The Stanford Hall estate on the Nottinghamshire-Leicestershire border has been in limbo ever since the Co-operative College moved out in 2001. Two developers have successively raised schemes to finance the restoration of the hall and its grounds by constructing houses and apartments in the park, and both have come to nothing.
Its long history is both complex and sensitive – owned by two successive gentry families, a Burton brewer, the eccentric furniture millionaire Sir Julien Cahn and latterly the College. In particular, Sir Julien’s external additions – various sporting facilities and a fully-equipped private theatre – have been greatly valued by the local community during the years that the College ran the place.
In 2011 the Duke of Westminster bought the Stanford Hall estate as a future base for the Defence and National Rehabilitation Centre, which supports members of the armed services and civilians as they recover from traumatic injuries.
This work currently takes place at the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre at Epsom, Surrey, but this facility is no longer capable of expansion, though the need continues to grow: casualties now survive injuries which would have been beyond recovery even ten years ago.
Stanford Hall is considered ideal for this new purpose because of its Midlands location, its tranquil environment and the space for magnificent new facilities which need not overpower the historic landscape.
Members of the local community have expressed concern about the future of the Stanford Hall Theatre, which Sir Julien built in 1937 as a venue for his private conjuring shows.
There’s a potential conflict between the desire of local groups for access to the theatre such as they enjoyed in the days of the Co-operative College and the needs of the Defence and Rehabilitation Centre, which will make active use of the theatre and requires higher levels of security than were ever needed by the College.
The proposed physical alterations to the Theatre, primarily to provide level access for wheelchairs, seem relatively benign: a wrap-around block will provide much better access to the auditorium, and Sir Julien’s top-floor bedroom suite for his private cricket team will be stripped out to reduce loading on the outer walls. I can find no mention in the planning application of the bomb shelter beneath the auditorium rake.
The plans don’t appear to stretch to a full restoration of the theatre facilities and the Wurlitzer organ, and this has exercised a consortium of local amateur-dramatic societies: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/theatre-dance/news/dukes-scheme-rings-down-the-curtain-8449399.html.
Let’s hope that the heroes and the thespians can live amicably together.