Plans to transform the former Bishop of Carlisle's residence into an international centre of reconciliation have taken a major step forward.

The Grade I-listed Rose Castle was sold by the Church Commissioners in July 2016, following a fierce battle by local residents and supporters from around the world to prevent it being sold for housing.

The Rose Castle Company (RCC) worked tirelessly for several years to buy the building and 67 acres of land, with the intention of offering it for use by the Rose Castle Foundation (RCF) for reconciliation work.

It has received backing from high-profile leaders, including the Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

A planning application has now been submitted to Carlisle City Council to transform the castle, based near Dalston, from the former Bishop's residence to a mixed use conference centre.

The foundation wants to bring together religious communities in conflict, emerging leaders and those at the heart of community relations to work together on finding peace through reconciliation work.

It is led by Canon Sarah Snyder, advisor for reconciliation to the Archbishop of Canterbury, while the Right Reverend Bishop James Newcome, Bishop of Carlisle, is one of the chairmen of the foundation's board of trustees.

A statement by the foundation, submitted as part of the planning application, explains the foundation's aim: "One of the ways in which RCF works is by bringing people together under one roof, thus breaking the formal barriers to reconciliation by facilitating face-to-face engagement across lines of division.

"Participants are encouraged (wherever possible) to share the same space, experiencing the benefits of dialogue, positive interaction and harmonious coexistence.

"Rose Castle with its own history of conflict over the years, when it was a border fort on the dividing line between England and Scotland, is an ideal place to bring people who are experiencing conflict today to spend time together under one roof.

"The intrinsic beauty of the buildings and the tranquillity of the landscape are a nourishing setting for delegates and guests, as RCF can attest from previous experience of running courses at the castle."

The Rose Castle Company will operate on a not-for-profit basis, with all money made being ploughed back into the castle and estate – allowing the foundation to focus on its reconciliation work.

When not in use by the foundation, the company aims to open up the castle for other events, to help fund its continued maintenance. Suggestions include letting the space to other parties, special interest groups, legal mediation weekends, conferences and possibly bed and breakfast.

Public access to the castle – including monthly history tours, community carol concerts and other events – are also planned to continue.

Mrs Snyder told The Cumberland News: “We are so excited and incredibly grateful to be able to share this good news about the refurbishment of Rose Castle, which will not only transform and appropriate this beautiful space into a home for our local, national and international programmes but will also open new doors for our growing number of projects with the local community and local schools.

"Until the castle is ready to welcome guests in Spring 2020 we are continuing our work across Cumbria, up and down Britain and overseas and are looking forward to building our staff team over the coming year, training up locals for the various roles that will be opening up.

"We want to say a heartfelt thank you to everyone who has supported us from the moment the vision for Rose Castle as a sanctuary for peace and reconciliation came into fruition - this is a moment of celebration for all of us as community.

"It feels so right to see Rose Castle restored in a way that is respectful of it’s rich history whilst also looking forwards and outwards so that this special place can once again open it’s doors and be of service to our community, both locally and globally.”

The plans for Rose Castle have the support of both the city council and Heritage England.

The application proposes that a detailed listing building application will be submitted in early July, with work beginning in early 2019 and the first guests hoping to stay in the casle in spring 2020.

The multi-million pound project to transform the building into a 21st century space will retain all of the castle's stunning original features, but bring the living quarters up-to-date including adding en suite bathrooms.

Work will also be undertaken to remove asbestos, update the wiring and heating systems throughout the building, update the kitchen, repair the roof and other general repairs.

Detailed planning applications for the bedroom and bathroom adaptations and kitchen will be submitted later.

The biggest change to the fabric of the building and grounds will be the proposed installation of a lift between ground and first floor levels – as the castle is currently inaccessible above the first floor for disabled visitors – and a new parking area near the farm.

Raising the funds needed for the project is already underway, but RCC has confirmed that the project as a whole has been underwritten by an unnamed "generous benefactor".

A spokesman for Haysom Ward Miller architects added: "The refurbishment of the castle will bring employment to local contractors and RCF plans to train local people to facilitate the peace and reconciliation work so this new use of the building will be a benefit to local Cumbrians.

"The proposed use maintains the Christian Heritage of the site dating back over 800 years."