THIRSK Hall has been in the Bell family for nearly 300-years and the latest family member to take the reins has a bold vision for its future as a cultural hub for the region.

It is fair to say that the Grade-II listed hall is something of enigma to many visitors to Thirsk.

From the front, the rather unassuming stately home set back on a main approach into the town centre belies nothing of the stunning 20-acres of grounds it boasts to the rear.

For the last four decades, those grounds have largely been the private domain of the Bell family, save for hosting the annual Picnic in the Park event that has now run its course after 14-years.

But the hall's new owner, Daisy Bell, has ambitious plans, along with her art dealer husband Bill, to reimagine the hall and its grounds as an important cultural asset for Thirsk and the wider region.

The couple has already opened a sculpture gallery in the grounds and over the first weekend of September will stage the first ever Thirsk Hall Festival.

Curated by renowned music director Benjamin Ellin, the festival will showcase both professional musicians and local talent across a series of events running from September 3 to 5.

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Daisy said the festival represents their future vision for the hall.

She said: "We are so privileged to live in this incredible house with this amazing green space behind it and if we are able to give the public some more access to it and share it, that is hugely important to us."

Daisy and Bill moved into Thirsk Hall from London just before the first national lockdown with their their children, Dexter, four and Oswald, two, and the family pets, Stella the dog and cat Tommy.

They took over the running of the hall from Daisy's dad, John Bell, and both have a strong background in the arts; with Daisy one half of arts consultancy firm Cramer & Bell, and Bill fronting Willoughby Gerrish Ltd.

And the pair are keen to bring their arts expertise to Thirsk Hall, continuing a family tradition that brought the Zillah Bell gallery to the town in 1998 - so named after the youngest Bell sister.

Bill has already established the sculpture park which launched in May this year with a major exhibition of works by Michael Lyons - one of the founders of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

Bill describes it as 'a commercial art gallery, but outside and monumental in size'.

And the next step is to turn a large barn within the grounds into a contemporary art gallery which is expected to open next year, as Daisy explains: "That will be a really great space to showcase the smaller works by some of the artists in the sculpture park and works on paper.

"A lot of the artists obviously do studies before they create these monumental sculptures so that will be the kind of space to exhibit those."

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Bill added: "And that is is something that enables us to be all year round, because obviously the sculpture park is weather dependent - although a lot of our visitors are actually pretty brave huddling under trees when it rains!"

A further bid to attract more visitors to Thirsk is a glamping site after permission was granted this month to site bell tents within the grounds.

Daisy said: "The whole glamping thing is to bring people to enjoy Thirsk; we are literally between the North Yorkshire Moors and the Dales and we are lucky to have that.

"The idea is that it is not going to be your generic camping site, it is going to be very boutique-y with lovely linen and things.

"We are trying to encourage people to get the train - we'll do pick ups - and we want to work with local businesses, to create barbecue packs with local butchers and encourage people to shop locally.

"Tesco being close is great and everything but we really want to direct and encourage visitors to use Thirsk's independent shops."

Daisy concedes that there was some initial concern among nearby residents about the impact of such commercial activities at the hall on the surrounding area, but positive meetings have since taken place to reassure the community.

"We have really listened to them and their concerns," she said.

"And we have really addressed those in everything we are doing."

"What we are really trying to achieve here is to be really sensitive to the house and the surroundings and the town.

"And our ambition is to become a real cultural hub, to celebrate the arts and Yorkshire talent and we have got lots of exciting things happening with that aim."


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