Artist with links to Haigh Hall speaks about landmark building's future
The renowned musician has an extraordinary connection to the aristocratic family who once called the hall home.
Ripton Lindsay, who is the direct descendant of Alexander Lindsay, the 6th Earl of Balcarres and 23rd Earl of Crawford, says whatever comes next at the listed site needs to learn from where the attempt to create a hotel there went wrong.
Scullindale Global, the operator, has to give up possession of Haigh Hall and return it to Wigan Council by 1pm on June 18.
He also spoke of the importance of the conveyance, which sets out exactly what should happen with the building and the grounds, being upheld.
While the building being returned to the council’s control is a momentous step, Ripton says it is not a cause for celebration.
Ripton said: “I’m sad about how the whole situation has panned out. I’m sad for the council, sad for Contessa and sad for the people of Wigan.
“The truth of the matter is that there are no winners in this situation. Everybody has lost.
“My view is this has been a waste of energy, time and talk.
“I believe everything happens for a reason. It is for all parties to learn from this to move forward so the mistakes don’t happen again. This is a good learning curve for everybody.”
Ripton is forthright when asked for his thoughts on where turning the hall into a boutique getaway destination run by Contessa went wrong.
He said: “Certain things didn’t get taken into consideration when making the business arrangements.
“It was naive of the council and Contessa to strike a business deal but not to see how they would fit aspects of the conveyance into it with regards to the people.
“You can’t have a long history people are accustomed to and then change it overnight. That’s going to backfire.
“There should have been a town hall or a community meeting with Contessa, with the council and with the people of Wigan. You have to find a way to make the people feel part of what is going on and welcome.
“I think one of the problems was that people felt pushed out and they were uncomfortable with the council and with Contessa because of that.
“I’m not taking sides. I’m on the outside looking in and I’m just saying it how I see it.”
Dissatisfaction with Contessa’s running of Haigh Hall first sparked over problems concerning access to the routes around the hotel.
For Ripton the delicate balance that was struck when the hall was sold to the council back in the 1940s is something that must be got right in the future.
However, he says that gives everybody with a stake in Haigh Hall responsibilities to live up to as well as rights.
He said: “What the conveyance means for the people is that it gives them the right of access to the grounds, but they don’t own the building.
“The council has the rights to the building but the hall can be used as a benefit to the public at the discretion of the council. The council decides the direction of the building.
“In short, whatever the council decides to do with regards to Haigh Hall, they have to take in consideration how they allow any form of business venture to be conducted without interfering with the public access to the premises. This is where it can get tricky but it’s easily handled.
“The people have to respect the council’s decision to create a revenue to maintain the building and the council has to respect the people’s right of way as stated in the conveyance. It’s about communication, mutual respect and trust.
“There was a money transaction involved so it was business as it was sold to the Wigan Corporation (Council) and the mayor saw it as a gift also due to the fact the Earl sold them the premises and building for far less than its true value.
“The conveyance must be upheld. There should be no form of development on the grounds here, the walls that are here should be left untouched, and people should have access to the grounds.
“At the same time people need to be respectful about running a business. I do support trying to run a business here.”
Ripton says he believes the deal between the town hall and Contessa was not necessarily a bad one at the time and could have been made to work.
He said: “There’s nothing wrong with a hotel being run here.
“I’ve known quite a few places like this become hotels because they are hard to maintain.
“I was glad when the hotel took over. When I came to the hall the first time it was locked up. There wasn’t a single person on site, it was like a ghost town.
“I felt the building had a future, it would be helpful for Wigan Council and of benefit to the people of Wigan.
“I don’t know when and where it went really wrong but it was a good business venture.”
Ripton says that if the council struggles to come up with a sustainable plan for the hall the community will have to think hard about the level of investment that would be needed to maintain the building and whether or not it would be possible for them to do that as well as get together the amount of money that would be involved.
He does have some ideas of things he would like to see in the building and what he does not believe would be viable.
Ripton said: “I’m a person of the performing arts and I would be glad to be in discussion to see how you could create something from that angle involving workshops or shows.
“There could also be some sort of community centre with rooms allocated for learning skills, languages or crafts.
“I don’t see a museum as being feasible. It wouldn’t have the right authenticity.
“It’s just careful planning that is needed. People need to be honest and open so we can have forthright discussion and progression for the council, the community and Haigh Hall.”
Having spent years researching his own incredible family history, in the process shining a light on the connections between the grim story of slavery in the Caribbean and Haigh Hall, Ripton says he feels a deep connection to the landmark building and to the borough itself.
He says he will be keeping a close eye on what happens in the next chapter of the hall’s long history.
Ripton said: “In a sense I’m an honorary Wiganer. I bring a history that people didn’t know. There are children who I know died for this building. The people of Wigan’s ancestors laboured for this building.
“I’m not going to just leave this and walk away. I don’t have to have been born here to feel at home here.
“I just want to see things right."
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