A FORMER stately home and its grounds is to be turned into a luxury resort for over 55s, The Northern Echo can exclusively reveal.

The Grade II* listed property Windlestone Hall – regarded as one of the most architecturally important in the North-East – is to receive a substantial multi-million pound makeover after being bought by the Carlauren Group.

The firm, which has acquired 18 properties in the last few years in locations including Cornwall, Gloucestershire, the Isle of Wight, the Lake District and the west coast of Scotland, is promising a “premium living experience” akin to staying at a five-star hotel.

More than 50 individual residencies, ranging from suites and apartments to houses, will be created along with other facilities such as a spa and studios.

But first Carlauren will have to receive approval from the local planning authority, Durham County Council, which sold the once grandiose country mansion to William Davenport for what many regarded as a cut-price £241,000 in 2011.

Davenport was jailed for fraud in 2016 after pretending to be an American tycoon to secure a mortgage on Windlestone, near Rushyford, County Durham, and the hall was subsequently repossessed by Barclays bank before being placed up for sale.

The grounds, which extend to 25 acres and include a stable block and clock tower, had been advertised separately before being snapped up by Carlauren.

Seth Bishop, director of marketing at Carlauren, said: “Windlestone because of its scale will be one of our flagship resort locations.

“Clearly there is a lot to be done in terms of refurbishment and preservation of the property and our architects and development team have been on site carrying out surveys and assessments and speaking to the likes of Historic England to make sure everything is done sympathetically and appropriately.

“We think we will open in three phases. Before then roof repairs will be a major project along with the stone façade repairs and internal alterations. We will also be renovating adjoining properties.

“It will be the back end of next year before we start welcoming guests and there will be some job creation as well.”

Mr Bishop said Carlauren began with the intention of creating and operating care homes, but had evolved in order to develop a “new genre of residency”.

“That could be anything from a short, hotel-type stay through to it being a permanent residence, either as a paying guest or as the owner of an apartment or suite,” he said.

“The idea is that we deliver a really premium living experience with great quality accommodation and facilities for dining, leisure and health.

“And at any point should people need care support we will deliver it in this location.

“We make these resorts feel like five star hotel environments, but hidden within the design and build are facilities you would normally find within a care home."

Carlauren, which was founded by chairman Sean Murray in 2015, believes it has identified a gap in the market for its plans which are aimed at people who can afford to self-fund their care in later life.

Mr Bishop added: “We are a young company and not a long standing corporate, but we are led and managed by a team of highly experienced and successful entrepreneurs with track records in various businesses.

“We have within our team very strong care, hotelier and resort expertise, who have worked for major international groups, so it is good experience we are bringing to bear across the whole project.

“Windlestone has had a difficult history recently and has fallen into a state of disrepair, but we have made an investment in it which we intend to follow through.

“We can’t move forward though without planning applications which we intend to deliver soon.

"We would expect these to be supported by the local authority provided we deliver a scheme that is appropriate for the nature of the property and its history.”

Malcolm Miles, from South Shields, who was a pupil at Windlestone in the 1960s when it was run as a school for delicate children, said he was “chuffed to bits” with the plans.

The 58-year-old said: “After the Davenport saga people like myself who attended Windlestone are just pleased and quite excited that somebody has got a hold of the place and intends to put it right.

“I just hope we are going into a happier chapter in its history.”

In a brief statement Durham County Council said: “Any planning application would be subject to the usual consultation and scrutiny.”

A spokeswoman for Historic England said: ‘We continue to advise both the owner and Durham County Council on the repair and re-use of Windlestone Hall and hope to see progress in the coming months.”