The Chester Farm project
This ambitious and exciting project will take a little-known site and transform it into a nationally recognised heritage site. We will preserve the site, ensure you can learn about Northamptonshire's heritage from it, and offer you plenty of ways in which you might like join us, if you chose to do so.
At the core of the project is the importance and value of the site itself - its hidden archaeology, historic and natural landscape, and buildings. The potential of the site and the opportunity it offers is unparalleled in the county. The project has a strong focus on education and learning and this has determined the use of the buildings and the plans for the interpretation of the site.
Specifically, building on the opportunities of the site, the project will offer a range of ways for people to engage with the site for learning and enjoyment. These will include a formal education programme that is focused around the national curriculum; a programme of informal learning provided through public events and open days; informal learning opportunities obtained through interpretation - both static and mobile - around the whole site and within some of the buildings.
Before this programme starts however, we have had to find a way to address the issues that the site is both a failed farm and a Scheduled Monument, and that the buildings are listed and cannot simply be knocked down. A detailed approach has been agreed that brings all the 18 buildings on site into use. The design work for the buildings has now been completed; the next step is to secure a contractor to help us realise these designs and this is underway.
The wider landscape will be also restored, enhanced and managed as an historic landscape so we are protecting the scheduled ancient monument and contributing at the same time to the Nene Valley’s natural significance.
A small team of staff will deliver the project including a Programme Director, Site Manager, Project Manager, Volunteers Officer and Archaeological Archives Curator. A volunteer programme will also be developed that will support and enable the site to operate on a minimum number of professional staff. Staff are supported by a professional design team who are specialists in historic buildings, Buttress Architects Ltd.
Preservation of the site
A proactive programme of maintenance of the landscape has now been put in place. The future of the site will also be supported through it being known, used and valued by people.
The buildings will be renovated so that they are secured against risk of further dilapidation and each will be provided with a new use. These include:
- The main house will become the cafe, as well as including some interpretation and staff office space
- The 17th century threshing barn will be converted into a community, conference and training venue
- Three 19th century barns will be used as classrooms
- A number of barns will be used for interpretation of the site, so the visitor can follow a route through the site learning about its various aspects
- One former worker’s cottages will be reinstated as it was
- One of the modern barns will become the countywide Archaeological Resource Centre enabling preservation of and access to the county’s archaeological archives
- Two large buildings will be converted to office use
How can I help?
Use of the site by the community in various ways is core to the project. The site is not currently publicly accessible, except by special arrangement. The project will enable it to be opened to the public in May 2016. Initially this will be low key because there will be very limited facilities on site.
By April 2018 there will be lots of things to see and do, not to mention a cafe and toilets on site! Throughout the project, and especially when it is fully ‘up and running’ in 2018, there will be a programme of activities and events focussed around heritage education and learning.
The project will offer a wide range of opportunities for volunteering, including landscape work, archaeological excavation, finds processing, event stewarding, guiding, research, and advocacy. More information on these will be made available during 2016.
Supporting the long term viability of Chester Farm
Office facilities and a conference venue are necessary in order to generate income to support the site. All income from the ‘commercial developments’ on site will be used to pay the operational costs of the site. The hope is that the businesses attracted to the site will be small to medium sized local businesses whose aims are compatible with the council’s and are sympathetic to the site’s heritage offer.
The conference centre can be used both for heritage related events and business or private functions that raise money. The cafe income will also contribute to the site’s sustainability - the more tea and cake you have, the more likely it is that we can make sure this site covers its own costs into the future!
Looking after the landscape, flora and fauna
The site is important not just as a heritage asset, but it also supports a range of flora and fauna. The current process includes various surveys to establish the range of species living on the buildings section of the site. During the building development it will be important that existing wildlife living on site is protected and that appropriate habitats are created (this includes barn owls and bats).
Meanwhile, the scrubland and the flood meadow will be managed to encourage wildlife and species diversity. The meadow has been planted with a range of wild flowers.