The Big Interview: Hall to pay for

By Ged Henderson

15 Jan 2024

Amanda Parker Browsholme Hall

“It’s a money pit.” Amanda Parker the new Lord-Lieutenant of Lancashire is describing the county’s oldest family ancestral hall and her home for almost half a century.

“But it is wonderful living here, I love it,” she adds with a smile. And looking out at its gardens and the rolling hills of the Ribble Valley on a crisp winter morning, you can easily see the attraction.

Browsholme Hall sits proudly amid 600 acres in the tranquil Forest of Bowland. Amanda’s husband Robert inherited the property in 1975, it has been in the hands of his ancestors since the 16th century.

Since moving in the couple, who have been married for 38 years, have worked to build a thriving family business which exists primarily to support the upkeep and maintenance of the house and its contents, which are steeped in Lancashire history.

The heart of the business, which has a turnover of more than £1m and provides work for more than 20 people, is the impressive Tithe Barn – which is one of the Ribble Valley’s standout wedding and events venues.

The barn and other run-down buildings were renovated and opened as a corporate and wedding venue in 2010 after Browsholme’s 500th anniversary in 2007 and has gone from strength to strength.

Amanda says: “It was Robert’s idea to try weddings and events – he was doing some research work around historic houses and saw the potential.

“The new business became transformational for the estate and the house. All the money is ploughed back into its upkeep.”

Being the property’s owner is a labour of love. Amanda adds: “It is such a huge thing. It absolutely takes over your life.”

As well as weddings and events, the hall and its gardens are open to visitors on selected days, there is a coffee shop and short-stay accommodation including glamping pods.

Amanda, a former Clitheroe Royal Grammar School student who grew up on a farm in nearby Bashall Eaves, is director of the business.

It is the latest chapter in a varied career that has taken her from London and the graduate management development programme at Barclays to running a paintball business and founding two IT and AV companies.

The paintball business, which was based on the estate, was another diversification idea from Robert, who is also managing director at Clitheroe Auction Mart.

Amanda set up her first IT business with a friend supplying SMEs with hardware, software, programming and maintenance

In the role of managing director in the second business she specialised in the design of audio visual and home control systems to both the domestic and corporate markets.

It’s a wide-ranging CV and Amanda says: “I really enjoyed working for myself, I wasn’t a good employee. I think Barclays put up with me for three years really!

“I’m not afraid of diving in and having a go. I enjoy small businesses because you have to be hands on, you have to be in it. I also like the fact businesses are about people.”

There have been setbacks along the way. The wedding and events business suffered from the impact of the Covid pandemic, with the big day for 60 or so brides and grooms put on hold. All the staff at the hall were furloughed apart from one maintenance person.

Amanda says: “Covid was a complete nightmare for weddings, everything stopped, that was it. It’s all a bit of a hazy memory now.”

But the estate kept looking ahead. A new roof was put on the hall during lockdown which also gave an opportunity to “reassess how we managed the whole company,” Amanda explains.

With sales and marketing separated from the operational side the Tithe Barn is now holding more weddings than in the pre-Covid era.

That’s not to say there aren’t still challenges. Amanda says: “Hospitality recruitment is very difficult.”

There is also exceptionally strong local competition in the sector. The Ribble Valley has been dubbed the nation’s wedding capital. It has even been the subject of a TV series called Wedding Valley.

It has been estimated that between 2,000 and 3,000 weddings now take place annually in the district. With the average total cost of a wedding nationally put at over £19,000 last year, it is clear this is big business.

Amanda says: “It is a massive industry with a huge local supply chain that includes bridal shops, caterers, florists, photographers and car suppliers.”

She adds that when the Tithe Barn opened there were 10 venues in the Ribble Valley, today that number is heading towards 40.

Amanda says: “Such competition has its impact on margins and costs, you have to be very careful in your positioning. We are not cheap but we are a high-end venue and you get what pay for.”

There is a Ribble Valley ‘Wedding Heaven’ brand and occasional meetings where venue operators get together. Amanda says: “Although we are in competition, we are all slightly different and we have shared experiences and challenges.”

She adds: “The demands of couples have changed over the years They need more information for their decision making and more support so there is far more demand on your resource and time.”

The couple’s daughter Eleanor joined the family business a few years ago while their son Roland lives and works locally.

Amanda, who is 61, says she has no plans to retire, though Eleanor is getting more involved.

And she now has a new challenge ahead as Lancashire’s first ever female Lord Lieutenant after almost 500 years, appointed to her role by King Charles. She is also a former High Sheriff of the county.

As Lord-Lieutenant she is the monarch’s representative in the county. Aside from royal duties, Lord-Lieutenants promote and encourage voluntary and charitable organisations and take an interest in business, urban and rural and social life.

Voluntary work has played a large part in Amanda’s life, though she is stepping away from most of her roles to concentrate on her new position and overseeing an operation that involves organising the work of more than 40 deputies.

It is an impressive list of causes and organisations. She has been a JP for almost 20 years and has chairs a national youth crime prevention charity.

She has also been a patron or trustee of Whalley Educational Foundation, which provides community space for education; Nightsafe, a charity for young homeless people in Blackburn; Saheliyaan, an organisation supporting female abuse victims in Chorley and Active Lancashire, which seeks to improve lifestyles and health outcomes.

Added to that there is her work with young people through sport, especially through hockey.

The appointment was made by the King on the advice of the Prime Minister following widespread consultation across the county which involved input from business as well as local authorities, MPs and the judiciary. Amanda describes being asked to take on the role as “incredible”.

She adds: “I thought long and hard about it when asked if I was happy for my name to go forward. It is not something that you say no too really.”

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