Looking To The Future
Robert and Amanda Parker, are taking Browsholme Hall well and truly into the 21st century
Using the Covid lockdowns as a time to step back and reflect, Robert and Amanda Parker have taken the opportunity to take stock and re-evaluate the future of the historic Browsholme Hall, which has been their family home for more than 500 years.
As the spring and summer months of 2020 slowly set into autumn and winter, Amanda and Robert worked hard to identify opportunities which might take Browsholme Hall to the next level as an attraction. Day visitors and weddings have been the core business, but the potential increase in families taking their holidays in the English countryside rather than abroad have opened up new avenues of enterprise that is set to bring Browsholme back to life as we enter 2021, as Amanda explains: “We have used the enforced break of the last nine months to step back. We have been so full on for so many years, it was good to be able to plan how we could adapt and develop the estate for people to enjoy.
“We thought, we have these wonderful grounds and gardens, we have the hall, the wedding barn and the converted cart shed – what can we do with them when visitors start coming back?”
Their agile and astute planning has already paid off. When the first lockdown was lifted, they had so many enquiries from people wanting ‘staycations’ in Browsholme’s luxury, woodland micro-lodges, Amanda struggled to keep up with demand: “As soon as I put them up on the website the enquiries kept on coming. People were wanting short breaks as well as longer holidays and the feedback we had was incredible. It was so rewarding to hear our guests say how luxurious the pods were and their delight at the beautiful setting in the Ribble Valley countryside!”
The 10 micro lodges in the Woodland Glade, were added to the estate two years ago when Robert and Amanda decided that accommodation was essential to complement the wedding and events side of the business. “There is so little in the way of accommodation in this area – it turned out to be a good move, so it was great to welcome couples, some with children, even dogs to our lodges who enjoyed walking, cycling and the local pubs and restaurants,” adds Amanda.
While the pandemic had a drastic impact on 2020 weddings at Browsholme, Amanda and Robert, as always, were not idle and during lockdown began transforming a lost 18th century ‘wilderness’ into a picturesque garden. The ‘wilderness’ was originally created in 1707 to mark the Act of the Union having been planted in geometric quadrants representing the Union Jack.
“Each quadrant will have a different style of garden separated by beech hedges and grass paths,” explains Robert.
Below this area a ‘lily pond’ has been incorporated into the landscape, reflecting the oak pavilion constructed of trees from the estate. Now licensed for wedding ceremonies, it is anticipated that the garden will become a popular choice for couples wanting an outdoor location.
Fast forward to the 21st century another, informal wedding and events area has also been completed: “Robert calls it the Lonesome Pine – it’s near the lake and of a festival style, with no building – it’s very natural just a clearing in woodland with a 200 year old pine tree as a centrepiece – it’s beautiful,” adds Amanda.
“We realised that 2021 will be different as far as weddings are concerned,” recalls Amanda.
When lockdown was lifted some couples marrying at Browsholme went ahead with the 30-guest limit imposed by the government, but when that went down to 15, many started to postpone: “Everything went off a cliff edge. We moved around 60 weddings to 2021.
“I felt so sad for them. Some couples have been very emotional, which is understandable as they haven’t been able to plan anything and the wedding planning should be part of the joy.
“On the positive side bookings for 2022 have shot up – we already have 50 plus bookings.”
As well as weddings Amanda and Robert are planning a programme of events for 2021, when Browsholme will host overnight stays for wellbeing breaks, foraging workshops and yoga as well as training courses and skills-based classes and educational events, which will be held in the new stone-built barn conversion – the Cart Shed.
Not surprisingly this ancient historic home that is Browsholme Hall, requires constant maintenance in order to safeguard its future. But Amanda and Robert are mindful that technology will help propel the estate into the future.
“We want to improve accessibility, so social and digital media will play a part in that. Those on a tour of the Hall who are unable to get upstairs, will be able to have a virtual tour. We have got the go ahead to enhance the ‘back office support’ by re-doing our IT and website. It’s both exciting and mind boggling but it will underpin the business for several years.
“We need to get everything up and running in the next few months in time for the tourist season.”
When the Hall opens to visitors in late spring it will open two days a week, with the tearoom. As soon as restrictions are lifted the Woodland Glade micro-lodges will also be up and running early in the New Year.
With Robert and Amanda responding to the challenges of an exciting future, Browsholme is in good hands so that future generations can enjoy the hall and the estate. “To some extent we are going into the unknown, but we are very excited about these new opportunities for weddings, day visitors and new events. Browsholme is a wonderful place – but it will always need business enterprise for its preservation.”