Wednesday, June 21, 2017

News: CEO with big job at the big house

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The chief executive that has lead the transformation of a historic mill into a business hub and visitor destination admitted that only a big challenge could persuade her to take on another job and the restoration of Wentworth Woodhouse in Rotherham is certainly that.

Sarah McLeod will take on the CEO role at the Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust (WWPT) next month, moving from the World Heritage site at Cromford Mills in Derbyshire.

With the backing of a £7.6m Government grant, the sale of Wentworth Woodhouse went through earlier this year. Under the ownership of the WWPT, a restoration and development will provide jobs, stimulate local employment and open "the big house" to the public on a regular basis.

The charitable company limited by guarantee recruited McLeod for the chief executive role for what it describes as a "once in generation chance to secure Wentworth Woodhouse and ensure it occupies its rightful place as a public asset and one of the UK's most interesting and important Grade 1 listed country houses."

Early proposals show that the North wing is set to host a huge range of weddings and events and the stables will become home to dynamic small businesses. Within the 18th century house and outbuildings more than a dozen apartments and cottages will be restored as lets for holiday makers. The aim is preserve the house and grounds on a long term sustainable basis and raise funds for repairs and other essential works.

The role includes developing and delivering the vision for the Trust, leading the successful delivery of the capital works programme and overseeing the effective operation of the property.

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Speaking at the latest meeting of the Rotherham Pioneers, Sarah McLeoad, incoming CEO of the Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust, described the role as a privilege. She said: "This role is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to oversee fundraising of £50m and the restoration of the country's largest stately home. Only something of such scale and opportunity could have prised me away from Cromford Mills.

"Wentworth Woodhouse is absolutely full of challenges. We are working on the masterplan which should take around six months before the major work takes place next year. We are already tendering for emergency repairs to the roof but the major challenge is keeping the place going, the gas bills etc, whilst we raise money for the development."

Funding has already come from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF), The Monument Trust, Sir Siegmund Warburg's Voluntary Settlement, the J Paul Getty Jr Charitable Trust, Art Fund, together with donations from the Fitzwilliam Amenity Trust and Lady Juliet Tadgell. The National Trust is also offering to take on aspects of running the house.

Further grants, funding and sponsorship is now being targeted to enable the restoration proposals to be carried out.

Mcleod discussed the transformation seen in her previous role and the adaptive reuse of a notable site of industrial heritage. In 1979 the educational charity, the Arkwright Society, purchased the site of Sir Richard Arkwright's Cromford Mill, the world's first successful water powered cotton spinning mill built in 1771.

Suffering from a complete lack of maintenance and unsuitable uses, a £50m restoration and development is underway to turn the site into a multi-use sustainable heritage, cultural, tourism and hospitality business and enterprise destination. The first phases include high-tech managed office-space and retail units alongside a £6.7m Visitor Gateway located in a previously derelict warehouse.

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Bringing her experience of working on a "complicated" project to Rotherham, McLeod admits that it may take double the initially estimated £40m to get Wentworth Woodhouse up to full use.

Talking of the potential of the project, Sarah added: "It is not just about restoration, but also about regeneration. We are addressing skills and education with a focus on apprenticeships. The project will cover, not just heritage, but catering, events and property management."

Plans for the restoration of the property, which was once at the heart of the community, employing almost all of the village, will be going out to public consultation. McLeod concluded: "Buildings only work with people using them."

The WWPT is a founding member of the the Rotherham Pioneers - an exclusive group for Rotherham businesses who want to promote the town, celebrate all that is good, and grow the Rotherham business community.

Wentworth Woodhouse website
Rotherham Pioneers website

Images: Rotherham Pioneers / Andrew Lyons Photography / HLF


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