THE Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has awarded £413,700 in development funding to the Hartlebury Castle Preservation Trust (HCPT).

The cash will support the trust’s ongoing efforts to secure the castle’s future as a heritage site that will benefit the local area and attract visitors from around the UK and beyond.

The trust wants to make the most of the castle, Hurd Library, collections at the museum and castle and its gardens.

It plans to work in formal partnerships with Worcestershire Country Council, Museums Worcestershire and the Church Commissioners to purchase Hartlebury Castle and its estate and improve visitor facilities.

There are plans to create new displays and opportunities for learning, participation and heritage skills training and provide volunteer opportunities for children and adults.

It is intended to involve local communities and specialists in the site’s future and develop a sustainable business plan to manage the site.

Robert Greenwood, trustee and HLF team leader at HCPT, said: “We are absolutely delighted that HLF has granted us initial support and development funding - it’s a very significant first step to securing the future of this magnificent heritage site.

“The development grant will help us cement our plans with the view to purchasing the castle. For centuries, Hartlebury Castle was Worcestershire’s powerful centre and it’s great to know that we are a step closer to preserving this historical powerhouse for the future.”

Iain Rutherford, museums general manager, Museums Worcestershire, said: "This is excellent news for the future of Hartlebury Castle and for the County Museum at Hartlebury.

“We look forward to working in partnership with the Hartlebury Castle Preservation Trust to deliver one of the best tourist attractions in the Midlands, indeed in England, and to re-establishing Hartlebury as an important centre of learning and culture.

“This development will bring significant economic benefits to the county and will be an example of partnership working at its best.

“The combination of Museums Worcestershire's expertise and collections, together with the tenacity and the passion of the HCPT makes for a very exciting future."

Neil Anderson, head of culture and community services at Worcestershire County Council, added: "We're absolutely delighted by this news from the Heritage Lottery Fund. These much-anticipated developments secure and enhance the future of the County Museum.”

The trust will start immediately to prepare a second-round application to HLF, which it hopes to submit within a year. It will include the amount required to buy the property, together with funds to prepare the building for a sustainable future.

The second-round costs are estimated to be around £5 million, of which £4.5 million will be sought from HLF. The remainder is to be raised by HCPT.