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The Chester Design Foundation and designs by Lili Sipeki and Rebecca Porter.

The launch of the Chester Design Foundation at 22 Bridge Street, where the ōH Concept Store and ōH Collective atelier studio has recently relocated to, was celebrated this month.

The mission of the recently-formed Foundation, an entrepreneurial Community Interest Company (CIC), is to support the growth and development of the creative industries in the city - both start-ups and scale-ups - so that a sustainable place on Chester’s high-street is a genuine reality and migrating to Liverpool, Manchester or London to progress is optional, not conditional.

The ōH Concept Store will - alongside the Foundation programme - showcase a curated and unique selection of inspirational and aspirational lifestyle products, in addition to what’s produced for sale by the ōH Collective designers. The Foundation will offer a gallery and events space, which will help to develop a creative community around regular design workshops and curated events for artists and makers. 

University of Chester staff and students have worked closely with the ōH Foundation to support the setting up and opening of the Design Foundation while graduates are among the ōH Collective of designers who have been part of an inaugural catwalk show, and students are exhibiting work. Staff are also presenting lectures while students are benefitting from talks by guests.

Professor Caroline Rush CBE, chair of the Creative Industries Trade and Investment Board (CITIB) and CEO of the British Fashion Council (BFC) – which organises London Fashion Week and The Fashion Awards – performed the opening honours on November 2 by cutting the ribbon, before delivering a lecture to University of Chester Art and Design students. Later in the day she was guest-speaker at a partners and sponsors event, ‘Let’s put creativity at the heart of Chester’s future’, which included the inaugural catwalk show from the ōH Collective of designers, featuring the work of graduates Lili Sipeki and Rebecca Porter - two of the five brands in the spotlight - followed by the first ever fundraising auction for the Foundation. Staff, Fashion Design students and graduates also supported the running of the show, with aspects such as helping the models get ready for the catwalk.

The opening celebrations continued with a mini-festival of workshops including The Green Table with the University - an exhibition of student projects, with the opportunity to win a placement at the Foundation; followed by sessions with international design brands.  

Associate Professor Bernadine Murray, Head of Art and Design at the University said: “The launch of the Chester Design Foundation was a triumph. Showcasing the work of some of the most promising emerging designers in the region, the ōH Foundation is committed to foster a vibrant and diverse design community, and to provide opportunities for collaboration, mentorship, and promotion. Students, staff and graduates from the Department of Art and Design at the University of Chester are excited to be involved in this initiative and to help shape the future of design in our city.”

Uná Meehan, University of Chester Deputy Director of Partnerships shared more on the significance of initiative: “The launch is a celebration of the power of partnership and community. There is clear evidence of the impact of creativity in placemaking and the way that creative work builds community and social capital. The associated wellbeing benefits of happiness and health are often underestimated. Creativity is an essential component of the entrepreneurial mindset and the city’s ability to support this kind of incubator workspace can bring together the next generation of businesses that will support Chester’s future prosperity.”    

Professor Rush said: “When I was first introduced to the ōH team there were immediate synergies between the British Fashion Council’s mission and the ambitions of the Chester Design Foundation - giving a platform for creative talent to grow, mentoring them to grow sustainably and enabling them to reach new audiences from business networks to consumers. It is with great authenticity that the Foundation is able to open this incredible - design, making and retail-testing - hub, in such a prestigious location and in a beautiful building. Our high-streets are at the heart of our communities and it is wonderful to see the Chester community come together to make this possible.”

The Foundation is also working with Chester Race Company and Cheshire West and Chester Council.

Bense Burnett, Chair of ōH Foundation added: “Our mission is to stop the talent drain by bringing creatives together with mentors, educators and industry leaders to support and encourage inter-generational talent to reach their full potential.”

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Further information

The University of Chester Fashion Design degree course is led by Delphine Wilson, who is among the likes of Alexander McQueen as a recipient of the BFC’s own original development programme, NEWGEN, which is currently celebrating its 30th anniversary.

In 2022 the original ōH Concept Store opened at 11 Lower Bridge Street and rapidly responded to give customers what they said they wanted – experiential shopping, slow fashion, handcrafted and sustainable products.

Shortly after, the ōH Collective was born. It offered gallery, workshop and atelier studio space as well as retail-testing to a variety of makers and creatives, to demonstrate that if you have the skills, you can work anywhere. The ōH Collective now comprises 14 start-ups and scale-ups. Currently fashion-led, but also including a carpenter, a potter, a sculptor and a product designer.

That evolution has necessitated the move to 22 Bridge Street, Chester - a Grade ll listed building which, at 2,500 square feet is not only four times larger, but in a premium location. More than a ‘shop’ or trendy hangout – it’s a platform for creatives to design, manufacture and test-bed their products in an experience-based retail environment. The transformation of the space has been made possible by ōpenhōme, a development company with a philanthropic as well as commercial purpose.

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