Belfast Explore Features

Hidden Huntley: a tranquil garden venue hiding in plain sight

7th February 2022 Share

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Aptly-named, Hidden Huntley is the perfect choice for those seeking a tranquil, nature-encompassed venue for their next event. Here, owner Antonia Malcolm tells us what she loves most about her new venture.

You lived away from Northern Ireland for around 40 years before returning. Can you give us a flavour of what you did in that time?

Antonia and her dog (photo credit: Ulster Tatler)

I was in my late teens when I left Belfast and my first stop was London. I had a variety of jobs there, including quite an unusual, roller-coaster 7-year stint as PA to the world chess champion Gary Kasparov. After that I moved to Russia for four years, where I started off teaching English as a foreign language and then worked for an American Investment bank, managing their Open Learning Centre for 300 staff. Then I headed to Poland for a year and, apart from exploring the beautiful countryside a bit when I had time, I helped to set up a sandwich delivery company in the centre of Warsaw.

On returning to the UK I undertook overseeing a couple of apartment refurbishments in Glasgow and then worked at the Glasgow School of Art for about 6 years, mainly in admin support, but I also organised a couple of really interesting international conferences. For my next move, I had the good fortune to get involved, as a member of the Board of Trustees, in a wonderfully creative project – The Enchanted Forest, a multi-award-winning sound and light show in Highland Perthshire and my last position, before moving back to Northern Ireland, was as sub editor for a long-established community magazine in the same area of Scotland. I then ran a very successful B&B in the house for 4 ½ years until Covid struck.

How did the pandemic affect what you were able to offer at Hidden Huntley?

A pandemic is very good for focussing the mind so, like many businesses, I had to ‘pivot’ and now I offer the gardens and grounds as a venue for a variety of outdoor events. I started off hosting small groups for lunch in the garden after curated walks run by Nikki Elliott of Walk It Off NI, and we were able to continue this between lockdowns. Some of the other events that we’ve had at Hidden Huntley include family celebrations, a Docs Ireland film screening with live jazz band, a graduation in the greenhouse, outdoor workshops, photoshoots, and wedding photography.

Al fresco Docs Ireland film screening (photo credit: Ulster Tatler)

Despite the pandemic restrictions, we also managed to have a TV drama shoot in the house which involved a lot of masks, sanitiser spray, and social distancing! You can see some of our interiors in Series 1, Episode 2 of Dalgliesh which was all filmed in Northern Ireland and aired on Channel 5 last autumn.

How would you describe Hidden Huntley, and where is it located?

Hidden Huntley is an early 19th century private family home in the Lagan Valley, with five acres of well-maintained grounds including a fully functioning walled kitchen garden. Our outdoor spaces offer a unique blank canvas for small groups looking for a venue where they can create their own bespoke events, so it is different from an all-inclusive venue and best suits those who want the flexiblity and freedom to set the stage themselves.

This also works well for me and, to help with planning, I have a list of local companies such as caterers and partyware suppliers who have all added a special touch to recent events at Hidden Huntley and whom I can recommend. Each party always has exclusive use of the venue on the day of their booking, so people can come and make Hidden Huntley their own for the day!

Embroidery workshop for home carers

Tell us a bit about the people that help you maintain the house and grounds.

Although I love it, sadly I’m no longer able to do the gardening myself but, from 2016 until early 2020 I had over 65 WWOOFers from all over the world who, in return for bed and board, volunteered in the garden and learned all kinds of things horticultural. I hope to have WWOOFers again, as my French and Italian are getting rusty but, in the meantime, I’ve been lucky enough to have had help from two wonderful local guys, as well as our long-serving grass-cutting man!

Can you tell me about the facilities available at Huntley?

At the heart of Hidden Huntley is a Victorian walled kitchen garden with mature fruit trees and bushes, a rose garden, vegetable beds and lots of other interesting plants. It has a large greenhouse, which makes a lovely rustic setting for a buffet or coffee and cakes. Besides the garden, there are small mature woodland areas, lawns, a tennis court and two covered barns.

Although 90% of our bookings are for outdoor events, we also have an 80m2 studio on the first floor of a refurbished outbuilding with downstairs break-out/refreshment room. For outdoor events we can take up to 50 people and 20 cars, so Hidden Huntley is ideal for intimate gatherings and small events.

What kind of events can you have at Hidden Huntley?

Spring wedding photos

Since we started in April, we’ve had yoga classes, weddings (humanist & religious only), a graduation in the greenhouse, the jazz film screening and the TV shoot, styled photo shoots, christening lunches, garden society visits, a 50th birthday party in the hayshed, Christmas wreath-making workshops, pet photo shoots, a stretch tent launch, a creative embroidery away day for a group of home carers, a photoshoot for Tourism NI for their Embrace a Giant Spirit campaign, a Somali wedding reception, an 80th birthday celebration, and a 60th wedding anniversary tea party. So, as you can see, the possibilities are endless and we just have to keep our fingers crossed for half decent weather!

Graduation ceremony

Are you open all year round?

Yes, except 24 – 31 December 2022.

Where do you see things going in the future?

Looking forward, I plan to build on what I’ve been doing over the last year, now that I have a better feel for what works and what doesn’t. One idea I’m thinking of developing is offering informal corporate well-being days with the option of, perhaps, a qualified tai chi or yoga instructor. I’d also love to have more photo shoots here, as the grounds are full of wonderful backdrops which are perfect for any situation. Visitors to Hidden Huntley can enjoy the sense of being surrounded by history and nature, so I feel we have a lot to offer as a space to refresh and recharge the batteries.

Finally, what do you love most about Hidden Huntley?

I’ve loved seeing people’s imaginations flourish and the beautiful events they’ve created, from workshops or weddings to other special occasion celebrations. It’s very rewarding and I love meeting people. I’m here to help but I don’t interfere!

Another thing that I love about this new venture is seeing people’s faces and hearing their reactions when they come from the farmyard, through the potting shed, into the garden.  Almost every time, they say something like: “Wow, I’ve been up and down this road for years, and I never knew this was here!” To see what I mean, have a look at this recently-launched film in The Time Traveller’s Suitcase series, made by local broadcasting company NVTV (Northern Visions Television) in conjunction with independent museum curator, Ciaran Doran. This is why it’s called Hidden Huntley – we’re hiding in plain sight!

Find out more about Hidden Huntley here.

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