Gasps and cheers from a huge crowd greeted supermodel and actress Elizabeth Hurley and fashion guru Susannah Constantine when they arrived at Belvoir Castle to officially open a new retail park.
They have both been long term friends of Emma Manners, the Duchess of Rutland, and so were her natural choices to add a bit of glitz and glamour to the launch of The Engine Yard on Sunday.
The three of them arrived in style, in a carriage drawn by two horses, led by the haunting notes of a lone Scottish piper.
A series of buildings have been transformed from their former life as workshops for producing furniture, doors and windows for the nearby castle into a number of high quality stores and cafes.
Susannah, who grew up in nearby Knipton, was clearly impressed with the new development.
She told the Melton Times: “Emma is one of my best friends - I’ve known her since I was growing up in the Vale of Belvoir.
“My first impression of this place is I that I can’t believe we are next door to the castle car park and we are in this amazing emporium of wonderful stores and restaurants.
“I’m blown away at the way these buildings have been brought back to life and I think it will be really popular.”
Susannah, who is probably best known for her TV partnership with Trinny Woodall on fashion show What Not To Wear, was taking a break from her preparations for the coming series of Strictly Come Dancing.
Her aim, she said, was to make it through to the Halloween-themed week of the prime time Saturday night show because close friend Jake Shears, of The Scissor Sisters, will be singing live that night.
She added, with a chuckle: “It’s been tough so far. We were practicising a group dance the other day and I just looked like I was fleeing a burning building. I hope everyone votes for me though.”
Elizabeth Hurley, famously the former partner of Hollywood star Hugh Grant, forged a high profile career in modelling and has also starred in movies such as the Austin Powers series.
She said she had been coming to Belvoir Castle for 17 years and had maintained a close friendship with the duchess.
“Coming to the castle has been a really special time in my life and recently Emma has been telling us about this amazing development she had planned for The Engine Yard,” said Elizabeth.
“It is amazing to be here today to see it - Emma has done a phenomenal job.
“Every year that I come back to this area I can see more special and beautiful things that she has done with the landscape, with the castle and now up here.
“It is so amazing to be able to share this day with her.”
The duchess made a speech to the hundreds of people who gathered for the launch, when she revealed it was the culmination of a vision to redevelop the old buildings and put them to a different use.
She thanked the Duke of Rutland for helping to fund it and also praised the support given to her by her new partner, Phil Burtt.
“The journey to this point has by no means been straight forward but today feels like a re-birth of Belvoir,” she said.
Units began being filled in May and most of the remaining retailers have now taken up residence, including homewares specialist Margo and Plum, Jorge Artisan Foods, and the Duchess’ Gallery, as well as the luxury Belvoir Casa Spa, which opened for business for the first time on Sunday.
The yard will also host the 45 West gin bar, founded by the creators of Burleigh Gin, which is due to open in the coming weeks.
They join the existing venues which have all opened in the last few weeks, such as the Idle Mole plant centre, chocolatier Cocoa Amore, premium coffee supplier Cherizena, Crafts4Kids, butcher and farm shop the Country Victualler, and The Fuel Tank café.
Further plans are afoot for a country pursuits retailer stocking shooting supplies and fishing tackle, a gents’ outfitter and an antique furniture shop.
The yard will also host a ‘wellness wagon’, a restored gypsy caravan offering holistic therapies and treatments, such as palm reading and mindfulness, and the café will welcome a range of pop up restaurants from leading chefs.
Q&A with the Duchess of Rutland:
QUESTION: Is it important for castles and stately homes to diversify nowadays with projects such as The Engine Yard to help pay for the upkeep of large estates?
DUCHESS OF RUTLAND: Belvoir Castle and estate will always be much-loved places to visit for tourists, but it is becoming increasingly important for us to diversify what we offer to the local community. We have tenants at The Engine Yard who all buy into the values of the project, and the estate will operate the coffee shop, restaurant and, of course, the Duchess’ Gallery. Collectively, the Yard will be a beautiful space for people who live local or further afield to meet up with friends and family.
Q: Can you describe how The Engine Yard offers a unique shopping experience compared to those currently available in the Melton, Grantham and Vale of Belvoir areas?
DOR: It is far more than a retail village or shopping centre, and I want it to become a community in its own right. We want the local residents to feel as involved in the estate as they have historically, as well as offering a unique destination for visitors from further away to come together.
For visitors, The Engine Yard is right at the entrance to the castle, so we feel we have created another reason for people to come and spend a day on the estate, with a range of activities for all ages and interests.
Q: What would have happened to the buildings if they had not been converted for retail use?
DOR: Prior to this project, these buildings were dilapidated and used for the storage of estate equipment. I’m so happy that we have managed to restore them to be even more grand than when they were used to maintain the castle. It has taken the best part of 18 years to get from an initial dream to officially open the area to the public, and it is great to see so many people already enjoying the end product.