Financial black hole revealed as Nottingham Castle Trust collapses
Nottingham Castle Trust is set to appoint liquidators – with the Castle itself now closed to visitors – after a disastrous £30m revamp fell flat.
The move marks the end of a troubled, delayed relaunch of Nottingham Castle, which ran over schedule by four months and into trouble because of the pandemic and lukewarm – at best – reviews.
The Trust itself has been dogged by high-profile departures, with chair Ted Cantle stepping down in September, and allegations of racism, bullying and harassment.
Now, after just four years, The Trust will be liquidated, with the public locked out of what should have been the jewel in Nottingham’s tourism crown.
The board of Nottingham Castle Trust said: “We are saddened and hugely disappointed to announce that today, Nottingham Castle Trust has begun the process of appointing liquidators. This is a heartbreaking day for trustees, our staff, visitors, and the city. Despite the immense dedication of staff and volunteers, the Castle is now closed to visitors.
“Tim Bateson and Chris Pole of Interpath Advisory have been nominated by the board to be appointed as liquidators to formally wind up the affairs of the Trust. Their appointment will take place during the course of the next ten days.
“While visitor numbers have been improving, they have unfortunately remained highly unpredictable and significantly below forecasts, mirroring the difficulties seen across the whole cultural sector. In line with heritage organisations and attractions across the UK, Nottingham Castle experienced a particularly tough summer that has negatively impacted expected funding streams.
“As the charity that operated Nottingham Castle on behalf of Nottingham City Council, the Trust’s business model and financing was agreed in 2017 and we are now in a fundamentally different social and economic environment. The immense challenges posed by the pandemic, the financial crisis and the three-fold rise in energy costs meant that this charitable trust model was no longer workable, and the Trust was simply not able to evolve quickly enough to survive the ongoing economic crisis as it enters its quietest trading period of the year.
“We stand by the vibrant vision that was set for Nottingham Castle in 2017 and are hopeful that a new operator will realise and take this forward in the near future for the benefit of our fantastic city.
“We would like to thank all of Nottingham Castle Trust’s supporters, including the thousands of visitors that have been through our gates. Finally, a huge thank you to staff and volunteers who made Nottingham Castle such an amazing place to visit.”
The Trust has had a troubled, short history. In 2021, freelance curator and poet Panya Banjoko, who previously curated an exhibition at the castle, alleged that her two young grandchildren were racially abused by another child at Castle site’s adventure playground. She also criticised Nottingham Castle Trust for its response to the incident and its aftermath.
Meanwhile, in October of that year, the former CEO of the Trust made a series of allegations of bullying and harassment against her former employer.
Sara Blair-Manning, who oversaw the £30m overhaul of the castle and left the organisation in August, made the allegations in a preliminary tribunal hearing. She lost the initial claim for interim relief, but went on to an unfair dismissal claim.
Blair-Manning told the hearing that, in 2020 and earlier this year, she had raised concerns about “inappropriate behaviour, including bullying and harassment by trustees towards her other members of staff and external consultants”.
In its latest available accounts, to March 31 2021, the Nottingham Castle Trust points to the fact it had been financed by loans from Nottingham City Council which totalled around £1.6m and which were due to be paid by March 31 2031.
It also owed Arts Council England £1m, to be paid back by the same date, but with an annual interest rate of 2%. The first repayment of this loan was due in March 2024.
In the 12 months to the end of March 2021, the Trust made a loss of £335,516 – up from a deficit almost 183,000 in 2020.
Nottingham City Council’s portfolio holder for leisure, culture and planning, Councillor Pavlos Kotsonis, said: “It is a matter of huge disappointment that Nottingham Castle Trust, which has been responsible for operating Nottingham Castle, has informed us that in light of its trading performance, it is in the process of appointing liquidators and closing the site, which it will be handing back to the council. This is clearly a significant blow for the city and its visitor economy.
“The council’s immediate priority is to work with the appointed liquidators to support those staff at the castle who have been affected by this sad news, and to safeguard the site and its collections while it is not operational. We appreciate the significant efforts that the employees of the trust have put into the site and understand how devastated they must be by this news.
“We will reopen the castle as soon as possible. Once we have a clearer picture from the liquidators, we will explore all available options together with our key partners the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Arts Council England and others to develop a fresh business model. There is a real commitment from all parties to see this important cultural asset fulfil its full potential for the city and the wider region as a successful visitor attraction, playing a key part in our wider plans to bring investment, jobs, visitors and growth to Nottingham and its residents.”