Friday, May 12, 2017

Storyhouse: Chester's New Cultural Centre.

For the last couple of years the old Odeon building in Chester has been hidden behind hoardings, with glimpses of the renovations to turn it into the new 'Cultural Centre' fleetingly exposed.  

One winter's day, for instance,  the old back wall came off and we gawped at the  tiers of the old cinema seating framed in the space which was once the big screen.  I imagined a production there, Grecian- theatre style, the Clwydian hills forming a wild and authentic backdrop.  Another time, Hodmandod Senior noticed bricks in an elaborate pattern joining the front old portion to the newer building behind. Were they old or new?  We couldn't remember, but someone had arranged them beautifully in place.  Once, close to a Christmas last year, or maybe the one before, the inhabitants of Chester were  invited to dig where an old office block had once been, and more hoardings appeared showing finds from Chester's Roman past.  Then, in March the old library closed: a favourite building of mine.  It used to be the old Westminster Motor showroom with three brick arches and a moustached face grinning from the middle like a genial twentieth century gargoyle.   When I heard the new library was going to be a stroll-in affair, self-service like a shop, I didn't think it would work.  These days, libraries tend to be down-graded.  They are converted into gyms or taken over by computer terminals or coffee shops.  But last weekend as we passed, the hoardings had been removed from the new Storyhouse or cultural centre and we were invited in.

Those tiers of seats once exposed to the skies are now stairways

leading past peacocks perching on walls,

and Art Nouveau monkeys holding a shine to aspidistra pots.

Below them, framed by the outline of the old screen, are  modern ticket terminals

with a fifties vibe.  Alongside is a restaurant with long tables, high tables

low-level chairs

and books.  Books!

Here then, is Chester's new library, and it works really well.  Up the stairs,

alongside the original laddered windows,

part of the fabric of the place, like a vital thread

sewing together corridors,

quiet places to read

and there, beneath a track of light,

is a particular bookshelf assigned to historical fiction

which includes, as it turns out

one of mine!

I love it (and not just because of my book)!