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Come and relish our county’s grandeur

A mission is under way to transform Northamptonshire’s cultural and tourism sector. The launch of a new strategy comes at a time when close to £1 billion is spent each year in more than 18 million visits to Northamptonshire. This supports more than 30,000 jobs and 3,000 business across the county. Cllr Helen Howell, deputy leader of North Northamptonshire Council and executive member for sport, leisure, culture and tourism and Jack Pishhorn, the council’s head of culture, tourism and heritage, talk to Business Times about the vision.

Cllr Helen Howell and Jack Pishorn at Chester House.

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NORTHAMPTONSHIRE’S rich heritage is testament to the opportunities taken by previous generations going back thousands of years.

Now a new vision has been unveiled to inspire a fresh way of thinking about Northamptonshire’s tourism industry to enable it to thrive for this and future generations.

While visits to the county generate nearly £1 billion, the long-awaited Northamptonshire Tourism Strategy has highlighted the opportunities to transform the county into a ‘premier cultural and tourist destination’.

External consultants developed the business plan over 18 months with input from not only councils but partners and stakeholders from across the public, private, voluntary and community sectors.

The result is a strategy to be implemented by 2030 focusing on key themes:

  • Visits and Value
  • Great People
  • Better Business
  • Inspirational Places

The driving force behind the initiative has been councillors and officers from the councils of North and West Northamptonshire but it will be up to stakeholders in the tourism and leisure sector to turn the vision into a reality.

The consultants pulled no punches – a lot of work needs to be done. Since the pandemic the data has shown that Northamptonshire’s growth is falling behind neighbouring counties Leicestershire and Cambridgeshire.

“While we all know that Northamptonshire is a hidden gem, combining gorgeous countryside, ancient woodlands and cultural treasures, we need to let the rest of the world hear what is on offer and invite them to relish our county’s grandeur,” said Helen.

“I am tremendously proud that we are part of a partnership which has launched a new tourism strategy for our county and we are determined to work with the industry, local businesses and attractions to ensure that Northamptonshire’s visitor economy is supported to maximise tourism.”

Sustainability is at the heart of the new culture, tourism and heritage strategy. “The aim is to raise the profile of Northamptonshire on a global scale as a unique destination to visit time and time again,” added Jack.

Northamptonshire already has a profile on the national and international stage with a diverse range of attractions: Silverstone Circuit, the late Princess Diana’s home at Althorp, Boughton House, Rockingham Castle and Wicksteed Park, to name a few.

Many are run by trusts, charities and town councils but others remain under the control of the councils in North and West Northamptonshire. Like all local authorities the pressure is on spending, with leisure and cultural programmes often the first to have budgets cut.

While the council is keen to retain its ‘accessible to all’ policy with no charge for places like The Chester House Estate, income-generating projects like outdoor concerts and venue hire mean the council can invest funds in other projects.

These include Corby’s Heritage Centre, which has outgrown its space, and Kettering’s Cornerstone – home to the town’s library and art gallery – which is currently undergoing a multi-million refurbishment.

Helen said: “We need to look at things holistically. This strategy will mean a more sustainable way of working by supporting the tourism and leisure sector to take opportunities.”

Investment brings 10,000 years of heritage to life

MORE than 250,000 visitors have been welcomed to Chester House Estate since its opening in October 2021.

The nationally significant heritage site near Wellingborough, which is overseen by North Northamptonshire Council, opened to the public following an extensive £17 million National Lottery Heritage Funded restoration project.

Ambitious plans have seen 10,000 years of Northamptonshire’s heritage brought to life with the setting up of a wide range of initiatives. These include:

  • The learning programme which has hosted more than 4,000 pupils.
  • The Archaeological Resource Centre, overseen by experts from The University of Leicester. This state-of-the-art facility, which is open to the public, stores archaeological material from around 3,000 sites across Northamptonshire.
  • Volunteer and community engagement including programmes like Creating Tomorrow College which offers vocational work to adults with special educational needs.
  • A year-round events programme from Roman reenactments to outdoor music nights.
  • Venue hire for weddings and corporate events.
  • 50 acres of estate grounds with access to the river Nene for all to enjoy.

The Chester House Estate offers free access to the public but also includes a wide range of ticket-only events.

To find out more, including future events, visit chesterhouseestate.org.

North Northamptonshire Council has been provisionally allocated £5 million of capital Levelling Up funding from government for investment in cultural projects in the area. Cllr Helen Howell said: “This funding could help to further develop this tapestry and shape North Northants into a must visit cultural destination.”

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