What might the future look like?

Elvaston Castle and its hinterland can be a green oasis, a social business centre, an educational nexus or a craft haven.

There a variety of options that might emerge from the recent visioning process, this short article looks at two examples of different, yet successful, solutions to the sustainable development conundrum.

There can be no doubt, reading the research papers and the public archive relevant to Elvaston Castle in the recent past, that the stabilisation of the main house, getting the building off the ‘at risk’ register, will be a major, capital intensive piece of work.

It will require the will of all parties, support of community and regional partners and will  take some time. We make no further comment here.

However, in the longer term it is possible to look across the UK and see other properties where partnership working and a blend of utility, heritage, learning and enterprise have been successfully deployed.

Shugborough Hall – Staffordshire:

As might be expected a CIC will lean towards solutions that engender invoices, revenue generation and commerce at some level of the development. If delivered as a social business, where community outcome and, dare we say it, even enjoyment of process rank equally with surpluses, then all parties to the arrangement can be happy, this author would argue.

Shugborough Hall is a country estate and grand house nestling in the folds of Cannock Chase. It is situated close to the heartland of the Industrial Revolution, is by-passed by canals and offers the visitor an experience akin to visiting a working farm. Local crafts people exhibit and trade from the farm buildings and there is the usual income from tea rooms  and, in this case,  ticket sales.

As is appropriate, the main house, the home of the Anson family from the 17th Century, contains all the historical elements of grand rooms, art and historic furniture that you might expect.

The upper floor of the house is a recent renovation project, which is now a display space for the photographs of the Earl of Lichfield, (Patrick Lichfield, society photographer), and a near contemporary memorial to his life and home. The modern sits comfortably under the same roof as the old, both drawing visitors with different interests.

The gardens are well maintained, with the country house providing a locus for walkers, visitors and a broad range of family activities. The estate is not over developed and retains its wonderful landscape and historic buildings.

The setting is a partnership with the National Trust and Staffordshire County Council. The income from the car park goes to the council, we note, and the National Trust ‘front of house’ processes function as you would expect.

The casual, passing visitor cannot know the income generated by the estate, or how much subsidy the partners to the arrangement contribute, if any.

But to the layman, the setting functions well, is easy on the eye and, like Elvaston Castle, once up the long estate drive you are in a landscape that feels remote, historic and classically pastoral all at the same time. (Rugeley B power station and the M6 motorway lie quite close, but you would never know).

Is it possible there are comparisons to be made with Elvaston Castle, not necessarily in development history, but in setting, income potential and visitor utility? There may be.

 Flatford Mill – Essex:

This long, narrow site, at the bottom of a remote winding lane is another potential example of how a historic site could be developed to generate sustainable income, interest and the itinerant leisure visitor.

The site has the mill of course, as well as variety of historic farm buildings and manor houses. The National Trust has a presence in the lane with Flatford Bridge Cottage, there is some private/leased housing on the lane and there is much activity, visitor traffic and excitement generated by the Field Studies Council.

The artist John Constable is clearly the major draw here, but there other activities on site to broaden the catch from the single art historian, to children, families and the environmentally conscious visitor.

The Field Studies Council enjoy a leasehold arrangement with The National Trust, and use their presence and the historic buildings to deliver their comprehensive mix of field study, professional development and educational residential courses and visits.

What is notable about the engagement with the FSC on the Flatford site is the great strides this charity makes in, not only pursuing its educational goals, but also in the pursuit of environmentally sustainable development.

The FSC was recently awarded Suffolk’s Greenest Small Business Award and in 2014 FSC Flatford Mill received the  Suffolk Carbon Charter Gold Standard award.

Again, using the site as a matrix of activity to ‘template’ development at Elvaston Castle, the work of The National Trust and Field Studies Council at Flatford show that there are models of development which promote accessibility, educational attainment, community engagement, environmental achievement and revenue generation.

This short article is not intended to be a proxy balance sheet, but the engagement of a socially minded, customer focused, enterprise creating partner could change the Elvaston landscape in a wholly sympathetic way.

In summary:

What this quick review of just two sites in different parts of the UK shows is that there are solutions to the sustainability issue. it is hard to see how the settings could have escaped the original grant/donation entanglement, in order to get started, but once under way with the infrastructure of the site secure it is possible to see a sustainable revenue generating delivery emerge.

Elvaston Castle, with it’s arboreal and agricultural heritage, the country house and historic gardens could, with commitment, support a variety of visitor, educational and environmental projects – all of which could be revenue generating.

The support of social business development on the Elvaston site could be a key paradigm for the estate. Blending enterprise, surplus generation and care for community outcome in one stroke.

The Castle’s proximity to a number of tertiary education centres in the Midlands could also lend itself to the creation of first tier research and development centre, Cupertino in miniature if you will, dedicated to societal support and enterprise creation.

Now there’s a use for the first floor!

This is a guest article by Tim Smith MA, FRSA – the views expressed do not necessarily represent the policies of our CIC or those of our Board. It is solely intended as a contribution to debate.

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