On a bitingly-cold day, a team of workmen are busy bringing an old manor house back to life.
With damp, pigeons and structural problems – the multi-million pound project has been a labour of love.
The restoration of Coldeast mansion in Sarisbury Green is being led by property developer Nick Sutton, and I’ve been invited on a tour of the house.
With our breath hanging thick in the air, Nick says: ‘I first saw it about six years ago, then the hotelier that was going to do it up pulled out and I said I would take it on, that’s how it started.
‘When I took it on it was in a horrendous state.
‘The basement was full of water – it was like a swimming pool
‘There was water pouring through the floors and there was rot and pigeons everywhere. It was quite disgusting but now it is beginning to take shape.’
Many people will remember the house as a mental health institution, where patients lived out their days shut away from society, but before that it was a grand manor.
And that’s the era that 45-year-old Nick is painstakingly trying to evoke.
He has big plans for the house and its grounds, hoping that by the end of the year it will be open to book as a venue for parties.
Nick says: ‘There are some historic rooms, our smallest function will cater for 24 people then we can go up to exclusive use with 200 plus people.
‘It’s not just for weddings. We want to do weddings but there are lots of conferences, catering for the corporate sector, and we will cater for anything from a wake to a 50th birthday party.
‘Upstairs there are 38 suites, where people can stay for anything from one night.’
There are three main rooms downstairs, meaning three events can happen at once. Or the whole place will be able to be hired out.
There will be boardrooms, dining rooms, bar areas, marquee, in 14 acres of land.
Nick says: ‘It has got some lovely grounds. We have cut back so far as it was completely overgrown.
‘There’s a lovely old cedar tree. There’s the original walled garden of the house which is in a lovely state.’
The site began to fall into ruin when it was vacated by the health authority in 1996.
Two years ago, its future was in the balance and it looked likely that it would be pulled down to make way for more housing.
Nick’s team has been working on the site for more than a year, and they are on track for opening later this summer, with caterers Wise Catering lined up to provide the food.
Nick’s vision is huge, and they’ve had to overcome daily challenges in the restoration.
Site manager Graham Verrall explains: ‘Being left so long did not do it any favours, there were a lot of structural problems.
‘The health authority removed a lot of the original features, removing its listed building status. The concrete stairs they added demeaned it completely. We have taken them out but in that gap would’ve been a big oval staircase that would’ve swept up the building.’
Nick, who has a wealth of property restoration experience doing up around 50 properties, says he is hoping to see the place completely finished by the end of the year. ‘We have about 20 people every day working here, every trade you can imagine,’ he says.
‘And it has to be done right. There are so many details. There has been a huge labour of love gone into this work.
‘It was a wreck and would’ve fallen into ruin if it wasn’t for us. The area is a lot better for us doing so and I hope the community will support us and use it.’