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Ben Casey and Christine Cort on breathing new life into old bricks at ambitious Preston venue Chew’s Yard

Posted on - 28th April, 2024 - 7:00pm | Author - | Posted in - Friargate, Kid's stuff, Music, People, Preston City Centre, Preston News, What's On in Preston
The Chew's Yard sign in Market Street West Pic: Jo Greenfield
The Chew’s Yard sign in Market Street West Pic: Jo Greenfield

It’s less than a week until one of Preston’s most ambitious new venues opens its doors.

Chew’s Yard will launch on Thursday (2 May) at 12pm, with drumming band Samba Espirito set to bring a Brazilian carnival experience to Market Street West from 7pm as they parade from Chain House Taproom to the new food, drink and entertainment hall.

The opening will be the culmination of months of hard work to breathe new life into the old bricks of the former Walker Windows site, part of the hitherto-unloved area behind Friargate.

Many people are familiar with Chew’s Yard, having visited during the Christmas pop up opening, with plenty more following developments with interest on social media.

Preston-born designer Ben Casey is behind the new venue, which follows in the footsteps of neighbours Lost and Chain House Brewing Co Taproom, adding to his vision for a destination under the banner of ‘Market Street Social’.

Running the project with Ben is creative consultant Christine Cort, whose impressive career includes working as global marketing director of Time Out and co-founding Manchester International Festival.

As excitement builds around the opening, we chatted to Ben and Christine to find out how the last-minute preparations are coming along, what visitors can expect, and their hopes for the venue.

Christine Cort and Ben Casey at Chew's Yard Pic: Jo Greenfield
Christine and Ben at Chew’s Yard Pic: Jo Greenfield

So, are you all set set for the opening?

Christine: “As ready as one can be less than a week out. Lots of surprise things always hit, but there’s a real feeling that everyone is pushing in the right direction.”

What lessons did you learn from the Christmas pop up?

Ben: “It gave us confidence. We got really good feedback, so it helped us we feel like we’re on the right lines. We’ve made a couple of changes with the food offering and feel we’ve got that balanced, with a fifth kitchen set to come on board shortly.”

Christine: “We used the experience to try to learn what worked in terms of activities, food, price points, etc. For example we did a Paint and Sip event wondering if anyone would attend, and it was full! All of our traders wanted to come back, and that’s quite rare.

“Since the pop up, we’ve developed a new relationship with independent brewery Thornbridge. There’s an appetite for proper beer in Preston, so hopefully this new offering answers people’s requests.”

Read more: Preston food hall to offer grazing boards, vegan kebabs, Detroit pizza and more

What differences can customers expect to see since the pop up?

Christine: “I think people will be surprised when they see the garden. It wraps around the building and gives it a hug. It’s a long south-west facing area that has a path to the bottom with an acoustic stage and a bar.

“Quite a bit of the area is covered so there’s going to be no better place to be – even if the weather is slightly inclement – because as long as it’s not freezing you’ll be dry. Barton Grange have done a beautiful job with the planting.”

A couple drinking coffee in the outdoor space at Chew's Yard Pic: Jo Greenfield
Christine thinks visitors will love the new outdoor space at Chew’s Yard Pic: Jo Greenfield

Tell us more about the local people and companies you’ve been working with.

Ben: “The builders – Build Restore Repair – have been fantastic and really skilful, they’ve been here from the start. We wanted a shabby chic feel and they’ve really understood that while keeping the building’s personality.”

Christine: “We’re working with lots of talented locals like Chris Jopson, who is programming the music, and operations manager Frank Whiteley. He’s just moved back to Preston and it’s great to have someone who buys into the city doing this role. Then there’s Fiona Candy, our creative advisor who is brilliant at colour and has devised the look of the bar.

“It’s a great team and everybody really cares. There’s so much energy and enthusiasm.”

It seems like there’s a real focus on building strong relationships.

Christine: “When I started my consultancy CC and Friends, my only premise was to work with people I like on projects that inspire me. Chew’s Yard could not fit the bill more if it tried!

“We’re building an environment that’s collaborative. We don’t pitch our traders against each other. I just can’t understand that sort of tense atmosphere where people are working in silos.”

Ben: “Yes, you might expect with the number of traders that it could be competitive, but they all want each other to do well as they understand that the whole is better than the sum of its parts.”

Who do you hope to attract to Chew’s Yard?

Ben: “It seems to have appealed to everybody, with the audience changing radically at different times of the day. We’re trying to build on there being something for everyone.

“Preston has so much potential, and we want to create a destination for the whole region, with people visiting from outside the city.”

Why is it important for Preston to have developments like Chew’s Yard?

Ben: “I see Preston as a microcosm of a big city, rather than a small city. There’s the parks, the docks, the river, the motorway network – it has everything you’d expect from a larger city but without the urban sprawl.

“What it seems to be lacking is an independent area like Liverpool’s Bold Street or Manchester’s Northern Quarter. The potential around Friargate is enormous, but at the moment it’s just a street connecting University Square and Market Square.

“Now with Chain House Taproom, Lost and Chew’s Yard, it’s about reaching a critical mass to make Market Street Social into a cultural destination.”

Bringing it back to the launch, how are you feeling about it now it’s so close?

Ben: “A mixture of nervous and excited, but not as nervous as I would’ve been without the pop up.

“It’s interesting as I didn’t know Christine before this, but it turns out we’re both not used to failure; we’re used to doing successful things. I get the feeling Chew’s Yard will work well, but you can’t take it for granted.”

What are your hopes for the opening?

Christine: “My dream is that it will be a beautiful, sunny evening with people lining the street as the samba band plays. The city deserves something like this, so I’d love Preston to turn out and help us celebrate our opening.”

Chew’s Yard launches on Thursday 2 May at 12pm. Opening weekend events include a market featuring local independent traders, children’s storytelling with The League of Curiosity, a DJ set from Dave Chambers, and a yoga and sound healing workshop with Sally Fazelli.

Visit the Chew’s Yard website to sign up to the newsletter or follow on socials for more information and updates.

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This story was made possible by support from you, our readers, and a host of organisations in the city, through our Crowdfund Lancashire appeal, which unlocked support from the Lancashire Culture and Sport Fund provided by Lancashire County Council. You can see all our coverage and, if you know of an event or arts project in the city we should be covering, send details to contactus@blogpreston.co.uk.

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