A château where he used to play in the gardens as a little boy. When the Château des Pères came up for sale again Jean-Paul Legendre, the manager of a building and public works company which bears his name and which has 1,230 people on the payroll, was soon taken with the idea of bringing it back to life. It just seemed an obvious thing to do.
Isabelle LEIZE : Why buy a château?
Jean-Paul Legendre : When I started working, 45 years ago, I did a fair bit of restoration and stonework. It fascinated me. I’ve been thinking of buying a château for some time now, not to live there – living in a château isn’t really my ‘cup of tea’! – but to restore it.
I.L. Why the Château des Pères?
J-P.L. I’ve always retained an attachment to the places I knew as a child. I grew up in Amanlis, and when I saw that the Château des Pères was for sale the idea took hold. I wanted to restore it. Then very soon I found I wanted to build a project around manual labour, to give it a function again and a meaning, with the intention of opening it up for as many people as possible.
I.L. You know this château well then…
J-P.L. My great-grandfather on my mother’s side was a gardener here. And my grandmother was a chambermaid here. I’ve known this château practically since I took my first steps! We often went for walks there as a family. And I went there with my mother to buy vegetable seedlings.
I.L. And its history has echoes with your project…
J-P.L. Yes indeed, the Château was given over to the congregation of the Pères du Saint-Esprit (missionary order) with the aim of setting up a manual work training centre for the brothers. For about thirty years it therefore played host to priests and friars before sending them out on missionary work. They received training in agricultural trades, and as blacksmiths and farriers. With the decline in the number of people coming forward for the priesthood, the training centre was turned into a retirement home. And so that the château could be self-sufficient, the friars started growing vegetables and rearing chickens.
I.L. Can you give us an overview of the project?…
J-P.L. We’re giving ourselves three years to finish the restoration of the buildings. In the park there will be permanent sculptures shown off to good effect in a discovery trail. We will also be inviting in a theatre company with the idea of setting up an open-air theatre and exhibition rooms for exhibiting paintings… As for the idea of passing on knowledge, one which is close to my heart, it is being made reality with the arrival of artists and the launching of the training courses in artistic professions which are open to everyone. The aim is really to highlight the richness of manual labour and to pass on the relevant skills whilst giving pleasure to the visitors and the trainees. In a word: sharing!