Mapperton Estate has been awarded a grant of almost £140,000 by the Southern Dorset Local Action Group.
The LEADER grant of £139,782 will go towards converting a 17th century coach house into a new wedding venue and providing improved facilities for visitors. The project is expected to create seven new jobs at Mapperton House & Gardens near Beaminster.
Voted the ‘nation’s finest manor house’ by Country Life magazine, Mapperton is the family home of the Earl and Countess of Sandwich.
As part of an ongoing programme of improvements, the conversion of the coach house will also include a new café, commercial kitchen and lavatories. A new access road and parking area were laid this summer.
Luke Montagu, Viscount Hinchingbrooke, said: “We are very pleased that LEADER has chosen to fund this conversion project, which we believe will become Dorset’s finest country house wedding venue, bringing more employment and wider economic benefits to the area.
“The Coach House will be a unique entertainment space which will host weddings and other events for up to 120 people. In addition, we will convert part of the building into a new café alongside other improvements for visitors.
“The building will be heated by our new biomass boiler system, using wood harvested from the estate.
“We hope the work will start in November and expect it to be completed around April next year.
Sir Christopher Lees, chair of the Southern Dorset LAG Executive Committee added: “This project was strongly supported by the Southern Dorset LAG. The money will help provide a far better experience for the visitors to Mapperton, and, in the Committee’s view, promote tourism away from the coast in the beautiful countryside of Dorset.
“We are immensely proud to be able to support this expansion by Mapperton Estate, as it will provide sustainability to the business and added employment in the heart of Dorset.”
The project has been designed by Raise Architects based in Sherborne and led by Andy Foster.
He said: “Converting a 17th century building into a contemporary entertaining space is both challenging and highly rewarding.
“Apart from two new doorways the internal fabric of the building will remain untouched, and visitors will therefore be able to appreciate the exposed stonework, orignal cross beams, wall posts and corbels.
“The building will however benefit from the addition of roof insulation, new timber flooring and many of the external doors will be restored.
“Raise Architects are passionate about finding new uses for historic buildings and are delighted to be working on such an important Dorset conservation project.”
LEADER is part of the Rural Development Programme for England, where the local community decides where grants would have the most benefit. Opportunities to increase the length of the tourist season and create full time, year round employment are priorities for the Southern Dorset Local Action Group.
Grants are European funding and as such are available until 2019. Applications are welcomed by the LAG at any time for capital projects in small and micro businesses, farming, forestry, rural communities and tourism.