viewpoint, is quite remarkable, a veritable Paris of what is lost. Highlights of the missed include the former police station, a Brutalist masterpiece that was razed in November 2020, the mock Tudor vegetable market, demolished to make way for a BHS, now also extinct”.
What did Chester lose this year?
Popular fish and chip restaurant Blackstocks, The Racecourse’s’ Restaurant 1539 and the White Horse pub, the Build a bear shop, the entire Forum, the old market, the market car park, Boujee’s pink colour scheme, the original Chester in Lego display, Izakaya in the much maligned dining quarter, the award winning plant based restaurant Hypha, as well as the hope of a new local source , Chester NOW, which failed to get off the ground : Now they’re all Chester memories.