A WORCESTERSHIRE businessman and entrepreneur, who started work in a Stourport car body repair shop as a painter, is planning to invest £6.5 million in a country house hotel to create a world class facility with full disabled access.

Tim Hopkins who heads the Gemini Group which includes property and investments, vehicle accident repairs, holiday resorts and wineries, is passionate about accessibility and earlier this year bought the struggling Elms Hotel at Abberley.

Although he doesn’t have any personal experience of disability, he was inspired after attending this year’s Bespoke Access Awards and believes opportunities should be available to everyone – able bodied and disabled.

The businessman, who supports a number of local and national charities, bought The Elms in June and saw it as an opportunity to make it a more viable business and offer all guests a luxury experience. It has the potential to put Abberley on the world class map.

He said: “Everyone should have access to all of life’s opportunities, whether they have an impairment or not.

“There appears to be a serious gap in high quality, fully accessible, affordable hotel rooms in the market at the moment in Britain, in what we see as an area of growth, especially with all the wonderful things the University of Worcester is leading on in terms of inclusive sport and wellbeing.”

He added: “We, therefore, want to develop The Elms as a hotel that helps both able people and those living with disabilities to enjoy the luxuries of more independent lives equally."

These exciting plans are in line with the ambition for Worcestershire to be the most inclusive county in the UK. The University of Worcester hosted the European Wheelchair Basketball Championships in 2015 and is leading the proposal for an International Centre of Inclusive Sport.

The proposed plans for The Elms have already been assessed by national disability charity Revitalise, which is keen to provide a high-quality hotel experience to its guests.

The scheme is currently part of a pre-planning consultation exercise involving local residents and it is expected the full plans will be submitted to Malvern Hills District Council before Christmas.

If approved, work is likely to start in the spring next year and last for about 12 months. It may be done in phases to keep disruption to a minimum. It is hoped the spa and dining area will remain open throughout the work.

The majestic Grade II listed building has been an elegant country house hotel since 1946 and, originally built in the early 1700s, it is in the Queen Anne style of architecture.

It served as a private mansion for most of its life and anyone familiar with local architecture will notice the similarities to Worcester’s Guildhall. It is thought to be designed by the same architect – Thomas White who was a pupil of Sir Christopher Wren - and contains many similar features.

Unsurprisingly, the carriage drive was once lined with elm trees, though these have long since died and been replaced with limes.

In the mid-1800s the house became part of the Abberley Hall Estate owned by the wealthy Moilliet family.

While well-known racehorse breeder and founder of the Abberley Stud Sir Richard Brooke bought the property in 1927 for £6,500 - a princely sum at the time but nowhere the equivalent current value.

He lived there until 1946 when the manor was sold and turned into what would have been one of the original English country house hotels.

In view of The Elms’ listing and historic features, the designers are proposing a “very light touch” to the existing building in order to maintain its original charm.

But to achieve the goal of creating 40 fully accessible bedrooms, there will have to be some refurbishment of the original house as well as a new wing providing around 25 rooms.

A spokesman for Mr Hopkins said: “The existing house does not have a lift which needs to be addressed to provide suitable access to all floors.

“Two new lifts will be provided, which can carry up to two wheelchair users and two carers/guests at any one time. One of these lifts will be included as part of the new south wing accommodation and the other will be located adjacent to the existing kitchen and restaurant.

“Some doorways will be adapted, but not all, and care will be taken with any widening of doors within the listed building itself.

“To support the visitor accommodation, staff bedrooms will also be provided within the 2nd floor of the existing house as well as a light touch refurbishment of the cottages.

“Effective re-landscaping will also create usable outdoor spaces. The landscape proposals work with the existing landscape layout making minimal changes to the garden and maximising views into the surrounding landscape.

“There are proposed improvements to the quality of the existing layout by upgrading materials and improving accessibility through widening of paths and regrading of slopes in key places.”

In line with the accessibility theme, a new covered link will be constructed between the main house and the Spa. Guests currently have to go out of the house to get to the spa.

The designs for this multi-million pound project has been created by Worcester’s integrated design business One Creative Environments Ltd.

Mark Martin, director the firm, said: “We’re delighted to be involved with this fantastic luxury hotel and superb grounds. As a company we have vast experience in the commercial and health and care sectors and we utilise the latest technology to ensure our designs meet our clients’ needs.

“This multi-million pound cash injection will secure local jobs and create a viable and sustainable business at The Elms for its long-term future. We believe this could be a world class facility.”

The newly refurbished hotel is expected to provide up to 65 jobs in the future.

The policy manager for Disabled Rights UK Philip Connolly said: “I think this project is stunningly ambitious and to be applauded. We wish him well for his outlook and I hope it succeeds.”

He pointed out the staff would need to be trained to meet the needs of disabled people if it is to be truly inclusive.

Mr Connolly added that is in the interests of good business to cater for people with disabilities and particularly older customers who have high levels of disposable income.

“When a business makes it easier for disabled people, they want to take their families to the restaurant or hotel and many businesses are only just getting to understand that,” he said.