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In the midst of an unremittingly grim news cycle, it was enormously refreshing recently to visit Storyhouse for the 2019 Annual Gathering: a review of the last year at Storyhouse provided a welcome dose of positivity and good news. The review was led by Storyhouse Chief Executive Andrew Bentley, and Creative Director Alex Clifton, supported by a wide circle of their colleagues. There was a strong focus on what Storyhouse does for the community – examining the difference it is making.

Andrew and Alex began explaining the core objectives of Storyhouse which the review measured progress against, these are to make a difference to life in Chester by:

  • Bringing economic benefit to the area.
  • Giving everyone a voice: bringing in marginalised voices: reducing cultural exclusion.
  • Developing creative communities
  • Supporting young lives: empowering young people to define who they want to be creatively.

Progress against these objectives was described by a series of articulate speakers supported by hard data which strongly made the case for the positive impact Storyhouse has.

Martin Harris, a Storyhouse volunteer and a passionate advocate for Storyhouse, described the £23.5 million economic benefit and 215 jobs generated by the complex, Associated benefits to the city included the visit of The Queen and Duchess of Sussex in 2018, a visit which brought an enormous volume of national and international media coverage, which on a beautifully sunny day showed Chester off in the best possible light. Publicity which money can’t buy.

According to CIPFA (the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy), the UK lost around 130 public Libraries in the year 2017-18. Erik Boekesteijn, a Storyhouse trustee and senior advisor at the National Library in the Netherlands is a world expert on libraries, Mr Boekesteijn reminded us that the new Chester library at Storyhouse is a leading example of good practice in the world of libraries.  A thriving library is surely a brilliant way to ensure nobody need be excluded from access to culture. 3,107 new library users are a testament to that.

Storyhouse lives up to the aspiration of giving everybody a voice by offering over 2,853 activities for local marginalised groups, examples include self-help sessions on mental health, older peoples’ writing workshops, Polish Culture Club, Digital Buddies, Guided Self Help, Positive Birth Movement, Spanish for Over 50s and Storyhouse Women. A highlight of the review was a performance by Fallen Angels, a dance group for people in recovery from addiction having their lives changed, even saved, by dancing together every week.

Training in theatrical production and performance is provided to young people aged 5 to 26 and an enormous number of younger people have been able to attend hsows and activities at Storyhouse:

  • 20,104 young people took part in a Storyhouse activity
  • 32,194 children saw shows (3,334 free of charge)
  • A musical performance by local schools was an integral aspect of the Queen’s visit

Other activities include a range of festivals; Kaleidoscope festival was curated with partner charities to stage events by and for people living with disability; these reached over 1,500 people. The Festival of Languages celebrated new immigrant communities and involved 1,241 participants. Other events were made with isolated elderly residents, new parents, childless and child-free adults in mind. 14,515 people attended these festivals.

When Storyhouse was under construction at the height of the Government’s package of austerity cuts, some were concerned that it may be an elitist, exclusive venue. Some questioned whether a cultural centre was an appropriate way to spend diminished public funds – at the time this was a legitimate question. But now, on a daily basis, Storyhouse proves that high-quality cultural activities need not be at all exclusive – now there’s something for everyone, in a safe comfortable space in the heart of our thriving community.