TWICE the expected number of people have visited Chester’s new theatre, cinema and library complex since its launch, it has emerged.

Statistics show 285,000 people have used Storyhouse in the past five months, surpassing all expectations.

Bosses had hoped for 350,000 in the first year – but if the facility maintains its popularity the end-of-year total will be a breathtaking 684,000.

As it stands an average of 57,000 people a month are visiting Storyhouse to use the library, cafe, bar, community studio, cinema and theatre.

City of Chester MP Chris Matheson was one of the first to congratulate those behind the project, which some experts say could be worth £16 million a year to the city’s economy.

He told the Standard: “What these figures show is that when people in Chester put their mind to it, they can create something that everyone wants to be part of.

“Not only have the council and Storyhouse built something our city can be proud of, but together all of us are contributing to something unique and exciting that our country can be proud.

“Well done Andrew Bentley [CEO], Alex Clifton [artistic director] and all the team at Storyhouse - Chester is well and truly back on the map.”

Costing Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) the princely sum of £33 million, the complex represents one of the largest capital investments of any local authority in the country.

Arts Council England also stumped up £3m while city-based credit card company MBNA contributed £600,000.

Storyhouse is already gaining a national reputation and Cllr Louise Gittins, deputy leader at CWaC, and project director Graham Lister were invited to attend the Theatres Trust conference in London’s Lyric Hammersmith on October 17.

They took part in a session about ‘Civic Pride: Local Authorities and Cultural Placemaking’ which explored the benefits of investing in theatres and cultural infrastructure.

Cllr Gittins said: “Being invited to share the success story of our wonderful Cultural Centre with theatre industry professionals from across the country was something both Graham and I were excited to do.”

She added: “Storyhouse is already into its second season following sellout shows in the summer. The new season is bringing touring theatre to Chester with firm favourites and brand new shows. Storyhouse’s first Christmas presents a world’s first stage show of Enid Blyton’s The Secret Seven.

“Of course the theatre is just one element and we’ve seen record breaking numbers enjoying the new library and experiencing cinema back again in the city centre.

“More than 10,000 books have been checked out and there has been a massive increase in library membership.”

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