Historical Bolesworth Estate, a thriving diversified enterprise in the heart of the Cheshire countryside, is looking to the future with plans to showcase the region’s untapped leisure and tourism potential.
The Grade II-listed castle, built in 1750, and its 6,500-acre estate supports a variety of rural enterprises, including 10 dairy farms, 130 commercial properties (including a business park and marina), an events space, affordable housing and 150 residential tenants.
It hosts a range of events, including the popular Bolesworth International Horse Show, which celebrated its 15th anniversary this year, and the Arenacross festival, Britain’s biggest motocross and music festival. It has also been the venue for various music concerts.
Bolesworth has been in the Barbour family since 1856. Managing Director Nina Barbour is keen to continue the legacy started by her parents Anthony, who died in 2007, and Diana. They took the reins in 1989, transforming Bolesworth from an estate that relied solely on farming into a successful diversified enterprise.
Nina, who took over in 2014, says: “My dad was a linchpin for recognising and starting opportunities. He inherited a dairy estate that was in need of diversification to survive and sought the expertise of forward-minded people to turn his vision into reality.
“He developed the Chowley Oak Business Park, a retirement village and a marina. He also came up with an affordable housing project that was trailblazing at the time (Bolesworth was the first private landowner in the country to be recognised as a registered social landlord equivalent). My parents always embraced opportunity.”
Developing a leisure business
Nina and Property and Leisure Director Mike Crowther, who joined the team this year, plan to establish the third pillar of Bolesworth’s corporate strategy by setting up a leisure enterprise.
Plans have been submitted to turn a Grade II-listed former school in the village of Harthill into a high-end restaurant and pub, with a children’s play area and a walking trail that will later host a sculpture park overlooking the picturesque Sandstone Trail, which attracts one million visitors a year.
The estate is also looking to develop a suite of holiday cottages, some of which will be located near the pub, by converting and upgrading existing residential properties.
We want to create places to stay, play and eat. We think this is an under-utilised area; it is an absolutely beautiful and quaint piece of English countryside here and we want to make it a destination
“The leisure business will sit alongside and complement the events business” says Mike.
Other ideas under consideration include everything from glamping and lodges to boutique hotels supported by different leisure attractions. “These will sit alongside a thriving events programme,” says Mike. “We see the leisure side of things working in tandem with our events business.”
This vision is part of the estate’s five-year plan until 2028, which will be the bi-century year of the castle being built.
“We want to have a timeline in place for the different pillars of the business,” Nina explains. “We want to gradually build up to have a season of events that appeal to different audiences, which will generate a quarter of a million visitors per year.
“We also have the opportunity to upgrade our buildings as part of work we are doing around the estate to improve our sustainability, and all of it is focused on attracting high-quality clients who want to live, work and play here.”
Modern art and sculpture feature significantly around the estate and its developing leisure arm – a tribute to the work of Nina’s parents.
“Mum and Dad were passionate about art and sculpture and we have nice touches throughout the estate,” she says. “We want to work with emerging artists and showcase their work at the sculpture park, which we hope to build in 2028.”
“I want to connect the estate’s heritage with the new. This is an exciting point for the estate. With Mike’s skillset and knowledge, we have the confidence to be ambitious and do some exciting things.”
Nina and Mike also see the application to make Sandstone Ridge an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) as an opportunity for the area.
Mike says: “When I first came here, I was struck by how little people knew of this beautiful place - we want to make Bolesworth a destination, and with this AONB there is great opportunity. This is an area of untapped potential and it could open up a part of the countryside that has been largely undiscovered.”
Nina adds: “There is so much scope to deliver our three pillars going forward – we want to focus on them and do them brilliantly. The events space is crowded, and we have to work hard for our market share by doing more unusual things.”
“It is all a learning curve, but ultimately, we want to improve the place by creating nice areas for people to visit, eat, stay and enjoy.”