Tapton House has been a private home, once the home of engineer George Stephenson, who built the first public railway using steam locomotives, a ladies' boarding school and a co-educational grammar, then comprehensive school. Today it stands empty and unused since Chesterfield College gave up the lease - hopefully this will change if the Friends of Tapton House get their way!
Di Treece is a local resident and old ‘Taptonian’ (someone who attended the school), “I noticed on the Tapton House School Facebook page that it was feared the house would be converted to apartments for rent,” explains Di. “It was suggested that we should try to find out what's happening through official channels so I offered to contact a councillor I know to see what I could find out”
The research resulted in a group getting together to see if they could establish a case for the use of the building as ‘the community asset that it could, and should, be’ and then present this to the council as an alternative to apartments.
Di put feelers out in April this year but the first meeting of interested people couldn’t take place until early in September because of covid 19. Many people who came along were old Taptonians, and others were either from the local community or were simply interested as they loved the building and grounds and wanted it to remain as a facility for the whole community to use.
“One attendee at the meeting was a local artist who was interested in running art and craft workshops and exhibiting the work of other local artists at the site. Historians stepped forward, a plants-based foraging team expressed interest, and also a model railway group would like a base there. A contact at Barrow Hill is helping put a feasibility study together - and the group is learning a lot from people who have done similar projects, for example Barrow Hill and the recent renovations at Staveley Hall.
“Chesterfield Borough Council arranged a tour for a small group of us to see inside the building, to see what state it’s in and to see what practical help they can give to iron out any basic problems. We are extremely grateful to all those people who are stepping forward to offer their time and expertise - builders, electricians, decorators, social media support etc etc. Things are gathering momentum,” says Di. “We have had some great ideas and helpful suggestions put forward and we are keen to ensure we record them all and keep people informed of progress. Our initial thoughts for use included space for therapists, counsellors, conferences, adult education, community/parent and child group, tea room, a small registry office type wedding venue and displays relating to George Stephenson, local history and the history of the house and school.”
The group has been bowled over by the support that is being offered, despite the fact that it was feared things might stumble at the first hurdle, but with the support the group has received, they’re hopeful that in time they might just see their ideas take off.
The most recent support has come from a four week Zoom course run by the Social Enterprise Exchange which points out everything needed to set up a long-term community project. “We need to establish a way to use the house that’s beneficial, fitting and in the spirit of the Markham family’s wishes that the house would be for the benefit and enjoyment of all the people of the borough, as well as there being full public access to the park, grounds and gardens,” says the group. “Creating apartments doesn’t fit with this - there is very little community space on the east side of town and the house is simply too nice a place to be left empty”.
The letting agents have only had one semi-serious offer so far and are planning to step up marketing. This will start at the end of September but the group is keen to put a solid proposal to the council as soon as possible and keep the house as a local community asset whilst preserving and celebrating the heritage and history of the house.
There has been support from local councillors and town hall officers who have made suggestions and offered help, all of which the group really appreciates and has found very useful. The house has 17 large old classrooms, some with interconnecting doors, and an assembly hall which would make a fantastic space in which to create a full-size sports hall and build a stage to make it a great place for plays and performances as well.
There are ideas to sublet rooms, either in total or as shared spaces and they will lend themselves to practically anything, but people wouldn’t necessarily have to run a creative business. At the moment, the committee is working hard to get a constitution established. Proposals are being drawn up, and plans to revitalise the building and bring it back into use are being developed to create something that will generate an income to sustain the viability of the group’s plans.
To keep up to date on progress, please go to friendsoftaptonhouse.wordpress.com or if you would like to get involved please get in touch.
T: 07852 721134
Words: Paul Chapman
Images: Friends of Tapton House