The Baring Family reveal their new plans for The Grange estate
PUBLISHED: 15:45 22 October 2020
From luxury wood cabins overlooking wetlands to sparkling wine and a farm escape, the future of The Grange estate is full of ambition
Punctuating the landscape at Northington, The Grange is a splendid example of Greek Revival architecture.
Many will be familiar with the venue as the home of Michael Chance’s operatic, the Grange Festival; however, the owners of The Grange, and indeed the entire Northington estate are a family with a focus not just on this iconic building, but on the future of the estate as a whole.
Arguably one of Britain’s most notorious families, the Barings are far more than their banking heritage. Custodians of Hampshire soil, for which both grape and grain are farmed, the Barings take their responsibilities as landowners seriously.
Gone are the days where British aristocracy can be just that, this generation of Barings are entrepreneurial, spirited and ambitious.
Lord Ashburton’s son and heir, Mark and his wife Sophie along with Mark’s son Fred have a firm stance when it comes to what is best for the estate and all it encompasses.
With a restorative approach, the family, including brother Zam and sisters Rose and Lucy, are ensuring the actions of today are futureproofing the estate for generations to come.
We met in the grounds of Abbotstone Barn, formally Mark and Sophie’s family home, it is now becoming a beautiful self-catered retreat for families and businesses to gather and enjoy.
With renowned chef at the Grange Festival, Becka Cooper onsite as well as stunning grounds and lake, swimming pool and workspace in a converted barn, the venue can provide the perfect getaway for a special family occasion or corporate team building event.
Hospitality and hosting is a theme which seems to run throughout the Baring family’s businesses.
With weddings already being held at The Grange, alongside the opera performances and dinners, the new offerings at Abbotstone Barn and now Mark and Sophie’s most exciting new venture Abbotstone Wetlands; as well as Fred’s transformation of an old Model Farm in to an experimental farm and visitor centre used for education, corporate away days and more, the family will be set to welcome visitors from far and wide to experience their unique slice of Hampshire.
Talking about the wetlands project, Mark explains how he and Sophie are looking to transform some disused watercress beds on the estate in to a glorious natural environment; rehabilitating the wildlife and chalk stream habitat within this area.
In order to do this, it is their intention to create initially four, and then a further six one-bedroom, self-catered cedar log cabins, jutted out over the wetlands. A luxury escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
Mark shares, “The whole idea is that it is going to be very high end, very peaceful and couples focused; really showcasing the ecology of the chalk stream that we are going to be restoring by taking out the watercress beds.
“We hope that we’ve satisfied Natural England that all the measures we’ve taken to restore the wetland and create some new woodland will more than offset the discharges from the hospitality units.”
With planning permission being waited on with baited breath, the couple’s plans to rejuvenate this biodiverse habitat are currently on hold, Sophie explains, “We don’t think it will take more than nine months from when we get planning permission. Everyone is ready to go.
“It has been approved ecologically, approved from a traffic point of view, approved from an aesthetic point of view, it’s just not approved from a nitrate point of view by Natural England.”
Mark and Sophie’s enthusiasm for what could be achieved is addictive. “Each cabin will have its own little wetland with its terrace front feet in the water” reveals Sophie, who paints a picture of a peaceful break where you can wildlife watch with legs dangling in the water sipping a g&t.
Just a 30-minute walk away is Alresford where visitors can dine in a plethora of top-notch restaurants and, particularly during opera season, Abbotstone Wetlands could become the perfect base for an incredible and unique couple’s break.
Mark and Sophie feel an immense responsibility for their surrounding community, and want to act in the best interests of their local area and all its residents, as Sophie explains, “We’re trying to look at everything that we are doing through a lens that needs to be balanced.
“One is ensuring that the estate is commercially sustainable and two that it is really good for the community; either providing tourists that will then spend money, but equally not clogging it up for the locals either...and then the third thing is the ecological dimension. Those things can all work together.”
And working together is the lifeblood of the Baring family, a motto to which all adhere to. Running a family business is quite clearly a complicated and emotive process, but one which the Barings seem to take in their stride.
As seen in the joint vineyard venture, headed up by youngest sibling Zam Baring but including Mark, Rose and Lucy also. First planted in 2011 as a way to “make something great, together”, Burge’s Field Vineyard has given the Baring siblings a shared interest on the estate.
The chalk downland provides perfect conditions for sparkling success, as seen throughout Hampshire, and both The Grange Classic and the Pink NV are already receiving awards both nationally and internationally.
Zam tells, “The vineyard was designed as a way of keeping us all together; having spent so much of our childhood here. And also, maybe even hoping that the next generation might then have a reason to come back and stay involved the place too.”
Witnessing the success of the vineyard and of The Grange under his father’s generation and of his grandfather, Lord Ashburton VI, it was no wonder youngest heir Fred Baring was keen to create a role for himself as he looked towards the future of the estate, and his position within it.
Having recently completed an MBA at the Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester, Fred re-joined the estate in October 2019 following a short career in filmmaking to take the reins on the exciting restoration of Home Farm, a dilapidated model farm first built in 1878.
He explains, “The Home Farm complex has been a bit of a thorn in the side of the estate for a long time. It’s these Grade II listed buildings, but no one has lived in them for the last 20 years. Every year through deterioration, a little more value is being lost.”
Talking together with Mark and Sophie in January, Fred started to explore the opportunities that the buildings could create, he continues, “I want to get in to farming and it was built as a model farm, so being sympathetic to its original use and turning it in to something agricultural was very appealing.
Unfortunately, a purely agricultural building probably won’t pay its way sadly, it needs to work on a commercial level also. So, we formulated this plan to turn half of the buildings back in to agricultural use to showcase regenerative farming and the other half will be used for leisure and hospitality purposes.”
With Fred designing a residential property for himself, as well as transforming the beautiful buildings within the site, he is hoping to be able to offer an inspiring place for corporate visitors to experience a working farm and idyllic setting, as well as offering farm-based stays.
The entrepreneurial spirit and the notion of making every bit of the estate work from a sustainable, ecological and commercial point of view is one that clearly is being inherited throughout the generations.
But what does the head of the estate, 91-year-old John Baring, Lord Ashburton VI think about the work being done? “He looks on with a wry interest”, laughs Sophie.
“He knows the world’s changed, “concludes Mark. “He came from a generation where rural estates didn’t have the opportunities that they now have. There wasn’t a renewable energy world, there were no vineyards, so the world looked very different. It was farming and renting out properties and that was it.”
Within this ever-changing environment, it is wonderful to see this historic family acting as true custodians should. Working together, for the good of the land. A sparkling future is surely guaranteed.