In May 2020 with the country still staying indoors, zoom quizzing and baking banana bread Community managed Whittington Castle lost its income streams and was on the verge of closure. They launched a ‘Castle in Crisis’ fundraising drive which saw them through the numerous lockdowns but are now reopening the appeal for support.
“We are only open today thanks to the generosity of the community” reports Chairman Jonjo Evans, “if we’d fully closed we’d have had to fence off the site for insurance reasons”. We are reaching out again for support through our quiet winter months to ensure the castle can stay open and free to visit for all.
Like most in the tourism sector we generate income in the summer months to see us through the winter; but sadly this summer we’re still feeling the effects of covid. Our wedding diary is filled 1-2 years ahead so we’ve had a reduced number of ceremonies this year as they would have been booked in 2020-21 during the lockdown period.
Another hangover from covid was our scaled back events programmes, last Christmas there was still talk of further circuit breaker lockdowns and limited capacities. We couldn’t gamble planning an events programme to potentially cancel so ran a scaled back offer this year. It’s like we’re suffering the effects of our own version of long covid.
It’s not all dire news from the Castle, “we have been successfully improving the site since we have reopened. We applied for grants for a new toilet block, much needed internal repairs, and refitted kitchen@thecastle is getting rave reviews, but these grants are ring fenced for those specific projects, they’ve not built our reserves” explains treasurer Neil Robinson. “where we need support is with our day to day operational costs going into the leaner winter. We always say that by supporting the Castle you’re helping maintain the history of the site for all. But actually it’s more than that, we are a local employer, we source our produce locally and commission local trades people, donations to keep the Preservation Trust running is actually money that stays within the community.
General Manager Kimberley Powell reflects on the situation “we’ve had a few hiccups to plans through the year were deeply unlucky that our one of our big reenactment weekends fell during the heatwave, our knights are volunteers donating time and expertise for the love of the Castle it would be too big and ask and too dangerous to have ploughed ahead in Xtonne metal suits in 30+degree heat. And we made the respectful decision to postpone our craft event while the country was in its period of official mourning following the death of HM The Queen. In previous years that has been the most attended weekend of the year.
Our events programme is already built for next year, I’d like to think 2023 and 2024 will see a return to normal visitor numbers, perhaps even a few extra as we’ll be featuring on Time Team in the Spring so that may pique the interest of some further visitors – we just need to get through to then!
“We know it’s going to be a tougher ask of our supporters this winter” admits Chairman Jonjo Evans. “Everyone is concerned about how long the cost of living crisis is going to last”, we’re now registered for the Gift Aid scheme so anyone that does support us can boost their donation by 25% at no cost to themselves if they’re a UK taxpayer.