The Lowther Castle & Gardens Trust has appointed Andrew Mercer, chief executive of the East of England Agricultural Society, as commercial director for the ambitious project to open the ruin near Penrith.
Mercer joined the East of England Agricultural Society as chief executive in 2001 and established a catering business sourcing food from local farmers as well as masterminding a £9.5m exhibition centre. The East of England Showground is now a major event centre attracting 800,000 visitors annually.
Restoration work is due to begin at Lowther Castle & Gardens in 2011. Mercer said: "Lowther Castle and Gardens will become a wonderful attraction for tens of thousands of visitors to the Lake District. The challenge of recovering, restoring and developing the gardens and castle presents a wonderful opportunity for me, and I am excited to be joining the enthusiastic team of supporters and professionals committed to the Lowther project."
The 130 acre, Grade 2*-listed site contains the remnants of at least three significant buildings, and of gardens that represent 400 years of garden history including one of England's greatest 17th century gardens. The Castle and Gardens are at the centre of the 3,500-acre Lowther Park, the seat of the Lowther family, the Earls of Lonsdale, for 800 years. The castle was last inhabited in 1936 by the 5th Earl who died in 1944 without a direct heir. Its contents were sold, and, when no further use could be found for it, it was partly demolished in 1957. It has never been open to the public. The gardens were open for one season in 1936 but then overplanted with timber and left largely undisturbed.
After 20 years of efforts to find a future for the Castle, in 2009 the NWDA approved plans for a £9m project to create a major new visitor attraction. The NWDA will invest £7m and the European Regional Development Fund £1.9 million, with additional funding from the Lowther Estate Trust, which has leased Lowther Castle and Gardens for a peppercorn rent to a new independent charity, the Lowther Castle and Gardens Trust.
The charity will operate Lowther Castle and Gardens for the advancement of education, culture, arts and heritage and to promote local involvement, public access and community benefit.
The design team includes architects Geoff Rich and Miriam Kelly, Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, garden and landscape architect Dominic Cole, structural engineers Gifford, M&E consultants Ove Arup and quantity surveyor Turner & Townsend.
Andrew will take up his appointment on 27 August 2010.