The exciting transformation of a neglected part of Preston continues at pace, with a Christmas food, drink and entertainment pop-up heralding the launch of a major new venue in the city. Chew’s Yard is the next piece in Preston-born designer Ben Casey’s vision for creating a new destination on Market Street West. We went to find out more.
It’s a bleak November afternoon in central Preston and nearly a year since I interviewed Preston-born designer Ben Casey in his Lost Bar and Pizzeria. Just like last year, his beloved team Preston North End have recently beaten Blackburn away.
Casey is joined by cultural visionary Christine Cort, the former global marketing director of Time Out and a co-founder of the hugely successful Manchester International Festival. Cort, a fellow Lancastrian, is curating the food and drink side of Chew’s Yard and overseeing a wide-ranging programme of events. The project is being delivered by Preston developer and award-winning journalist Neil Thornton, who worked with Ben Casey on the much-admired Union Carriage Works residential development in Guildhall Street.
Chew’s Yard is situated next to Preston Playhouse, just a couple of minutes walk from Lost Bar, Chain House Brewery and Plau in the former Walkers Windows warehouse.
“I think we’re the only people who thought it had anything going for it,” says Ben. “Who weren’t going to demolish it and build student apartments, we wanted to make use of it. It gives it an industrial character which we’re going to enhance and add in touches of modernity.”
The space inside will be transformed. Two atmospheric spaces will house kitchens and bars featuring furniture made to Ben’s specifications in the beautifully redesigned industrial workshops. There will be the food and drink hall and an events/entertainment space, with a landscaped garden and outdoor food and bar to follow next year.
“We want to complement Preston’s cultural scene and bring something refreshingly independent to the city’s food, drink and entertainment sector,” says Ben.
Much of the inspiration for the design comes from Preston itself – its rich cultural history and personalities.
“I think it’s exciting for Preston and I think it’s exciting for Lancashire,” says Christine. “You could say it’s influenced by Mercato in London’s Elephant and Castle, it is, it takes inspiration from that, it takes inspiration from Mackie Mayor, and Diecast in Manchester along with the Time Out Market in Lisbon. There are so many places you can pull inspiration from but at the end of the day this is going to be unique to Preston and there isn’t going to be anything like what we’re creating, the space will dictate that.”
Chew’s Yard will be opening on Thursday 7 December with a special 12-day Christmas pop-up. The event will run across three long weekends, Thursday to Sunday, finishing on Christmas Eve, before the space closes and re-opens again in Spring. This will be the first opportunity for the people of Preston to go along and see the next phase in Ben’s vision to transform Market Street West.
During the Christmas pop up there will be something for everyone – live bands and acoustic sets, storytelling, creative workshops and a street market – all anchored by an eclectic range of food kitchens and the bar set up and run by Christine’s long-time collaborators Michelin Star Chef Paul Heathcote MBE and Gary Bates’ bar and party specialist company, Escapade.
“Escapade do great parties and they’re going to make it festive and fun,” said Christine. “Their bar offer will include mulled wines and interesting collaborations with local suppliers for their cocktails.
“We’re working with Rachel and Richard Trenchard from the multi-award-winning Goosnargh Gin. They’re going to be selling their four incredible gins and their earthenware pots in which to put the gins as Christmas presents. They do a lovely miniature set again as Christmas presents and they’ll be serving samples of their four gins and encouraging people to go to the bar for the full drink – a cocktail or a gin and tonic, and they’re also going to be doing mulled gins, including two mulled gins in collaboration with Atkinson’s Coffee, based in Lancaster.”
Christine continued: “We’re working with RK Dining, and they’ll be doing delicious vegetarian burger buns, three or four different curries with rice and tasty snacks such as pakoras and bhajis.
“We’re also going to be working with a really lovely lady at Pasta Mia who will be doing five different sorts of pasta and five different sauces including gluten-free vegan and vegetarian options. She may also be doing garlic bread; focaccia and we hope, if we manage to persuade her, a paella.
“In addition we have Finch Bakery joining us, they’re from Great Harwood. They’re doing incredibly well, they’re in Selfridges, in The Trafford Centre, and they’ve got another book out. They’re going to be doing interesting hot chocolates, some beautiful tray bakes and they will be open late for anyone who wants to buy a gift or who fancies a late sweet treat. Finch Bakery will be with us every Thursday and Friday for the duration of the Christmas pop-up.”
“There’s going to be entertainment in the event space and in the main food hall. We’ve got a really good programme of entertainment featuring predominantly local music. Chris Jopson is co-ordinating it so each Friday and Saturday at 8pm there will be a band performing on the main stage and they’ll be doing two sets.
“Then each Saturday and Sunday mid-afternoon we’ll have a lovely acoustic set performed by one or two local bands and performers. All live music will be free to watch, with no entrance fee, all we ask is that people book their free tickets on Skiddle.
“On top of that, we have found a great storyteller called Oliver, who will be doing three performances each Sunday of a magical and mystical story. He dresses up as an explorer, and it will be just like he has arrived on site with his suitcases and he will plonk them down and the kids can sit on the suitcases or trestle tables and he will tell a 20-minute tale to them. Again, it will be free to attend, at 2pm, 3pm and 4pm and it will be suitable for the whole family.”
As well as the bands, performers, choirs and a storyteller, there are also some paid workshops planned including wreath and jewellery making and a sip and paint class. Parents and carers will also be able to book their child in to see Santa, who will be at Chew’s Yard between 12pm and 2pm every Sunday.
“We’re also hoping to do a maker’s market on Saturday 9 December between 12pm and 5pm in the event space and we’re hoping lots of local crafts people, painters, sculptors, potters and illustrators will come and join us. It is incredibly cost-effective at just £30 a table, so if anyone is interested, drop us a message,” says Christine.
Originally from Blackburn, Christine’s impressive career has taken her down to London, across the globe, up to Manchester and back home to Lancashire. As well as working on the Chew’s Yard project she has been dividing her time heading up projects in London, Leeds, Manchester and the United States as part of her boutique consultancy CC and Friends.
“I knew when I was about 16 that I wanted to work in the arts but actually had no idea what that meant. So, I went to Edge Hill University, then I went to London and I worked in the arts and that’s where I found out that I was good at making difficult, some might say impossible, things happen.”
So good, in fact, that she worked her way up from Marketing Assistant to Head of Marketing at Riverside Studios learning the ropes by working with great performers including Michael Clarke, Kenneth Branagh, Richard Wentworth, Brian Eno, Vanessa Redgrave and Max Wall.
“My parents just used to come from Blackburn on the train and could not believe their daughter mixing with these people, let alone working with them. So, I spent five years at Riverside and then I was headhunted by Sir Terence Conran at a party to join him at the Design Museum. I worked at the Design Museum and then I was headhunted from there to go and work at Time Out.”
As Time Out’s Group Marketing Director, Christine helped launch Time Out’s international titles in New York, Paris, Istanbul, Lisbon, Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
“It was truly, the best job in the whole world, it involved everything I care about; music, food, drink, DJs, visual arts, museums, travel. If I wasn’t going out to three or four things every single night in London then I wasn’t doing my job properly. I am an obsessive and always give my all, perhaps too much!”
After the birth of her son, Christine decided she wanted to take some time away from international work and relocate back to the north of England. Alex Poots went to her leaving party at Time Out and Christine’s life took another fortuitous turn.
“Alex used to come to Time Out and ask for support for his incredible projects to be supported such as Fat Boy Slim on Brighton Beach and so we became friends and collaborators through work. I was, maybe, two weeks into my year off and he began to ring me. He was saying, ‘I’ve got this amazing new job, I’m going to set up this festival in Manchester and the cultural world’s going to come to Manchester, instead of going to New York or Paris or London. I know every second year they’re going to come to Manchester and you’ve got to help me do it.’ And I was like, ‘Thank you but no, no, no no!’ He is so persuasive – if you’ve ever met Alex, you know you don’t stand a chance. He said, ‘Look, you’re from Blackburn. How can you not do this? We’re going to, do the world’s first festival of entirely world premieres and empowering artists from across myriad disciplines sometimes to work alone, sometimes to work with each other to do something in their soul that they’ve always wanted to do. It’s really risky. It’s going to be expensive, but we’re going to cement Manchester’s position on the cultural map, massively every two years, for 18 days.’ So, I agreed about three weeks into my year off and we set up Manchester International Festival.
“I don’t want to claim any credit for the creative vision. That was all him. He’s an impresario, a creative genius. He’s now running one of the biggest cultural venues in New York, The Shed, and he has this address book that is incredible so he could ring people like Björk, Damon Albarn and Victoria Wood and say ‘Hey, what’s that thing you have always wanted to do? What’s that burning desire you have in your soul? We’re going make that happen.’ So, Alex was very much the creative vision and I built the brand. I helped raise the unprecedented sums of money we needed to make it happen and forged some incredible partnerships to help us realise our vision.
“What thrills me most is doing something new, imaginative, risky, hence why I’m here. I left Manchester International Festival after 16 glorious years, finally got my year off and in 2022, I started my own company called CC & Friends doing things that inspire me with people I respect, trust and like. There’s no other barometer for my company other than that. So, it could be developing a particular area of London and helping make it into a cultural destination. It could be helping Leeds City of Culture with their strategy, particularly on the food and drink side, it could be doing a book about Manchester International Festival or it could be helping transform a hitherto neglected area of Preston into a cultural destination, which is why we’re sat here now.
“I came and I met Ben and he was everything that Neil said he was, you know, a working-class lad from a terrace in Deepdale and he’s a mad football fan. Ben talked to me about what his plans were here at Chew’s Yard and I just thought I love that, I’m a working-class girl from Blackburn. I always try to make where I am from better, I sit on the board of Marketing Lancashire. I’ve always done stuff for and in Lancashire whenever I can and I’m back here now and I’ve got my own company so it was a sort of a no-brainer. So yes, I’m excited.
“In Spring, as part of phase two we will have an outdoor area, so we’ll have a bar outdoors and we’ll have more food outside and it will be beautifully planted up, there’ll be a path leading you through it. The outdoor area is great for the sun and how it moves around that garden space, this is hopefully something Preston and Lancashire can be proud of, it’s for everybody. Please come at Christmas and if you do, seek me out and say hello.”
The Chew’s Yard Pop-Up at 103-111 Market Street West, Preston PR1 2HB will be open Thursday to Sunday on 7 to 10, 14 to 17, and 21 to 24 December.
Thursdays: Noon – 10pm Fridays: Noon – 11pm Saturdays: Noon – 11pm Sundays: Noon – 8pm except Christmas Eve open to midnight