Plan to house foreign poultry butchers at failed hospital

Tugay Akman, chief executive of Jessal group,

Tugay Akman, chief executive of Jeesal group, pictured in front of the former Cawston Park hospital, near Aylsham. - Credit: Colin Finch

The site of a failed private hospital where several patients died could be turned to a new use - as a home for poultry butchers from overseas. 

The owner of Cawston Park Hospital in north Norfolk wants to use the site to house up to 50 foreign butchers who would work at Banham Poultry in Attleborough. 

Tugay Akman, chief executive of Dereham-based Jeesal, which ran the hospital until its closure in May last year, said converting the site for foreign workers would be a sensible move. 

Cawston Park Hospital from above.

The former Cawston Park hospital site from above. - Credit: Mike Page

Mr Akman said: "This will be something that's useful and good for the whole economy as well. There are sectors which have shortage of workers and one of these sectors is poultry. Certain positions have to be filled."

Mr Akman said the people who would live at the site would be "specialised poultry butchers" who would come to the UK on a special visa.

He said Jeesal was working with Banham Poultry's owners on the plan "to make sure their needs are being met".

Coaches would be used to take the workers to and from the factory, and there would be a shuttle service into Aylsham so they could go shopping and access other amenities. 

Banham Poultry in Attleborough

Banham Poultry in Attleborough - Credit: Archant

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Jeesal's application says Pandora X Ltd - a software company co-founded by Mr Akman - would manage the site and the bus service. 

Mr Akman said the whole Cawston Park estate would be used for the purpose.

He said: "We need to update the buildings and apply for some licencing, so there are some hoops we need to jump through."

It will be up to Broadland District Council to decide on the plans, which are for a three-year term. 

Ben King, died at Cawston Park Hospital on July 29 2020

Ben King, died at Cawston Park Hospital on July 29 2020. An inquest into his death made a number of criticisms of the care he received. - Credit: Supplied courtesy of Ben King's family

Three residents of the former hospital, Ben King, 32, Nicholas Briant, 33, and Joanna Bailey, 36 - who all had learning disabilities - died there within two years of each other.

A following coroner's Prevention of Future Deaths Report raised serious concerns about the hospital's "consistent failures in meeting standards" and called for a radical overview of the care system. 

Banham Poultry was bought by Boparan Private Office (BPO), the owner of turkey giant Bernard Matthews and the 2 Sisters Food Group, in October last year.

Cawston Park: A chequered past

The Tudor-style building which housed Cawston Park hospital has a rich and fascinating history. 

The main building was constructed as a manor house by an American stockbroker called George Cawston in 1897 - apparently because he liked the fact that part of Norfolk already bore his name. 

He also built a water tower on the site, which was converted to a private residence in 2003 and later became one of Norfolk's quirkiest holiday homes - although it is not currently available to let.

The manor was used as a convalescent home for soldiers during the First World War, and in the following years hosted an annual 'gymkhana' games day followed by dancing on the lawn in the evening. 

The manor changed hands several times over the following decades, and in 1927 a small lake to the east of the building was made by the damming of the Mermaid stream. The lake still bears the name Stourton Water - after the owner of the manor at the time. 

During the Second World War, the manor housed disabled children from homes near the coast, and in 1964 it became Cawston College, which was initially for boys but later also admitted girls.

Notable pupils included the heavyweight boxer Herbie Hide and Jacyn Heavens, an entrepreneur who founded the Norwich-based software company Epos Now. 

From the school's closure 1999 to 2003 the main school buildings were used by the International Foundation of Inspiration, Spirituality and Healing (IFISH) as a centre for psychic science and spiritual healing.

After that closed the site became Cawston Park psychiatric hospital. Its non-executive chairman, former Tory MP David Prior, was among a number of people arrested in 2006 over fraud allegations.

Mr Prior was cleared of the charges the following year, but the hospital closed in the aftermath of the trial in 2009, after its owners, Chancellor Care, went into administration. 

The Jessal Group bought the site in 2010 and reopened it as a hospital for people with autism and learning disabilities.