The Homing Instinct: Hendall Manor Farm
Nicola and Peter Young have spent six years transforming a derelict dairy farm into a private venue for conferences and other events. They felt that Hendall Manor Farm was meant to be to be their home, and now it is their livelihood too
Sometimes it seems as though life is meant to be. Peter and Nicola Young could, perhaps, be forgiven for thinking that when they found Hendall Manor Farm in 2004.
They were looking for a suitable place to move to with their two young children when Nicola found the farm for sale in Sussex Life. Nicola spent her childhood in the nearby village of High Hurstwood. As for Peter, who had spent 20 years working for John D Wood & Co in central London, he discovered after they had bought the property that it had been marketed by the agents in 1931 and 1958.
Hendall, at Heron’s Ghyll, was clearly meant to be their home – and now it is their business, too.
After six years transforming the derelict dairy farm, the Youngs have launched Hendall as a private venue for receptions, conferences, courses, exhibitions and other discreet events. Initially, they focused on restoring the Grade II-listed house and adjoining 17th century barn, but the past three years have been taken up with the painstaking renovation of a huge sandstone barn, old dairy and stables.
A prolonged planning process, which began with listed building consent in December 2008, gave the couple time to refine the restoration, but Peter knew as soon as he saw Hendall, which lies 12 miles from Tunbridge Wells and Haywards Heath, that it would make “the most beautiful venue”. But that prospect was a long way off. “It would be lovely to say that we had the whole thing mapped out from top to bottom, but in many ways the project just evolved and we stumbled through it,” says Peter.
“Stumbling through” has transformed the stone barn, part of which dates from the early 17th century, into a stunning, light 90ft reception space with superb acoustics, which leads out on to a raised terrace that is ideal for performances, and a lawn for a marquee. On one side of the lawn are the old cattle pens, transformed into a well-equipped caterer’s kitchen, while on the other The Old Dairy provides 52ft-long studio/workshop and conference facilities and an office from which the Youngs run their business.
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The project has been carried out with the latest technology, disabled access throughout, and a close eye on environmental issues. Hendall operates a “green travel plan”, to encourage people to car-share, arrive by bus, or be collected from local railway stations. For those who do drive, covered parking is available in a huge Dutch barn. This was not part of the initial plan, but as the Youngs acknowledge, the strictures of the planning process did bring improvements. “The planners were right about a lot of things,” says Peter, “and the undercover parking is a bonus.”
A ground-source heat pump provides underfloor heating throughout the barn and conference facilities. The installation, which runs to 2,800m of pipe work, was one of the largest undertaken by Paynes Energy Solutions, based in Blackboys. “There is also about 6,000m of electrical cabling, including all the lighting and provision for wi-fi, projector presentations and so on,” says Nicola. There are also ten speakers in the main reception area to enhance the acoustics. The Youngs believe that they have thought of everything anyone could need to host a reception or run an event at Hendall.
They have been careful, however, to redevelop sensitively. “What governs the building is the building itself,” says Peter. “We haven’t punched a single door or window into the building. We haven’t added anything outside; it’s completely as it was.”
The Youngs were keen to use local companies and craftsmen for the latest project, which began in earnest in November 2010, and they are thrilled with the quality of the work that has been undertaken. “There is a lot of talent out there and it’s very local,” says Peter. “We had 19 separate contractors on site with something like 50 employees between them. Nearly all of them came from within a ten-mile radius and six were within five miles of us.”
The use of local talent will continue now the venue is up and running, says Nicola. Whatever event clients have in mind, she will be on hand with lists of local caterers, vintners, florists, and photographers to make the occasion a success. And the scope for events is vast: from recitals and amateur dramatics, to cookery courses, parties and Pilates, fashion shows and exhibitions.
So what sets Hendall apart? “If you are a venue, it is all about the facilities and the aesthetics,” says Peter. “We hope people will look at us and realise that we are a little different and bespoke.” After all, it is a private venue. “It is smart, exclusive and inviting,” says Nicola. “And, of course – it is our home!”