Appointments: Auckland Castle welcomes new estate manager

Auckland Castle has strengthened its management team with the appointment of a new head of estates

Phil Bolam, head of estates, Auckland Castle
Phil Bolam, head of estates, Auckland Castle

Phil Bolam joins the team from the National Trust’s Gibside holding, near Gateshead, in a variety of conservation and estate management roles.

Phil, 31, will focus on maintaining and developing the Auckland Castle Trust’s portfolio of holdings in the Bishop Auckland area.

These include not just the 900-year-old former castle home of the Prince Bishops of Durham, but its adjacent medieval Deer Park, various buildings in Bishop Auckland Market Place and Binchester Roman Fort, which the trust bought for £2m last September after it was put up for sale by the Church Commissioners.

Phil said he was delighted and proud to have been appointed to his new post.

“It is fantastic to be joining the team as Auckland Castle begins its transformation from a centuries-old ecclesiastical residence into a world-class art and heritage attraction.

“It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be in at the start of something so significant, and to know that I will be playing a key part in the many exciting developments which will soon be getting under way.

“I am very much looking forward to moving things on and to the challenges ahead.”

Phil studied conservation management at Newcastle University before working in the parks departments at first Northumberland County Council and then North Tyneside.

He initially joined Gibside as an estate warden. His final job was as conservation manager looking after both the built and natural environment.

Phil lives at High Spen, Gateshead , with his wife Rike, 27, who also has a degree in countryside management from Newcastle University.

Liz Fisher, Auckland Castle Trust’s director of operations, said: “We are delighted to welcome someone of Phil’s calibre to the team. He joins with a wealth of experience and we are looking forward to Auckland Castle’s let estate being developed under his wing.”

Phil’s appointment brings the Auckland Castle Trust workforce to 43, with 80% living within a 20-mile radius.

Auckland Castle and its world-famous 17th Century religious paintings of Jacob and his 12 Sons, by the Spanish master Francisco de Zurbarán, was bought by the City financier Jonathan Ruffer in 2011 for £15m.

The Auckland Castle Trust was established as a charity the following year with the aim of not only restoring what is one of Europe’s most important episcopal palaces, its art collection and the Deer Park, but to create jobs and help drive the economic regeneration of the area in which it stands.

This culture-led social economic regeneration involves the building of a £2.5m Welcome Centre, a £17m museum extension that will see the castle become the setting for a nationally significant permanent exhibition of religious art in Britain, and the restoration and refashioning of the historic walled garden.

There are also plans for a thrilling £25m not-for-profit night extravaganza to be staged at Eleven Arches by the River Wear in Bishop Auckland that will showcase 2,000 years of North East history.

The show, which is being organised by the Eleven Arches Trust and is currently awaiting planning permission, is the brainchild of Jonathan Ruffer. It will complement the daytime attraction of the castle and have a capacity audience of 8,000.

It is intended that the castle and the night show, which is based on France’s popular Puy du Fou visitor attraction, will both breathe new life into Bishop Auckland for the benefit of the local community.

Developments at the castle alone are expected to attract 120,000 visitors and inject an extra £3m revenue a year into the area.

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