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We have really enjoyed using St Mary's for our concerts. It fits the bill on so many levels, offering great acoustics, plenty of flexibility of presentation and a central location - with plenty of nearby parking. We're very excited to see its use develop and I'm sure our audiences feel the same! Will Shaw, Chairman - Chester Operatic Society

About the St Mary’s Team

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Local professional theatre company, Theatre in the Quarter, acts as a cultural programming and diary agent at St Mary's for Cheshire West and Chester Council. For Theatre in the Quarter, Matt Baker leads on programming, Julie Elston looks after hiring and volunteers, and Peter Berry provides support services.
Matt Baker

Matt Baker

Peter Berry

Support Services
Peter Berry

Julie Elston

Hiring & Volunteers
Julie Elston

Matt Baker trained both as a teacher and as a creative artist. He is a composer, musical director and performer based in Chester. His work in the city includes his role as Artistic Director of Theatre in the Quarter as well as Musical Director of A Handbag of Harmonies. He has also been composer of the last three cycles of Chester Mystery Plays. Matt’s scope as freelance artist combined with these positions has enabled him to develop partnerships with many individuals and arts organisations in the borough. Further afield, Matt has been composer for several theatres around the UK, musical director for the International Schools Theatre Association and for many high profile corporate events and conferences in the UK and Ireland. He has several television and theatre acting credits to his name.

In his spare time, Matt is co-chair of the Garden Quarter Community Association and joint choir master/organist at St Thomas of Canterbury Church.

Matt will be Chair of the St Mary’s User Group.
Julie Elston has been Company Manager with Chester’s professional music theatre company, Theatre in the Quarter, on all of its productions since it was formed in 2006. She has also worked with Jigsaw Children’s Music Theatre Company for over 20 years, providing production support as well as pastoral care for the students. As well being an experienced Company Manager, Julie has co-directed productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Shakespeare for Schools) and 1001 Arabian Nights (in partnership with Bishops’ Blue Coat School) as part of her role as a STA at Dee Banks Special School for children with special educational needs, a role she has held for over 20 years. She has also worked with Cheshire Youth Theatre, Gateway Youth Theatre, and for Merseyside TV on Hollyoaks and Grange Hill, and had her first experience of Chester Mystery Plays in 2003.
Peter Berry works in a variety of roles which include providing support services for St Mary's, and as Business Manager for Theatre in the Quarter. He's also a board adviser, coach, humanist celebrant, writer, and volunteer with the Shannon Trust in Liverpool Prison.

Please contact Peter with any queries regarding St Mary's User Group, St Mary's Operations Group, or content on the website - you can reach him via our Contact Page.

User Group

The User Group has been elected by users of St Mary's to:
• oversee general management and operation of St Mary’s
• advise on potential new partners/stakeholders
• provide feedback and make recommendations on improvements
• receive and consider complaints and plaudits
• act as champions for St Mary’s.
I am from Chester and live in Hoole with my husband and my two children. I am an experienced teacher in primary education. I teach at St. Werburgh’s and St. Columba’s Primary School in Chester, lead the infant department, music and arts curriculum and am an Arts Award leader.

I have developed a singing / music cluster in the Chester area which includes eight primary schools /one high school. Termly I organise projects for different age groups. Each project includes over 300 children and these culminate in a celebratory concert. I have supported my school in gaining the Platinum SingUp Award and the Artsmark Gold Award. I have advised other schools/ students on achieving SingUp Awards and developing music in their schools and local communities. I have worked and organised several arts based projects within the Hoole Community and local parish. I have worked with Manchester Camerata and the University of Chester providing opportunities for children in local schools to work creatively with their peers, teachers, students, families, communities and arts specialists.

I have a great passion for teaching music and the arts and in my own experience, I have seen how they can engage children and allow them to grow emotionally, socially and academically. I believe music and the arts should be open to everyone no matter what their ability, background, gender and ethnic origin.

As Part of St Marys User group I represent the primary sector and I believe that St Mary’s could provide exciting arts and cultural future opening up many creative opportunities for the younger generation in Chester.
Steph was born and bred in Chester and was a member and later staff member of the Gateway Youth Theatre from 1998 till the theatre's closure in 2007. In 2009 she set up Minerva Arts with another local artist to develop more opportunities for young people in Cheshire West and Chester to engage with the arts with a particular focus on contemporary arts practices. In 2011 they took over Off the Ground Youth Theatre's Chester group which had been set up to take on the young people who had still been members at the Gateway when the theatre closed. Since then the group has expanded and Minerva Arts now runs four Youth Theatre across Cheshire West as well as having been funded by Arts Council England and the Heritage Lottery Fund for stand-alone projects. Steph is also a graduate and PhD student at the University of Chester and works freelance for arts organisations across the North West including Peshkar and Curious Minds.

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Janice is a vocal coach, singer-actor with a background in education at all levels from KS2 singing workshops and massed choral conducting for Cheshire Music Service, through High School music teaching to training teachers in voice, music and creativity at undergraduate and postgraduate level at the University of Chester.

In recent years she has performed in the Chester Mystery Plays and with Theatre in the Quarter, Tip Top Productions and Chester Little Theatre as well as in a professional capacity, including for the charity Music in Hospitals.

Janice worked for Sing Up, the government’s singing initiative (2007-2012) and set up strategic partnerships with singing providers in Cheshire, generating much collaborative work in performance and training and enabling the participating organisations to be greater than the sum of its parts. This is her vision for our new centre as she believes that there is a wealth of talent and expertise in Chester and the surrounding area.
Laura Orchard and Emma Knight from the Arts and Festivals Team, share one place on the User group representing Cheshire West and Chester Council.

We want to support the partnership with Theatre in the Quarter to achieve the shared aim of increasing professional and community arts use of the St Mary’s Centre. We would want to encourage a balance between supporting the booking needs of the current cultural users and the needs of the Cultural programming.

This project supports the aims of the recently adopted Cultural Strategy. We hope that this will enable us to lever additional support and advice from partners of and colleagues within the Council to support the project and the aims of the User group. We will be able to act as a link between colleagues and the User group, to feedback to them and consult on updates to the User agreements etc. We can also support relationships and links with other buildings and organisations where appropriate eg Brio run venues.
Amber Knipe is an experienced arts professional with a proven track record in producing innovative arts festivals and events. Recent projects have focused on site specific programmes including; performance, film, theatre, digital media and community arts. Amber brings a life time of practical experience to any project - as a child her family toured circus/theatre shows across Europe and the UK and during her professional career she has worked for a range of arts organisations and venues in a variety of roles – Chester Performs, Foundation for Art and Creative Technology (FACT), Liverpool Biennial, Aberystwyth Arts Centre. A wealth of early experiences are combined with an extensive range of skills in project management, production, administration, commissioning artists, recruiting and managing staff, strategic planning, budget management, project evaluation and partnership working.
As a previous member of Jigsaw Music Theatre and current member of Quartz Music Theatre, I have had a lot of experience with Theatre in the Quarter; how it operates and what options are available to those of the same age as me.

I am considering pursuing a career in the arts but being on the board of St Mary's would give me experience of theatre management that could widen my set of skills. From the age of 8 I have participated in many performances of all different styles- drama, dance and singing - and am able to see things from many different perspectives. Now, I want to give those opportunities to other young people in and around Chester. I am very interested in the vision for St Mary's Centre and think that it will play an important role in Chester's culture.

I am so grateful to be involved from the very start and wish to bring the centre back to life- especially as there hasn’t been one in Chester for a while!
Born and educated in Chester, Rose has been involved with its arts and culture from an early age, and is committed to helping it develop a credible offer as a ‘city of culture’.

An enthusiastic member of her school choir, Rose was concurrently one third of a popular acoustic trio, performing regionally, and appearing on BBC television. She was a peripatetic instrumental teacher for the former Cheshire County Council Education Department, before studying a combined honours degree in History and Psychology at the University of Chester. She became an editor across diverse regional and international publishing contexts (including arts reviews and Chester Summer Music Festival coverage). Rose is also a well-regarded solo performer and collaborator on the North West acoustic music scene and in her casual capacity as event creator/promoter, SoundBox.
I have been involved in community theatre since 1973 and I founded and established Tip Top Productions (TTP) in 1989 for the sole purpose of opening up opportunities for all people irrespective of their talent, background, ethnicity or experience. This policy has worked as TTP has extended its breadth over the past 25 years culminating in our current tenure of the former Gateway theatre since 2007. As well as my involvement with TTP I was Chairman of the Gateway Theatre Board and helped to guide it through many financial crises leading to a complete restructuring of its programming which allowed it to survive until it closed for redevelopment. When the tenure of the Forum Studio ceases (latest information is December 2016) TTP will be keen to perform at St Mary’s Centre.
Phil commenced his love affair with the stage at the age of 6 in Weston Super Mare's Operatic Society's performance of Annie get your Gun. Obviously not convinced of any talents he had, a dormancy of several decades followed until he joined Chester Operatic Society and performed La Belle Helene in 1994. Since then, many more Shows and Concerts under his belt, he has also served as Treasurer, Chairman and now as their President.

"My dream is to see C.O.S reach its centenary in 2022 and continue. Without a theatre in Chester to perform has created problems but the St Mary's Centre is truly a most important venue that ensures that we can survive by performing modest productions and concerts to an appreciative audience. St Mary's will always be a lifeline to many Groups in Chester and long may it continue to do so."
David Woods is chairman of Chester Music Society and has been involved with the Music Society since 2003, initially with the Youth Choirs but for the last 5 years with the overall society. He also chairs the Cheshire West Voluntary Arts Network; a networking organisation of over 60 arts organisations across Cheshire West. Its role is to facilitate information sharing across groups and to provide a voice to the statutory bodies on the importance of the voluntary arts in the borough. He happily retired from the University of Manchester, where he was Associate Dean for External Relationships in 2007. Prior to that he spent 25 years in variety of Senior roles in the NHS in Cheshire and Merseyside. He is committed to bringing a wider group of users into the centre and enhancing the building.
Acting Auditions