Chester Great and Small: “lets make Chester awesome”

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Chester Great and Small (GAS) are seeking to “make Chester awesome” and address what they view as the long term economic, commercial and creative decline of the city. Founder members Tim Kenney and Izzy Grey outlined their vision of a more collaborative and bold thinking city in advance of a sold out introductory event this week.

Tim Kenney is a partner in Kenney Moore property consultants a company he founded in 1995 and prior to this was a partner/director in Legat Owen and also founded Chester BID. “I have working experience of Chester dating back to the 1980s. I give a shit about Chester! GAS is for people who care and feel they are in a position to help restore the city to that fabulous to go place it was when I was little. “

Izzy Grey, founder of We Love Good Times : I’ve been frustrated over the years . Theres no point in being continually frustrated and not doing anything about it. What I love about the GAS founder team is that we all have a unique reason for wanting to do this. My frustration has been about communication about all the wonderful things that happen , or are in the pipeline to happen. Some people know about some of them, some people know about none of them. I sat down with a very important retailer in the city 2 weeks ago and asked if he knew about the One City Plan ( the council’s blueprint for developing and improving Chester up to 2045) and he didn’t know about any of it. The most important thing we can do is make sure that everybody who “gives a shit” we get them all to the starting point of understanding exactly what we have here. At the moment we have people who contribute so much to the local economy who don’t know about anything. ”

The One City Plan was the starting point for GAS, combined with frustration at how difficult it is to get things done in the city. “Not knowing is one thing, but not having the opportunity to engage is the most important thing.” says Tim. Once the new OCP is published , that’s it for 20 years. We need to make sure that when the plan process is finished, its inclusive, visionary , bold and forward thinking, and most of all its bespoke to Chester. The current document is not really a plan ,its a map to create a pathway. There are elements in the council side that think their job is done. Its got some fairly waffling liberal sentences in it, and we don’t think its focused enough about CHESTER. Its not referencing the great stuff we have in terms of buildings and people ” The team are frustrated by the apparent low profile of the Plan and are working with the Council to be involved in the process.. “We want to create a digital whiteboard ,where the best ideas can be put in the Plan. The website will host relevant documents dating back to creation of the original One City Plan and the original ULI report it was based on. If you read the ULI report you will see that not enough has changed in 13 years..”

The One City Plan can be viewed here:

The GAS founding members possess a wide variety of experience and expertise. Tim: “Tony Swindells and his wife Monika are world leading architects and designers. They work with high end design and refurbishment work tackling old and complicated buildings. “

Running through the team, Tim lists: Andy  Farrall former Exec Director at Chester City Council ,who moved to Warrington, established their development vehicle, ‘’Warrington & Co. and has now moved back to Hoole. “He realised that  whilst a some  projects had  indeed been delivered, notably Storyhouse, The Bus Interchange and Tower Wharf,  some big ticket items such as the Castle, Northgate 2 and Dee House haven’t moved forwards with the urgency needed, and nor has the dialogue around them.  He brings public sector knowledge of how to get things done”, Storyhouse trustee Bense Burnett, with a background in international business, Una Meehan of Good For Nothing, Lisa Curran of Currans Unique Homes, Mike Hogg and Vanessa Bond of Chester Residents Association (CRAG), Niall Macfayden of Chester Hydro Hub and Fiona Jones of the University of Chester. The team is completed by racecourse CEO Louise Stewart, accountant Steve Grinsill, Andrew Davy of Reasonably Good and Industry (Handbridge) , Steven Hesketh of Chester Hospitality Association, Emma McGlinchey of Aaron and Partners, and Carl Hall of Empire Finance. “What we’re trying to do is attract the captains of industry in their sectors, so they can get information out at the push of a button to their networks. ”

Izzy notes that they “helped get Oddfellows (Lower Bridge street) through the planning process in 2007. They have particular expertise in understanding how to get buildings of heritage through the planning process, not a lot of developers have that skill.

To get involved in the process, anyone interested can sign up to the newsletter via the website. Places are full at the introductory event at Storyhouse Friday evening but the event will be filmed for anyone that missed it. After that the process could move in many possible directions. “As long as it moves forward with action and positivity we are all ears. ” says Izzy.

Tim continues, “what connects us all is the potential vibrancy of the city centre. Its all about living, working, learning and playing in the city. We have a city that actually behaves like a village. This city should be vibrant and full of life, there are sites here, but they’re just being looked at.

“We firstly want to tell people about stuff that they should already know about. . As soon as you start sharing reports that are already in public circulation, you’ll find people doing all sorts of stuff in all kinds of arenas that they need help with. These people and organisations are interested because they see GAS as a place they can come along and share projects they’re working on and get help. The issue with Chester is everyone works in their own silos, everyone has their own networks that talk the talk, but they don’t do anything.

“My analogy is we have lots of Roman candles but we’re not making a firework display. GAS isn’t treading on people’s toes, no one should feel threatened by anything we do, we’re just giving a space for collaboration. The city is built around people, we build buildings to have a purpose. Look at Storyhouse, it was a derelict building, now its been brought back with a variety of uses. We call them chameleon buildings, they change what they do through the day. We need mixed use buildings that enable people to work, live and play and learn. We have a university with two nodes, one north, one south and nothing in the middle. There isn’t enough for these students to do to retain them in the city. We are training educated students, who then leave to the bright light cities of Liverpool and Manchester. In the work arena we should have incubator spaces for new businesses and support mechanisms. This doesn’t exist and its a gaping hole. If you look at how Manchester and Liverpool have transformed themselves in the last 15 years, that’s how you do it. You take derelict land and you build something and you give people a purpose”

“We have lots of Roman candles but we aren’t making a firework display”

Tim says that Chester has got worse in the last decade. ” Chester’s principal reason to be was retail. The whole landscape has changed” says Tim waving his phone. “That’s probably the default setting for things that we buy. What we haven’t done is address the problem, if theres going to be less shops, what are we going to do with the space? Walk round the city- you can see a closed shopping centre with a disused car park, a failed shopping centre, two empty department stores, Dee House, the worst amphitheatre in the world, a castle that’s not a castle. These projects are difficult but they’re not TOO difficult. Buildings are there to be used, if you create an environment that’s investible again you will attract investors!

‘Whilst Northgate is impressive, and for sure the City is better with it, there doesn’t seem to have been enough agility in its delivery to ensure that it opened with all its units and cinema on day 1. Maybe a closer partnership might have helped enhance that experience for all? ‘

“There is no reason for Chester to be how it is.” says Tim.” We need to work more collaboratively and create a space for good news. GAS is not a space to criticise the council , we have to flip the coin over and move forward together. Lets look at how we can move forward on some of these projects- we don’t feel we need to look outside of the city, we have enough talent in Chester. The best people to tell you what Chester needs is the people that live and work here. Chester should be an attractive, safe and well policed space. To create something magical you have to make some bold decisions. You used to have to go to Chester because that’s where the shops where, now tell me why you have to come to Chester? We have to redefine its reason to be and to create that ‘want to go to Chester because….  Mojo , we have to make it really special again . “

“The High street is not dying its changing”. says Izzy, noting the continued success of experience based shopping. She praises the varied offer of Storyhouse but still feels that there should be more events in the city to further attract visitors and locals.

The “15 minute city” concept has been dropped from the teams manifesto because it was not the group’s primary focus. Tim says that the idea had been ” hijacked by extremists with nothing better to do because they see it as infringement of their civil liberties. It was all about connecting communities, you can already walk from one side of the city to another in 15 minutes. We have dropped that from the website because its unhelpful and unwarranted, we are here to save the city.

“For us at GAS what’s important is the uniqueness of Chester, Its not Ellesmere Port , its not Winsford, we should celebrate that and all knuckle down o get Chester polished up to where it should be. We have no agenda, no mandate, we’re you !” concludes Tim.

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