Rain, racing and redevelopment in Chester
PUBLISHED: 00:00 15 March 2017 | UPDATED: 09:18 15 March 2017
From a multi-million cultural development to a great day at the races, there is always something happening in Chester, as Rebekka O'Grady discovers.
Did you know that Chester has less rain than other places in the UK? If I told you this was a result of a circular hole in the clouds above the Roman city, it sounds like I’m relaying something out of a science fiction film. However, author and ex-teacher, Geoff Nelder, tells me it’s true.
‘The air from the Peckforton and Clwydian Range sinks, warms up and then dries out – meaning Chester gets less rain for that reason.’
Weather has always been an interest for the 69-year-old, whose research in the field of air pollution and climate won him a fellowship with the Royal Meteorological Society. He has two books on the subject, the first published in 1985 while teaching geography at Queen’s Park High School, Chester’s Climate, and an updated e-book version of the same title released last year.
‘I was teaching climate change to A-Level students at the time, and then started to pull research on the area from the records office, reading Victorian diaries for weather anecdotes and gathering Met Office data,’ explained Geoff, who then got a local printer in Handbridge to print 400 copies. ‘They all sold out. I know some still exist in libraries and I have also seen a few online.’
Fast forward 32 years and there were calls for Geoff, who has since become an author of science fiction and fantasy books, to release an updated version of the publication.
‘I told them that nothing had really significantly happened in regards to Chester’s weather since the last book, so I just decided to add a few pages gathering the latest statistics from 1981 to 2010 and release it as an e-book. It’s nice to have the two versions.’
Another marriage of old and new has been taking place right in the heart of the city centre. Storyhouse, an 800-seat theatre, 150 theatre studio, a small cinema, a café and library, is scheduled to open its doors in May after a two year build and £37 million investment.
With part of the space encompassing the restored grade II listed 1930s Art Deco Odeon, which has been empty and deteriorating since 2007, the rest of the build will be a complementary modern extension of glass and brick.
‘It will be a real transformation for the city. Storyhouse is going to be an anchor tenant for more investment coming in,’ said Julie Platt, head of development. ‘It will transform the way people live and view Chester, kickstarting the whole Northgate development. Manchester and Liverpool have invested so much into their cities culturally, and now we hope this investment will change the dynamic of this city.’
Julie tells me that the inward investment team at Cheshire West and Chester Council said Storyhouse is a huge string to their bow, a new reason for people to come to Chester which isn’t site or season specific.
‘Storyhouse will be a hub, where you know you can always see something. It has a strong USP where you can go to the library – which to have in a cultural venue is revolutionary – and then catch a film, have a coffee with friends or watch a performance. It’s a destination place with such added value.’
‘We are working in partnership with other arts organisations throughout the city and businesses to encourage visitors to Chester, for them to really make a weekend of it. It is just becoming increasingly real as we near the end of the development. At the beginning, people were saying it was never going to happen. Now we can say it’s here and just around the corner and that’s so exciting.’
The races revealed
For many people, a typical race day starts with hair and makeup and ends with the celebration of picking up a few winning bets. However, for the team at Chester Racecourse, the build up to your big day out with friends and family starts way before you’ve even selected your outfit.
Stephanie Hughes, marketing manager at Chester Race Company, tells me that they start to plan the next season of races straight after the final one has finished.
‘As part of our planning, we survey race goers to learn and improve for the next race day. We’ll then look into the entertainment and also get various style partners on board that marry up to the aspiration of our brand and race goers – they’re integral to a successful day.’
Stephanie says that everyone has different motivations to come watch the racing, so they always want to have race days that encompass all as well as enticing new visitors. Part of this concept is to offer number of discounted tickets available on selected fixtures in 2017.
Of these tickets, 50% off is available for a limited time for the first day of the Boodles May Festival (Chester Cup Day, May 10) and again at the ever popular Family Funday (August 6). Chester residents also have the opportunity to purchase half price tickets for the newly named Chester Stakes Day on September 2.
‘It’s really exciting to see all the work that goes into a campaign come to fruition. To see that amount of people enjoy what you have worked toward is fantastic,’ said Stephanie, who said besides horse racing, the racecourse also host two polo events a year, and various events in their on-site restaurants, 1539 and the White Horse, including a Bottomless Brunch and Mummy Yummy Wednesdays.
‘It’s enjoyable to always improve and challenge ourselves to provide what people want as a racing experience. Customer satisfaction is key and we want to give them a reason to keep coming back.’