Reporter readers urged to have their say on the future of fire-ravaged Chilford Hall

REPORTER readers have been asked to come up with ideas on how to rebuild Chilford Hall after the owner of the popular wedding and conference venue vowed it would “rise from the ashes” in the wake of a devastating arson attack.

Fiona Alper said staff at the 400-year-old Linton estate would welcome people’s thoughts about how to begin a new chapter in the venue’s history – describing it as an “exciting opportunity” for the community and thanking everyone for their support.

“We cannot get back what we’ve lost, it’s impossible, and we cannot change what has happened. We have lost unique, historic buildings and an irreplaceable art collection but we have every intention of rising from the ashes,” the 66-year-old explained.

“We’ve just got to move forwards and look to the future. There have been a lot of interesting firms that have contacted us to say they would like to move their business here to continue Chilford’s ethos of being a visitor attraction.

“But it would also be great to hear from people in the community if they have any bright ideas about what they would like to see here, perhaps something that is lacking in the area or that they have seen elsewhere that has been a success.

“I would like to continue my husband’s legacy of supporting the arts and have somewhere to display pieces of artwork. A little boutique hotel for people to stay would be nice or perhaps inviting people to learn new skills by having a place that teaches them ceramics and arts and crafts – we want it to be interesting and a bit unusual, we’ve always been a bit different,” Mrs Alper added.

While talks continue about the long-term future of Chilford Hall, staff have begun taking bookings for a new, “elegant, top-of-the-range marquee” to be erected in February, allowing business to continue.

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The marquee will cater for up to 250 people and has been designed especially for Chilford Hall, with wooden flooring and carpet, glass windows and a kitchen area. It will be open all year round for weddings, conferences and exhibitions.

Last month a former barman and porter at Chilford Hall, Thomas Richardson, 27, was convicted of arson alongside his neighbour Mark Hall, 28, at Cambridge Crown Court.

Hall was found guilty of arson being reckless as to whether life was in danger following a two-week long trial – a charge Richardson had admitted.

The pair, both of Pipers Close, Haverhill, were cleared of the more serious charge of arson with intent to endanger life after setting fire to an 18th century barn at Chilford Hall on June 13 last year while Mrs Alper and her 28-year-old son Ben were asleep in the adjoining house.

Judge Gareth Hawkesworth, who presided over the trial, told them they should expect a substantial custodial term when they are sentenced on February 8.