After many months of uncertainty, North Northants Council has finally put us out of our misery. Knuston Hall is to close and be sold off.
I have been visiting Knuston since 1981. Over forty years. All of my adult life. It became the de facto home for Wargame Development's Conference of Wargamers (CoW), a haven for a weekend's wargaming and the company of many people who would become good friends. In bad times, when I was too busy at work and there were no local wargamers, it was my one bout of wargaming in the year. In the early days it was a bit dodgy. You had to strip your beds on a Sunday morning and bring your sheets down to the lobby, take your own towels. Rooms didn't have facilities, and you had to queue for the showers. Food was sometimes inedible. Then it was taken over by a manager who knew his stuff. Food and facilities improved beyond all measure. The staff came to love our eccentric group, and nothing was ever too much trouble. It was a wonderful place to get away from it all, recharge your batteries, do what you loved to do and meet up with friends.
Generally, when WD wasn't in residence, it was an Adult Ed site, running all sorts of residential courses, after dinner talks, and so on. It never seemed to have a spare weekend. WD had to ensure it booked well in advance each year, or we'd lose our weekend.
The full report in the local media on why it is being sold off can be found here. There is much to be argued about in what the council are saying, and the truth is inevitably more complicated. The decision was taken by a clique of councillors from the ruling group behind closed doors. The full council hasn't discussed the loss of a much loved county institution. The councillors making this decision are part of the group who bankrupted the original county (but didn't sell the statue - that's a different council and a different scandal). To my knowledge, when Knuston was open pre COVID it was thriving and making money. It had a creative and active manager, and superb support staff. It may have needed some work to update some facilities, but on my last visit (July 2021) I can confirm it had full disabled access, wi-fi and ensuite facilities in every room. Unless it had serious dry rot or similar it is difficult to see what needs doing. It may need some money spending on it - all buildings require maintenance - but surely it would provide a return. The problem is most likely two fold. Firstly, NNC is in deep with funding Chester House Farm which proved to be a bottomless pit to chuck money down whilst it was being developed. It's a great place, and the Archaeology Resource Centre is essential, but it's offering doesn't overlap with Knuston's. The suggestion that people looking for adult education courses should look at Chester House is nonsense. It has one or two lecture rooms and a couple of b&b rooms. It can't offer what Knuston offered, and hasn't been built to do so.
A fraction of the money spent on Chester House would have kept Knuston going. What is the case, probably, is that the council just wants ready cash, having previously proved it can't mange a budget, and they reckon there's a buyer willing to take it on. This is a similar piece of behaviour to the sale of Grendon Hall in the County in 2019.
And what is more frustrating is that I'm not even in a position to complain anymore through my local councillor. I used to live in the county that owned Knuston. Since the unitary authority reorganisation, it is now in a different local authority area.
So I am sad and cross. WD and CoW will survive, as it is the sum of its people, not a building or a place, but something has been lost that didn't need to be. I think we all deserve better.