Cllr Jim Harker, Chairman of Northamptonshire County Council has been involved in Chester Farm for longer than most and I am keen to find out how this project began.
Quantity Surveyor Jim Harker was elected as a County Councillor in 1979 and became Leader of Northamptonshire County Council in 2005. He has championed the economic development of the county, but he is also passionate about its heritage and was recently awarded a Heritage Angel accolade by Historic England for his work. He feels that Northamptonshire’s heritage is an important element in the county’s prosperity, and that it is key to embed its history into its rapidly expanding population growth.
It was in 1990, as the County Council’s Planning and Transportation Chairman, that Cllr Harker first became involved in Chester Farm. The route of the Wellingborough Eastern Bypass was under consideration and came across land owned by Whitworth Bros. The then Chairman of Whitworths, Bill Reynolds, and Cllr Harker conceived a plan whereby the road would come between the Whitworth development and the Scheduled Monument. Plans for its development as an archaeological resource would be prepared.
Unfortunately the plans lay dormant until 2004 when the County Council was able to buy the land with the welcome help of a £1.2m grant from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. Under his leadership, a project was then initiated which resulted in the Heritage Lottery Fund matching the County Council’s investment, and a £12.7m development of Chester Farm site agreed, which would allow for the restoration of the buildings and create extensive public access.
"It gave the county an opportunity to show to new residents that Northamptonshire was not just an ideal commuter location for London overspill, but a remarkable place for families to make their home, full of history and wonderful things" explains Cllr Harker "I believe that encouraging new residents and young people to learn more about their heritage is essential to a cohesive society, and the educational aspects of the project will allow for several very hands-on experiences. There is a wealth of knowledge and information about the site yet to be discovered and this is one of the most exciting aspects of it."