Chester House Estate - first year of North Northants Council's £17m flagship heritage attraction

It opened in October 2021
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It is more than 10,000 years old but Chester House Estate’s latest incarnation has just reached its first anniversary.

North Northamptonshire Council’s (NNC) £17m flagship heritage and tourist attraction opened to the public last October.

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Since then, thousands of visitors – and one Royal guest – have been welcomed by volunteers and staff.

Roman encounter - Princess Anne, The Princess Royal officially opened Chester House EstateRoman encounter - Princess Anne, The Princess Royal officially opened Chester House Estate
Roman encounter - Princess Anne, The Princess Royal officially opened Chester House Estate

As Chester House Estate business manager, Jack Pishhorn oversaw the Chester House project.

He said: “My personal highlights have been the visit of Princess Anne and seeing staff numbers grow from six full-time staff to 19.”

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Princess Royal seal of approval for Northamptonshire's Chester House Estate

Since spearheading the project, Mr Pishhorn has been promoted to NNC’s strategic lead for culture, heritage and tourism.

Jack Pishhorn (North Northamptonshire Council strategic lead for culture, heritage and tourism) ,Cllr Helen Howell (deputy leader of North Northamptonshire Council and executive member for sport, leisure, culture and tourism), Kerry Purnell, (North Northamptonshire Council assistant director for of Housing and Communities)Jack Pishhorn (North Northamptonshire Council strategic lead for culture, heritage and tourism) ,Cllr Helen Howell (deputy leader of North Northamptonshire Council and executive member for sport, leisure, culture and tourism), Kerry Purnell, (North Northamptonshire Council assistant director for of Housing and Communities)
Jack Pishhorn (North Northamptonshire Council strategic lead for culture, heritage and tourism) ,Cllr Helen Howell (deputy leader of North Northamptonshire Council and executive member for sport, leisure, culture and tourism), Kerry Purnell, (North Northamptonshire Council assistant director for of Housing and Communities)
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With an estimated 200,000 visitors passing through the gates, targets have been surpassed.

Mr Pishhorn said: “We are way above our targets (income), 40 percent up – about £400,000. We’re well on track. Over the year we’ve had sell-out shows with ABBA, Elton and Queen, two theatre shows – Romeo and Juliet and Cinderella, a VE Day celebration weekend.”

The attraction will once again host a pumpkin patch alongside a Halloween experience.

He said: “Over the year we’ve had 60 lambs being fed by 9,000 children, craft markets with 2,000 people visiting, Woof-Fest with thousands of people and hundreds of dogs, a fairy tale ball with 500 children. From the Yorkshire Shepherdess to cheerleading, forest schools, a beer festival and acro ballet, we’ve had it all.”

Jack Pishhorn (North Northamptonshire Council strategic lead for culture, heritage and tourism)Jack Pishhorn (North Northamptonshire Council strategic lead for culture, heritage and tourism)
Jack Pishhorn (North Northamptonshire Council strategic lead for culture, heritage and tourism)
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Chester House Estate was purchased in 2004 and grant funding was secured through The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

North Northants Council has subsidised the attraction with a grant of £298,244 in the past year and the business plan assumes there will be continued investment of at least £250,000 until 2026.

Councillor Helen Howell, deputy leader of North Northamptonshire Council and executive member for sport, leisure, culture and tourism said: “Since October last year when the site opened to the public we are going from strength to strength.

“Alongside the successes on site, it is testament to the quality of work that Historic England have removed the site from their ‘Heritage at Risk Register’, after 10 years on the register. But the growth and hard work doesn’t stop now, with the support of over 200 volunteers, we have big plans to grow the Estate and ensure its future sustainability.

It's now possible for pedestrians to access Chester House Estate using footbridges over the River NeneIt's now possible for pedestrians to access Chester House Estate using footbridges over the River Nene
It's now possible for pedestrians to access Chester House Estate using footbridges over the River Nene
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“We are doing everything we can to make it sustainable. What we need now is to get to the point where it doesn’t cost the council much to run. It has to stand on its own – and it will.”

During 2022, 17,000 archives were moved to the ARC (Archaeological Resource Centre) storing Northamptonshire’s treasures under one roof.

With improvements made to the on-site cafe including soft furnishings and the menu further re-investment into the site will see new events equipment and outdoor history interpretation panels along the path to the house.

Next year a licence for marriages should be in place – four wedding receptions have already taken place at the venue.

Mr Pishhorn added: “It’s a fantastic place. There’s a whole market out there. We have a great team with passion, knowledge and desire. There’s no stopping us now.”