Alchemy at the Broughton Sanctuary

The latest chapter in this historic Estate’s incredible story of survival

Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod

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Published: 3 September 2021

This Article was Written by: Katie Hill - My Green Pod

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This article first appeared in our ‘Why organic is the answer’ issue of My Green Pod Magazine, distributed with The Guardian on 03 September 2021. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox

Alchemy is a fascinating process: something becomes something else in a mysterious chemical transformation.

In the case of Broughton Hall, a 1,000-year-old traditional English Estate has been transformed into the Broughton Sanctuary – ‘an island of spiritual refuge’.

Today the 3,000-acre Estate and Hall, still owned by the 33rd generation of the original family, is based on transformational work concerning the mind, body and spirit, against a backdrop of sustainability and nature recovery.

An instinct for survival

The Estate sits in an incredibly beautiful part of the country – in the foothills of the Yorkshire Dales – and has a history that is as fascinating as the transformation itself.

It’s understood that the Estate was gifted to the original Roger Tempest by William the Conqueror in the 11th century. The Tempests looked after the land and have been involved with community life on many levels over the last 10 centuries, with war and national politics interwoven with their stewardship.

The Tempests fought in the battle of Agincourt and in both world wars, yet their Catholic recusant status – which carried the threat of heavy taxes, fines and being hanged, drawn and quartered – drove the family near extinction and at times underground.

But the centuries passed and the family’s strong survival instinct remained intact – even when Cromwell seized the main Hall, the grandfather of current custodian, Roger Tempest, was injured at the Battle of the Somme and his father survived being shot in the head in 1944.

After this long and turbulent history, it was the taxes on capital in the 1970s that brought this historic Estate to a standstill – and to the very edge of survival – by forcing huge sales and cutbacks.

For Roger, there was only one way to save the Estate: it involved a break away from the old hierarchical system we’d recognise from Downton Abbey and a complete redefinition of its purpose.

An upward spiral of change

Change began in the 1980s, when redundant buildings on the Estate were converted into workspace to attract employment. The result was that working from the countryside finally became a valid commercial option as well as being a good lifestyle choice. Today the grounds host 52 companies, and around 700 people now work in the small rural parish of Broughton.

Employment brought an earthquake of change at a parish level; suddenly the pub was busier and could thrive, the school reopened, the milk round became sustainable and the church got busier. The spiral of change had a new direction and was now soaring upwards.

New enterprises kept appearing and a strong hospitality and holiday homes sector evolved. This meant historic architecture was restored, preserved and maintained; everybody was a winner.

Broughton’s sense of purpose was back and, true to its history, its raison d’être came with a high social output for the community.

Inner transformation

Most recently, Roger and his partner, Paris Ackrill, have introduced a new layer of change that has caused Broughton to become a house of transformation. It hosts year-round retreats and work pertaining to the mind, body and spirit, with a focus on strong subject matter and life-changing work that can transform people and groups.

The refurbished buildings have created capacity for 100 guests at the Broughton Sanctuary, which is now complete with Avalon, a state-of-the-art Wellbeing Centre co-founded by Paris.

The world-class facilities include the Cosmic Garden, a woodland sauna, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a wild swimming spot, a fire temple, moon baths and a sweat lodge.

Nature recovery

A nature recovery programme is also taking place at Broughton, where 230,000 trees have been planted this year alone. The tree-planting project is the largest of its kind in England. ‘The root of today’s environmental issues – and many of the current crises – is all about humanity’s inner nature’, Paris tells us, ‘so the outer nature is inevitably going to reflect this.’

William the Conqueror was the surprising initiator of a remarkable Sanctuary fit for the 21st century and beyond. What a journey through the centuries – but an extremely rich and worthwhile one that calls out to be experienced.

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