Virginia McKenna OBE, who featured in the 1966 film, has been named the patron of Shropshire Cat Rescue's Big PURR Project, which aims to raise funding for a new centre close to Shrewsbury to replace its current Bayston Hill home.
The project is looking to fund a new 10-acre site which would create jobs and potentially boost the county's economy with tourist facilities, including a cat café, children's play area, shops, farm animal walks, guided tours, landscaped gardens, and a seasonal programme of concerts, fetes, and craft activities.
The centre would also extend capacity for rescuing and rehoming the county's cats – the current centre can only hold 100 cats at a time.
Mrs McKenna said she was delighted to have become a patron of the project.
She said: "I am very touched to have been invited to become a patron of Shropshire Cat Rescue's PURR project. It is a very exciting and, obviously, much-needed development of the wonderful work already being done by Shropshire Cat Rescue.
"I know, too, that it is not only cats who are the fortunate ones – sheep, ponies and other species of animals are also taken in and cared for.
"What I also admire about the project is the inclusive educational aspect. It is only through greater understanding of the animals, with their individual needs and feelings, that we can all – hopefully – treat them with compassion and respect.
"I look forward to learning more about this marvellous venture and wish it all the support it deserves."
Mrs McKenna starred in the classic film Born Free which told of a couple who raised Elsa the Lioness, an orphaned lion cub, to adulthood, and released her into the wilderness of Kenya.
Shropshire Cat Rescue trustee Anne Wignall said: "Although Virginia has mainly worked with large cats, such as the celebrated lioness Elsa in the much-loved film of her life, she is keen to support this important development.
"Our cats may be so much smaller, but our plans to expand from our small site at Lyth Hill to a much larger complex bear some comparison."
Marion Micklewright, chairwoman and shelter manager, said she is delighted with the support the project has received so far and added: "Shropshire Cat Rescue has never just been about cats. The new centre will be a hub for the local community and we will continue to develop our work with schools, care homes and social services.
"Education has always been an important part of our work. Our Book Buddies scheme helps hesitant readers gain confidence by reading to our cats, we provide work experience and Duke of Edinburgh placements and opportunities for people with learning disabilities. We are now creating courses on responsible pet care and student courses providing qualifications for further animal education. The centre will even have a science building where children can experience the world from a cat's point of view."
The Big PURR Project will be officially launched at 6pm on Tuesday, June 23, at the Lantern, Harlescott, Shrewsbury.