A GROUND breaking and blessing ceremony has taken place on a £2 million development which will bring thousands of young people to a Staffordsire Moorlands residential retreat centre.
Birmingham Catholic Diocese has bought the former Lord Shrewsbury pubin Alton, which will be converted into a retreat centre for young people to stay for up to a week.
A new annexe will also be built beside of the premises.
The Lord Shrewsbury will work in conjunction with nearby heritage buildings including Alton Castle and the adjacent former St John’s School, which has already been refurbished into accommodation and a reception area.
The large main room of the former school, which is to be known as the Guild Hall, will be available for local organisations to hire.
The retreat and activity centre will be available for all high schools and primary schools from the Birmingham Diocese, and also from across the Moorlands.
The facilities will also be available for private hire, day retreats and weddings.
Archbishop Bernard Longley told the Post & Times after the ceremony last week: “This is a very exciting day and a moment people have been waiting a long time for.
“We have now turned the soil and things have been planted to take root at the site as we will be using these premises in the coming years.
“People have worked so hard to bring this about.
“Today is a celebration to bring the retreat centre to completion.
“It is a wonderful that a lot of young people are here at the launch with us.” He added: “Many people will benefit from this development as the Guild Hall will be available for local events. All the buildings are fantastic and in a beautiful surrounding.”
Architect Mark Williams, of Brownhill Hayward Brown Ltd, Chartered Architects of Lichfield, said when completed the Lord Shrewsbury would have accommodation for 50 people.
He said: “The Lord Shrewsbury development will be split into two phases.
Firstly we are hoping that the first phase, which is to refurbish the Lord Shrewsbury, will be completed next Spring.
“The second phase of building the annexe will then be started.
“The annex will provide extra space. I did work on the restoration of the castle, so it is great to be back on another exciting project.
“The accommodation will be of high quality for people to enjoy.
“People are so enthusiastic about the development, which we aim to start in October.” The £2 million project consists of £200,000 for the school refurbishment; £650,000 for the purchase of the Lord Shrewsbury; £650,000 for the refurbishment of the premises; and £500,000 for the new build annexe.
Funding has come from the sale of Soli House in Stratford upon Avon for £1.2 million; £275,000 from the Bamford Charitable Foundation; Youth Investments £100,000; and £50,000 from fundraising £50,000.
This has accumulated £1.625 million, leaving another £375,000 needed to complete the project.
In 1996 a new youth project began at Alton Castle. Now an English Heritage site, the Catholic youth project delivers residential experiences to around 7,000 young people a year.
While the project got off to a good start, a large restoration development was required.
A new activity centre was built and a new bridge built over the moat to the castle.
Following the refurbishment the castle has flourished as a youth centre.
Now the diocese wishes to extend its residential work.
Another youth retreat centre at Soli House in Stratford upon Avon had become no longer fit for purpose, so it was decided to use revenue from the sale of the building and commit to the new facilities in Alton.