Our Farm Team spend a large portion of their time looking at funding opportunities for farmers, however, thanks to government initiatives; they are now securing financial aid for a more diverse range of rural businesses, such as Charlton Hall.
The vision for the 18th Century Grade II* listed Charlton Hall, was to become an avant-garde, luxury wedding venue in Northumberland, a sister venue to the award winning Doxford Barns. The Georgian building has been transformed from a part-renovated family home, into a truly breath-taking and unique event space boasting 14 luxury bedrooms, retaining the building’s heritage whilst experimenting with quirky and modern design. Charlton Hall certainly doesn’t disappoint, from the moment you embark upon the private driveway, the magical charm offers a luxurious, tongue-in-cheek retreat.
The face behind the venture is young entrepreneur, Richard Shell. Richard grew up just a stone’s throw away from Charlton Hall, at Doxford Farm; as a boy, Richard visited the hall and has felt a connection to it ever since. After university, Richard embarked on a career in banking, however, in 2014, he returned home to make his dream of a countryside venture a reality. Within three years of launch, Doxford Barns has won numerous awards, including the ‘Rural Diversification Award’ by the prestigious North East Rural Awards. This, alongside the fact that 16,000 people alone walked through the door in 2017, meant that Richard could expand his dream and create ‘Doxford Barn’s naughty little sister’, Charlton Hall.
Richard contacted George F. White after hearing about our grant work from other rural businesses. David Hume, a Senior Farm Business Consultant, worked with Richard on the project: “Initially, I needed to understand Richard’s aims and objectives for the project and whether it would meet any of the available grant funding priorities. It quickly became apparent that this was the ideal project to fit into the Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE) Growth Programme, not only was it going to create at least 12 full time jobs, but also provide massive benefits to the rural economy and tourism by encouraging people to prolong their experience within the area.”
Currently, the wedding business in Northumberland contributes an estimated £30m to the local economy and two out of the three couples who get married in the area actually come from outside the region. Given its already very impressive figures, building upon this industry gives real scope for expansion in the local economy.
Renovating Charlton Hall has not been easy; the building is within the top eight per cent of all listed buildings in Britain, meaning that every minor detail had to be signed off to a particular standard as well as ensuring structural work was carried out to retain the building’s original character.
Talking about overcoming the project’s challenges, David said: “Alongside the building being Grade II* listed, one of the biggest challenges was working to a tight deadline; due to the nature of the industry, there was interest building and pre-bookings for weddings taking place prior to the renovation, however, no works could start on the project until the grant funding had been approved. In order to allow the project to begin as soon as grant funding approval was received, we had to work as quickly as possible to obtain all the necessary information and submit the grant application in plenty of time. This meant working closely with Richard and his team to keep the ball rolling and gather all the information we needed.”
The application for a RDPE Growth Programme involves two key stages; before submitting a full application, an Expression of Interest (EOI) must be put forward. You can only move forward with the full application if the EOI has been endorsed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). Thanks to David’s hard work and determination, £135,000 was secured in early 2018, meaning that Richard and his team could move forward with the structural and design work required to achieve completion by July 2018.
“We were absolutely thrilled to have helped Richard achieve £135,000 of grant support. It is great to be able to support a local entrepreneur with his exciting ideas for expansion, diversification and growth in Northumberland, within a growing wedding/tourist industry” explains David, “The quirky and flamboyant design of the project made it all the more exciting to be involved in, this wasn’t just a traditional wedding venue that we were dealing with, but something with the potential to attract attention from all over the country.”
The venue has now completed the first stage of development, and we have to say, it looks fantastic. Richard appointed interior designer, Jo Aynsley, to introduce a charismatic personality to the hall with decadent interiors. Jo, originally from Northumberland, has injected Charlton Hall with magic, playfulness, and of course, designer luxury.
“Doxford Barns has been successful thanks to the help we’ve received from local professionals, I couldn’t think about moving forward with Charlton Hall without appointing experts from the area. It is extremely important to me that those involved in a project have a tangible connection to it; being truly invested brings out the best in a team” explains Richard, whilst speaking about the nature of the project; “I really appreciate the amount of work that David has spent with myself and the team to ensure that we get this right. The result is just phenomenal, I couldn’t have wished for anything better.”
Richard continues: “Rural Diversification is absolutely key to supporting and looking after the land, the individuals and the community in your area. It is not always about attracting new people to relocate, for me, it is as much about retaining those that are born and bred in Northumberland. As a rural community, we must look at other revenue streams in order to develop our heritage and create fantastic opportunities; as a business we are over the moon to have introduced 25 new job roles to the area with the promise of 12 more in the next year.”
With phase one under his belt, Richard has already begun work on phase two with our Planning and Development team… watch this space!