Blenheim: An update on our latest work and projects

The Pandemic has left me feeling somewhat dis-connected to you with the lack of time as we battled COVID-19 and the ability to meet in a more personal way, be it a one to one meeting we may have had or event of some sort where we used to chat over a coffee.

It was these meetings and moments together that would give me chance to share what was happening at Blenheim, for your thoughts and input and vice versa. I miss your input and so with a year of recovery and still the lack of opportunities to meet I have decided to drop you an email once a month and share what’s coming up or what’s new to keep you informed. I hope you find it useful and would always welcome your feedback or comment.

At this point in 2021 I have renewed hope that we can all start working towards returning to some normality with the COVID vaccine being rolled out and the government lifting restrictions.

The Pandemic has been tough on us all, but now is the time to rebuild together, see our economy thrive again and enjoy our local communities once more.

We reported at the end of last year that for the 19/20 Economic Impact Study results (ending March 20) we in overall economic contribution terms, had sharply grown both the economic contribution (up 26%) to 126.8m with new jobs supported in the wider economy, the delivery of more affordable homes, more apprentices and progression with our renewable energy goals to generate more than we consume. We know when we report on the remainder of last year and early 21 it will be a different story so we now need to focus on growing back to this success and beyond.

Blenheim and Pye Homes feel optimistic for the future with many of our long term plans, that had slowed last year due to the Pandemic, now moving forward. Our purpose ‘to be the lifeblood of the local economy, to enhance the lives of local people, to share this magnificent place and protect it for future generations’ is truly at the heart everything we do.

Here is our latest news

Our Park, Gardens, shop and cafes (outdoor) are open to visitors and we expect to open the Palace and related indoor areas on 17 May.

We are hoping for a rapid visitor attraction recovery as the year progresses, and we will shortly open our new Winston Churchill exhibition, a new Stables exhibition, new distanced covered outdoor-seated areas for food and drink across the estate (with optional in-app ordering), our new Stables café and new access routes to the formal gardens. All this has been funded with the government Culture Recovery Fund, for which we are most grateful after a significantly loss-making year. While we will lose some of our earlier events until next year, we will also add some new events later in the year including our first dog show, a new Autumn Festival event, an invigorated Horse Trials with our new partner the Jockey Club, a new Halloween event as well as the best Christmas event yet! I have just walked the route of our new Light Trail and it is going to be spectacular…

There is a slight delay in the start of our first solar farm for which we were granted planning permission in land North of Woodstock. It will still be delivered by the end of the year but the expected start date of this £7m investment moves to July – by March 2022 we will have hit our “net generator of green energy” goal due to this large scale project which we look forward to celebrating.

Our property development and sales progress well – we have all bar a few sold out of the current phases at Park View, Woodstock and Hanborough Gate, Long Hanborough – something we are very proud of. We have our next sites of Hill Rise and Banbury Road, Woodstock in for planning at the moment – whilst we know new homes are always controversial, we are excited to deliver our first truly green development that will not only give new home owners maximum efficiency in their homes (all homes Passiv-haus certified), but will also add community layouts which are designed to be truly pedestrian and bicycle first, cars a very distant third. The sites will be supported within our “grass routes” plan for new cycle routes across Blenheim land and between our communities. This will all be delivered at scale – this is important as we seek to demonstrate that building like this is and should be the new normal. As always with our sites, we will deliver truly affordable homes with 40% rental discounts without getting a penny from the public purse thanks to our ground-breaking partnership with WODC – this will continue to be the case notwithstanding the additional investment required to build eco-homes with practically zero heating costs.

We are proud to have partnered with the social prescribing charity Aspire to start to offer people access to our land for their wellbeing and working with local NHS practices to encourage them to prescribe patients to visit as part of recovery. Numbers will start small while we trial the initiative but have aspirations to grow in awareness and numbers by the end of the year.

We teamed up with Velocity last year who are a small group of award winning architects and designers who have helped shape our thoughts and suggestions for the Oxfordshire Plan 2050 which is being considered now through the ‘Open Thought’ campaign. Our thoughts that focus on connectivity of the local area, living arrangements, the environment and wellbeing are now being applied into our decision making process in the business but we hope we will hear in the next 5 years what we may be able to help influence more widely.

In the next few months we will be announcing a slightly altered goal and plan to become carbon zero by 2026 – we initially announced an outline plan in 2020 but have since gathered more key data and considered the impact of COVID to help us further shape our goal – we all have a responsibility to turn our attention to our environment and its future so we hope to share our plans soon, but also spend time helping others take steps to do the same. Working together here is vital so we will be actively seeking opportunities to partner more widely.

Here’s to a year of recovery with good health and wellbeing.

Blenheim

We are a diverse business focused on conserving and restoring our World Heritage Site. We aspire to be the lifeblood of the local economy through charitable giving.

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