The One Chair Project & Industry Chester

The One Chair Project is the initiative of Chester-based photographer, Sam Riley. The people of Chester were asked to nominate a person to the CHAIR. A cultural hero, an inspiration to others but mainly someone who was adding to the contemporary culture of the city.

Eighteen people were selected as the local cultural heroes and to have their portraits in the CHAIR created by Sam. Now these people are celebrated in an exhibition which runs for two months at 61 Watergate Street Row South.

In order to facilitate the exhibition, co-working hub Industry Chester, set up by Andrew Davey, is moving to the venue for the duration of the event. This will provide an opportunity to further explore the idea of collaboration and co-working in Chester.

Local architect (and one of the chosen eighteen) Andy Foster discussed the projects with Sam & Andrew:

AF: What motivated you to set up the One Chair Project?
Sam: Frustration mostly, to be honest. I kept hearing people having a winge about there not being enough culture in Chester and comparing the city unfavourably with Liverpool and Manchester. I also wanted to find out what was out there. I knew people here didn’t have marketing budgets for creative projects and consequently you often didn’t find out about things until after they’d happened. But there were things happening. So my idea for the One Chair Project was a way of finding out what was going on in Chester and who was working behind the scenes . 

AF: How easy was it to get the thing going in the first place?
Sam: To get things going was pretty easy. I think people got on to it fairly quickly and nominations just started coming in. One of the best ways to get something out there is to include a lot of people and give them some ownership of the project.

AF: But then over a year has passed since people were nominated, what’s been the problem
Sam: We needed the right space. Which meant not a commercial gallery. We wanted to tell people what was going on but that had to be in the right environment. If we’d just put it in any old gallery it would have been for the tourists. But this isn’t for the tourists, its for the people of Chester. Being on the rows is positive. It’s in an area that could do with some regeneration. So that’s another benefit. The main frustration was about trying to get a public space, trying to deal with the various bodies in Chester. We went round and round in circles trying to find someone who would give us a space. It took us ten months to sort something out but we’re very grateful that the local authority have provided an empty shop unit.

AF: So the exhibition and co-working space will run for two months. What do you hope to get out of it?
Sam: The best I could hope for is that a lot of people see the work and start getting behind the people that are featured in the One Chair Project and that the co-working space is a success. The reason I invited Industry in to the space is so that we could provide an example of what a pop-up can do, especially a creative one, for the city of Chester. It’s about educating people as to what can be done. I’d like to see creatives and other people coming to work here and collaborating on other projects. Its just a starting point.

AF: What is industry?
Andrew: Industry is a co-working business based at the Canal Warehouse Workshops. We’ve opened up the studio space where we run our web-design business, Reasonably Good, to other creatives. What we’re doing at Watergate Street is developing this idea into a City centre project. Exploring what a co-working space could be within Chester and how it could flourish. Whilst we're here we will gain an insight in to what type of model will work and what's important to people.

AF: Who’s involved already?
Andrew: Myself and Rhys Harry run Industry, and we’ve grown it to seven people that attend already, just by word of mouth. Andy Taberrer - business consultant, Adam Kirkup - copywriter, Dave Wright - web designer, Marc Aspinall - illustrator, Gareth Scott - illustrator and Rhys and I are Reasonably Good.

AF: And how did you hook up with Sam to be involved with the One Chair Project?
Andrew: Its been a bit of a journey for a collective of people trying to make Chester more of a vibrant place. Sam is trying to highlight people who do this already through the One Chair project. People who perhaps don't get the exposure they deserve for their contribution to contemporary culture. The co-working and collaboration ideas Industry is exploring fit in well with this. More creative innovation can happen when people with different disciplines work in the same space. They bounce off each other and creativity emerges. One Chair and Industry sit within the themes of creativity, collaboration and contemporary culture.

AF: What would be the best thing for you to come out of this?
Andrew: It’s about making inroads, showing people that this type of idea is wanted and could thrive in Chester. That co-working and collaboration between freelancers, small businesses and the university can work. Investigating the way it might work and trying new things out. At the moment we're working on informed hunches from what functions well in other cities. In Chester there have been some failed attempts, so we want to delve deeper, make people aware of the concept and discuss it openly as a starting point for the next thing to happen.

The One Chair Project & Industry Chester are at 61 Watergate Street South from 15 February until 15 April.