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FRIENDS OF ELVASTON PRELIMINARY PLANS FOR THE RESTORATION OF ELVASTON CASTLE COUNTRY PARK

It is clear from the outset that there is an enormous amount of work involved in the restoration of the Elvaston Estate. 

However, with a positive mindset and a greater emphasis on community benefit, there is no reason why the Estate cannot be brought back to pristine condition, well able to provide an excellent amenity for both the tourist trade and local people alike.

An excellent model to follow would be that of Normanby Hall in North Lincolnshire. This is a similar building to Elvaston Castle but with a slightly smaller acreage. It is a shining example of the way that our heritage can be used to benefit everyone whilst at the same time providing a guaranteed income stream for the local authority.

Other, equally fine places which can be used as a model are Mount Edgcumbe House and Country Park in Cornwall, run by Cornwall County and Plymouth City Councils, and Highcliffe Castle in Dorset, which has been brilliantly restored and run by Christchurch Borough Council.

Ten years ago the Castle was a crumbling ruin with little hope of being saved. Now, following exceptional work by the Council and the community, it is considered a national treasure and is a success in terms of visitor figures, usage, cultural and artistic events, public access, community use, and as an important catalyst for the local economy through its activities including weddings, possibly being responsible for generating up to 2 million per annum in the immediate local economy.

As if further proof were needed, one only has to look at Sewerby Hall and Park in Bridlington, run by East Riding of Yorkshire Council. Bought by Bridlington Corporation in 1934, at 50 acres it is only a fraction the size of the Elvaston Estate, but is a highly successful venture despite this. There are literally dozens of others in this country and the Friends of Elvaston are retaining the details of these for future use and consultation.

We have the advantage of having the expertise of an extensive membership base which is represented by people from all walks of life and professions including Conservation Architects belonging to the Royal Institute of British Architects and other associated bodies. There will also be the opportunity for anyone in the community, amateur or professional, to put their skills and ideas for the restoration of the Estate forward. 

All have one common aim as far as Elvaston Castle is concerned – to see it properly restored and run as a place with something to offer everyone, from families with children to individuals, young and old alike.

We have a clear impression of what could be achieved with some imaginative marketing.

Last year, 630,000 people visited Elvaston Castle. This is around twenty per cent of the annual number of visitors to Alton Towers; whilst we are not suggesting turning Elvaston Castle into Alton Towers, this is nevertheless an amazing figure for somewhere that has such limited facilities as Elvaston does at present; It proves the popularity of the venue which is more than half the battle won! 

With the help of Heritage Lottery Funding the Castle could be developed into a commercial success with conference and wedding facilities and all ancillary services and such potential funding streams cannot be ignored if we are to bring about the Estate's recovery.

What is needed is a clear and rational strategy of how to prioritise and cope with some of the more immediate problems whilst importing solutions to the question of revenue streaming.

Certainly some improvements could be made straight away with comparatively little outlay but sooner or later major tasks such as the drainage will have to be tackled to enable real progress to be made.

The Castle itself presents one of the biggest challenges to those who have to ponder its future. Our first task is to look at the building survey results and prioritise a programme of repairs. Any major problems will need immediate action. Other, less urgent areas could be mothballed until the finance is available to carry out the work. What is the most important thing to bear in mind is that we do something and soon.

Another major problem seems to be surface water and drainage in general across the whole site, with some places such as the Show-Ground holding large areas of standing water. A Drainage Report was commissioned by the County Council some years ago and we will obviously revisit its conclusions to find out the most effective way to tackle the job.

William Barron drained the Estate and created what was then and is also now, recognised as an exceptional achievement. His adaptation of existing ditches and creation of new ones, some of them lined, was an inspired piece of engineering. However, these have become silted up over many years and some of them are possibly partially blocked and need clearing. It is this we believe that accounts for some of the larger bodies of standing water. By the simple expedient of clearing the present water courses a vast improvement could be made to the Park drainage.

 Home Farm is an area which offers a lot of scope for supporting a regeneration of the Country Park and ways in which it can best be employed to do so will be the subject of much expert opinion. As with so much at Elvaston Castle, whatever is eventually arrived at will be quite challenging and guided by practicalities governed by both topography and drainage. 

A programme of training in the skills necessary for the restoration work could be initiated for the local youth, many of whom are unemployed and have time on their hands. A number of aread could benefit under the same scheme, including the kitchen gardens.

Agriculture, horticulture, mechanical and building and restoration skills could be taught which could provide at least three major benefits not only to people locally, but also to those visitors who came to see the benefits of what was being achieved.

Local youths could be given a sense of identity and confidence in themselves and what they were achieving for both themselves and the nation. In this way youth offending and vandalism might be reduced and pre-work training and self-discipline skills learned if the youngsters were given something to believe in and to work for.

LSC & DFES Promoting vocational education for 14-16 year olds to encourage greater participation in education and training, post 16. There have been pilot projects involving 14-16 year olds doing part of their timetable at colleges or FE colleges and at work based training providers. Currently Leesbrook School uses premises at Broomfield Hall campus of Derby College to teach brickwork and construction skills to students from year 7 to year 11. Recently, on Pride Park, a training provider has opened a workshop offering 10 places to 14-16 year olds, offering training in motorcycle maintenance. These kind of facilities could be offered at Elvaston. (Funds could come through LSC).

The badly needed restoration work would begin to take shape

Government funds for creating such schemes could be harnessed for the Estate as a whole.

The whole scheme would become self-sufficient and energised.

Although we do not wish to oversimplify the problems the Estate faces, neither do we wish to overcomplicate them. The entire community should become involved in this, and we know that there are many people, both skilled and unskilled, who would jump at the opportunity.

To this end the Friends of Elvaston will do all that is within our power to co-ordinate and elicit support from every agency available. Not only will all grant aid and charities support be examined and applied for but we believe that local businesses will be only too happy to make their contribution. There is a vast, immeasurable amount of fondness and goodwill amongst the community at large over Elvaston Castle and the Estate, not the least of which could provide a high number of skilled volunteers to help begin the task of rescuing the Estate at this, the eleventh hour.

With its history and setting, the Estate lends itself to the creation of many opportunities for cultural activities. By opening up land that is at present closed off much more could be done to encourage further interest in all of the wild flora and fauna, with guided tours and activities for all the interested parties and educational and school groups, disabled people, the elderly and the underprivileged. The Local Nature Reserve has attracted rare avian visits, by both a Firecrest and a Red Breasted Goose.

Our ideas for restoring the fabric of the Castle and Estate are well publicised, and in many cases could be easily established with comparatively little outlay compared to the revenue they could earn. All profits would be returned to the Estate to restore and sustain its future for generations yet to come. Amongst them and other ideas for the improvement and well-being of the Estate are the following;

* Increase access to the Park for more of the community, and achieve greater public input into improvement plans

* Seek help in increasing educational facilities for all groups and visitors

* Funding toward Derbyshire Children's Holiday Home and Community Projects

* Explore the possibility of establishing an onsite Archaeological Faculty

* To train and employ what will hopefully become our own restoration experts

* To initiate a comprehensive and thorough exploration of ways to broaden and maximise the educational and community opportunities and facilities presented by the Estate

* To increase the enjoyment and awareness of the history and environment of the Elvaston Estate to all who go there

* To reinstate events such as steam rallies, country fares, car boot sales, shows and festivals

* To sell ice-cream, confectionary, snacks, pop etc., under their own distinctive and prestigious Elvaston Castle brand

* Open a craft village

* A garden centre

* Reinstate the Working Museum, expand the farm making it a visitor attraction and educational facility

* Use the Castle and Grounds for weddings and receptions

* Offer horse and trap rides around the park

* Work with voluntary groups such as the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers to conserve and improve the environment of the park

* Establish a school camp (like the one at Overton) and field studies centre

* Breed and conserve rare livestock breeds

* Revive open air drama performances and hold exhibitions

* Look at ways to improve and possibly extend the camping and caravanning facilities

* Run craft classes and special craft days for families

* Hire out areas once again for use by film production companies

* Establish a horse and donkey rescue centre

* Seek grants and aid from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the National Trust, English Heritage and all related organisations

* Encourage music events of all types, across the spectrum. One of our unashamed goals would be to establish a youth orchestra at Elvaston

* A restaurant

* Mediaeval banquets

* Pageants and re-enactments

To create a permanent centre for exhibitions and educational events in art throughout the year, and to make it of international importance in the art world.

These are just a few of the many ideas which we feel are deliverable within a short time-span. To reiterate, we do possess a reservoir of professional expertise which we can call on if needed.

It is unthinkable that such a wonderful and badly needed resource such as this, which could become such a prime mover for the health and well-being of the general population could be lost to us all if we don't all pull in the same direction from now on. 

The Friends of Elvaston are proud of Elvaston Castle Country Park and seek to protect and preserve it for the people, so that it can be recognised and treated as the national treasure and resource that it truly is, a wonderful piece of genuine English heritage.

To comment on this article, or for further information, contact the FOE Secretary by email at; info@friendsofelvaston.co.uk

(Renewed at November 2012)

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