Royal visit as farming charity’s new-look home is unveiled

A three-year project by the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (R.A.B.I) to update and develo

A three-year project by the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (R.A.B.I) to update and develop one of the charity’s retirement homes – Manson House, in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk – is now complete. Officially opened by the Duke of Gloucester. - Credit: Gregg Brown

A farming charity crowned the £6million development of one of its two residential homes with a royal visit this week.

A three-year project by the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (R.A.B.I) to update and develo

A three-year project by the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (R.A.B.I) to update and develop one of the charity’s retirement homes – Manson House, in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk – is now complete. Officially opened by the Duke of Gloucester. - Credit: Gregg Brown

The Duke of Gloucester, president of the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RABI), was in Bury St Edmunds on Thursday as Manson House marked the near-completion of a major three-year building and upgrade project at the site.

The Grade II* listed home, which is primarily for people from farming backgrounds, now has 23 new self-contained apartments and its 31 en suite residential rooms have been refurbished.

The work, led by Kier Construction, was funded through part of an amazing £4.5million legacy windfall from Margaret Stearn of Hertfordshire, who left her entire fortune to the charity, and one of the new buildings was named after her in a plaque-unveiling ceremony.

RABI chair Chris Riddle said some parts of the home had been “in dire need” of a major overhaul.

A three-year project by the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (R.A.B.I) to update and develo

A three-year project by the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (R.A.B.I) to update and develop one of the charity’s retirement homes – Manson House, in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk – is now complete. Officially opened by the Duke of Gloucester. - Credit: Gregg Brown

“They had run their course,” he said. “It was becoming increasingly difficult for modern care needs.”

As the workmen carried out renovations on the existing building, more problems were discovered, which was why the project had taken so long, he said.

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“We changed from tweaking to major build,” he said. The team and around 50 residents had been “magnificent” throughout the project in spite of the inconveniences. For several months as a new kitchen was built, lunch was brought in from the nearby Farmers’ Club.

However, the buildings were now “top end of the scale” in terms of accommodation for the elderly.

Carole Smith, who has managed the home and its team of 40 staff for the past 12 years, said the house now looked “gorgeous”.

“It has been very interesting and challenging. I think we are really pleased. It’s vastly different,” she said.

“At the outset, we thought the project would take 18 months but it soon became clear that it was going to take longer. We asked the residents if they wished to stay - and they did.

“The revamp will give us four extra flats and better accommodation. We’ve our own little community here. Residents are still encouraged to live independently and because we are slap bang in the middle of town everything is close by.”

Resident Margaret Burbridge, 93, said the new look was “very nice”. “They have been very good,” she said of the builders, “and the men are absolutely lovely.”

Ruth Sparke, 89, said it was “lovely”. “It’s a happy place, isn’t it?” she added.

The charity’s other home, Beaufort House, is at Burnham-on-Sea in Somerset.