Astley Hall: entrance charges to be introduced when venue reopens in the spring

Visitors to Chorley’s Astley Hall will have to pay to enter the attraction when it reopens this spring after a £1.1m facelift.

By Paul Faulkner
Saturday, 26th February 2022, 10:49 am

The Grade I-listed venue closed for a major refurbishment in 2020, but is expected to open its doors again in late April.

Charges will then be introduced to make the local landmark more sustainable for Chorley Council to maintain in future - and to generate a new income stream for the authority.

However, residents of the borough will pay a vastly reduced rate compared to people travelling from beyond Chorley’s borders to see the 17th-century building.

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Locals will be able to buy annual passes - entitling them to access for a full year - at a cost of £5 for adults, £2.50 for children and £15 for families of two adults and up to three children.

The charge for a one-off visit will be set at £2.50 for Chorley adults and £1.50 for local children.

All under-5s will get free admission, as will people with disabilities and their carers - irrespective of whether they live in or outside of Chorley.

Those not resident in the borough will be charged £5 for adults, £3.75 for concessions and £3 for 6-16-year-olds. A family day pass - for two adults and up to 3 children - will cost £10 or £25 for an annual version, while the price for adult yearly passes will be set at £15.

One person in every 10 on a coach trip will get in free and there will be no change in the price for educational trips of £3-£4 per head, with a minimum session charge of £80.

The venue’s opening hours will also be extended. Prior to the pandemic, the hall was usually open only at the weekend, except for some weekdays during the summer holidays - but it will now welcome visitors from Wednesday to Sunday.

The attraction - which gained global exposure when it acted as the backdrop to the G7 Speakers’ Summit staged by Chorley MP Sir Lindsay Hoyle last September - will also be more heavily promoted as a wedding venue.

Chorley Council leader Alistair Bradley said that the authority did not want to “charge just for the sake of charging”.

He told a council meeting where the pricing was agreed by a majority of members that the pricing schedule was “aimed at being cheap for Chorley residents, particularly families”.

“We have regularly reviewed over the last few years...different charging structures for Astley Hall, because it has been…a lot cheaper to visit than other similar venues.

“We wanted to come up with a proportionate scheme that would both help to pay for some of the costs of running an expanded Astley Hall in the future and also enable us to keep [up] the levels of exhibitions [and keep] the level of investment going,” the Labour leader added.

However, the Conservative opposition group said that the plans could act as a “barrier” to visitors from both the borough and further afield - and called instead for a system of voluntary contributions like those sought by museums in the major cities.

Buckshaw and Whittle ward member Aidy Riggott said: “I’m very uncomfortable with the idea of saying we would spend £1m of…taxpayers’ money to renovate and bring the hall back to the wonderful position it’s in - and then…have to charge [people] to come in.

“I think it would grow our [visitor] economy much stronger by saying it's a free destination…[and people] might spend more while they are here, we might get more visits and that would have a knock-on ripple effect - [it] might generate more bookings for weddings [or] more of a use for the space.”

Tory group leader Martin Boardman said that there were other ways of raising revenue such as by the premium that could be made on brochures sold to accompany people on their trips around the hall.

He also claimed that people are “prepared to voluntarily contribute as opposed to being forced to pay for [entry].”

However, Cllr Bradley said that the evidence from Astley Hall itself suggested otherwise, with visitor donations amounting to just £5,000 in the last full year before the pandemic.

“The biggest feedback we have...is people saying [they] were surprised it was so nice and [were] surprised we’re not actually charging for it.

“[The proposed charges are] a small amount, it's less than most of similar attractions elsewhere [and] it’s fully worth the money, in my own view.”

Papers presented to the meeting reveal that the hall gets around 40,000 visitors per year, which the council forecasts will reduce with the introduction of fees. Based on an estimated 15,000 visitors in the first year after reopening, the authority expects to generate £69,500 in total income, including £10,000 from the visitor shop and £5,000 from events.

After increased staffing costs to accommodate the longer opening hours, it is estimated that the hall would make around £37,500 for the council.

The refurbishment has included a major overhaul of the inside and outside of the building, including the painstaking process of uncovering some of the original 17th-century brickwork which has long been hidden beneath external render.

The secrets of the renovation will be revealed in a special exhibition that will launch when the hall reopens. However, the art gallery will initially remain closed while it stores collection items that have been moved while repairs to the cottage roof are carried out at the rear of the hall. The conference room will also not be able to be booked until that work is complete.

WHAT PRICE THE PERFECT WEDDING?

Weddings hosted at the revamped Astley Hall will be staged so that they are kept separate from general visitors, Cllr Bradley explained.

On Fridays and Saturdays, the venue will not open until 1pm to accommodate morning weddings.

Cllr Boardman welcomed the promotion of the hall as a wedding destination, but said that the authority was “missing a trick” by not offering the option of a marquee in its sprawling grounds during the summer months.

The prices charged for weddings will increase, but will remain well below the £2,500-£3,000 that market research suggested the council could have set as the price point.

Wedding price list

Monday - Friday (Low Season): £1,795 (The Great Hall); £800 (The Glass House)

Monday – Friday (High Season): £1,995 (The Great Hall); £1,000 (The Glass House)

Weekend (Low Season) ,(The Great Hall); £1,300 (The Glass House)

Weekend (High Season) £2,495 (The Great Hall); £1,500 (The Glass House)

Prices exclude VAT, but include exclusive use of orchard garden and some interiors for photographs; use of kitchen for arrival drinks and canapès and entrance through the park for bride.

OPENING HOURS

The hall will be open from March to December (except for the weekend of the Chorley Flower Show) on:

Wednesdays and Thursdays: 11am-4pm

Fridays and Saturdays: 1pm-5pm

Sundays: 11am-4pm

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