Booth Mansion in Chester set to become a centre for the arts

Karolina Skorek, Clive Jones, Richard Boulton, Oak MacWilliam, Marcin Orlowski, Kasia Gryz and Pola

Karolina Skorek, Clive Jones, Richard Boulton, Oak MacWilliam, Marcin Orlowski, Kasia Gryz and Pola Gryz - Credit: Archant

Booth Mansion in Chester is set to become a fantastic art centre. Rebekka O’Grady meets the passionate team behind it to find out their vision for the future

Gallery 1260, 30, Watergate St.,Chester

Gallery 1260, 30, Watergate St.,Chester - Credit: Archant

Chester’s art scene is about to get something new. The city already has a brilliant array of galleries and cultural events, but entrepreneur Clive Jones is hoping his new venture will bring something a little different.

Clive is heading a project team of volunteers working on transforming the previously vacant Grade I listed building, Booth Mansion, on Watergate Street into a stunning art centre for Cheshire artists.

‘I have been looking for a venue to launch a new commercial model to promote and sell art,’ said Clive, who acquired the building in November 2014. ‘However, I first needed a venue to showcase the art before launching that venture. Booth Mansion was bigger than I initially needed but it was too good to let go.’

At the heart of this new project is a large art gallery called 1260 Gallery. Now open to the public, it displays a variety of artists’ work, operating in conjunction with a vegan café and coffee shop, a fine art photography atelier and 19th century photography workshop. There is more to come too, including an arts and crafts retail space.

‘I was recommended to Clive to work alongside him. So I came along, fell in love with the building and stayed,’ explained Karolina Skorek, a Polish-born artist and photographer involved in 1260 Gallery. ‘I am so passionate about this project. There hasn’t been a place nearby for artists to work, have their own studio, showcase and meet other artists. It’s a unique concept.’

Karolina has her own studio in Booth Mansion, alongside four other artists, and there are currently six more available. Time that is not spent in her studio goes into working on the project, as she shares curatorial duties with another member.

‘We are continually growing. The gallery has been running since March and I got involved in late May,’ continued Karolina. ‘We are getting quite a lot of interest for art exhibitions and workshops. Kasia [a fellow artist] and I already run a workshop of life drawing, painting and illustration.’

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‘There’s also Will who is an ex-art teacher, so we want to get him involved,’ added Clive. ‘Another member, Giles Livsey, wants to run cartoon workshops. There are lots of different angles to work from here.’

As well as interest from artists themselves, Clive has backing from the High Sheriff of Cheshire, Charles William Holroyd and has successfully secured sponsors for the project including URENCO UK Limited, based in Capenhurst. The uranium enrichment services company have agreed to sponsor a number of new art exhibitions every year at the gallery, as well as providing financial support for other art initiatives at the gallery.

‘It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster to get to this point. There have been ups and downs but we are still here,’ said Clive. ‘We have passion and a fantastic group of people who are loyal to the project. The whole concept behind the gallery is about helping artists who can’t get into commercial gallery spaces. We want to support those artists and showcase them here.’

To tackle the issue of wall space, Clive has the idea of launching a digital gallery within 1260. There will be tablets on the walls and tables, so when visitors come into the café they can see the art. ‘This mixture of a digital and traditional route means we will never have to turn an artist away.’

Booth Mansion will not only be a fantastic space for artists, but the team are hoping to turn the upper floors of the building into a boutique hotel – enabling culture lovers to come to the city for an arts-focused weekend. ‘If we get the funding, which we are looking for now, we hope to get started on the hotel in four to five months. However, we will have to tread carefully with the building as it is listed. It’s a vision, we have a plan and hopefully we can make it happen.’