Have you been to Storyhouse yet? The opening season has been triumphant with glowing reviews in the national press. But even if you fancy a coffee or a relaxing read in the library, it is better than I ever imagined it was going to be.
Storyhouse has been a combined effort from many people, but it almost didn’t happen. When the old Odeon cinema closed, there were moves to turn it into a nightclub. The Odeon action group had other ideas however. Bigger, more imaginative ideas. The cinema lay empty for several years as the wrangling took place but to look at it now, we know we have the right result.
Just along Northgate Street is the old Bluecoat hospital building which has just celebrated its 300th anniversary. It is now a community hub, where the Citizens Advice Bureau and numerous small local charities such as Chester Aid for the Homeless have their offices.
These charities would not be able to afford commercial space in the centre of town, but the Bluecoat site gives them that option and allows then to work and share ideas together, and to be available to the public in the town centre.
And what links the re-opened Bluecoat and the Odeon Action Group? They were both the brainchild of one of my predecessors as MP, Chris Russell. Christine ceased to be Chester’s MP in 2010 but her legacy to the city and her community activity continue even now.
And it is wider, too.
When an earlier leadership of West Cheshire College found themselves overstretched financially, Chris came in to chair the new governing body and sort out the debts and finances. It has taken several years and sadly it has not been without pain, as redundancies are still happening there. But we still have an FE college in Chester and Christine was part of the team securing this important educational facility for the city.
Chris is also chair of governors at Chester Bluecoat Primary School in the Garden Quarter, and is still a strong supporter of our local Fair Trade campaign.
As legacies go, Christine’s is pretty strong, and her activity today, when she is supposed to be retired, is tireless.
So next time you are in Storyhouse, raise a glass of thanks to those people who made it happen over the years, from all political parties and none, but particularly for Chris Russell, who would not take “no” for an answer all those years ago. She deserves all the credit she gets.