The pandemic is to blame for many knocks and heartache. Families lost loved ones, businesses folded and the country came to a virtual standstill. But as the UK returns to some semblance of normality, rebuilding the successes that were achieved pre covid becomes a priority.
The Engine Yard shopping village is one success story that is now in the process of re-establishing itself. Make no mistake, this isn’t a hard luck story. The businesses here are successful enterprises, but like many, during the pandemic, they had to close during various lockdowns.
Now, back up and running as usual, the businesses are open and embracing a new chapter with the Duchess of Rutland steering the Yard’s path and development into the future. We caught up with some of the independent firms making a living here and discovered just how this gem in the shadow of Belvoir Castle came into being.
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The Engine Yard was once the heart of Belvoir Castle’s maintenance machine and the working home to specialist tradespeople who produced furniture, windows and doors during the construction of the present Belvoir Castle in the early 1800s. At its heart is a building now known as the Fuel Tank, which today serves meals and drinks to hungry visitors but was once the location of the estate’s ‘New Steam Engine’. Built in 1812 it symbolised the castle embracing exciting new developments in industrial technology, with the 20-ton beam engine pumping fresh water from Holwell Spring, a mile away in Woolsthorpe, to supply the Castle.
Just like the custodians of the castle in the 1800s, the current Duchess is also embracing the future. When she and the Duke of Rutland took up their role at the ancestral home in 1992, the Duchess had a clear vision of how she wanted to see the beautiful, but almost abandoned, buildings that they’d inherited at the Engine Yard developed.
She said: “My vision for the Engine Yard has always been to bring the best of our community together. Whether that is with local produce, excellent shopping on the people’s doorstep or free entertainment throughout the summer months!”
And she has achieved just that. The buildings have now been fully restored to create a unique rural retail village. As a snapshot, shoppers can enjoy everything from handmade chocolates to award-winning bacon and pork pies, there are homewares, kids crafts or garden accessories and plants, plus The Duchess’ Gallery offering fashion, accessories and gifts curated by the Duchess to represent and showcase her interests and style.
The Duchess of Rutland added: “The Engine Yard was one of my all time favourite projects, interior design is one of my huge passions and it was important to me to keep the rustic industrial character of the buildings, it gave authenticity to its history. With exposed brickwork and rustic wood in abundance throughout the architecture of the site, but I also wanted to create a luxurious aesthetic balance.”
The three acre Engine Yard opened to the public in 2018 and one of the first retailers to open here was Cherizena, a coffee and tea retailer. Director of the business, Tanith Wesson, explained the business was established as a mail order coffee business in 1995, adding: “Cherizena has benefitted massively with the flagship store at The Engine Yard. The relaxed shopping atmosphere coupled with a wide range of other artisan shops brings people from miles around.
“The Fuel Tank Blend, created for the onsite café, is by far one of the most popular coffees. Alongside the Fuel Tank Blend sit almost 100 other types of coffee and almost 50 different teas.”
Taking a walk around the ‘Yard’, you’ll discover an array of stores and craftspeople. Tom Edwards, a gold and silversmith, was working away in the premises of B Jewellery when we visited. The business, fronted by designer Belynda Faulkner, is an expanding venture. This is the firm’s second shop with a third on the way. “We create jewellery based on each unique customer, each item is like a story”, says the firm’s website. Tom explained that he loved working for the independent jeweller in this setting.
Holding on to the past
Location is certainly one of the attractions of the Engine Yard. In the shadow of the castle and amongst buildings that have such a strong association with the estate, there’s a real sense of history and proud sense of belonging amongst the outlets here.
Tess Hewitt, manager at The Duchess Gallery, which sells clothing, home interiors items and artwork, said: “The Duchess of Rutland firmly believes in preservation and wanted to restore the Engine Yard into an independent retail village. We still have the old steel girders and the old carts that used to transport the supplies up to the castle.”
She added: “Customers love the historical side of the Engine Yard and The Duchess Gallery. At the Boutique we love to tell historical stories but also to give our customers a personal shopping experience. We are set in a relaxing rural area rather than the hustle and bustle of a town or city.
“The Duchess is actively involved in the boutique including buying the wide range of products that we sell. We sell brands that are rarely seen on the High Street… our customers love our individuality and come from afar, such as a couple who drive 2.5 hours from Shropshire twice a year.”
Looking to the future
While the Engine Yard is complete when it comes to renovation – it is a beautifully finished location to wander around and just enjoy a coffee on a sunny afternoon – there is still room for expansion and development. There are a couple of units available to rent as well as another venture that has just been launched.
The Vale House Boutique Hotel opened on Friday, April 15, 2022 while a huge £350,000 adventure playground is coming in Summer 2022 to the Castle grounds themselves.
A programme of events and pop-up attractions has been planned for the year ahead including foodie talks and cookery demonstrations, open-air barbecues, farmers’ markets and craft fairs.
The Duchess added: “I always wanted it to be the people’s yard, with opportunities for a speakers corner and musicians or buskers to play. I am so excited for Summer 2022, with the dreaded Covid hopefully behind us we can focus on bringing everyone together for a great experience!”