Kevin Mason, the director of Bodelwyddan Castle Trust. Photo (c) Phil Sayer

Bodelwyddan Castle to sever ties with National Portrait Gallery

Eleanor Mills, 15.03.2017
Long-term loan agreement between two institutions ends after council slashes funding
Bodelwyddan Castle, near Rhyl in North Wales, has been forced to end a long-term loan agreement with London’s National Portrait Gallery (NPG) after Denbighshire County Council cut its funding.

A 40% annual funding cut imposed on the Bodelwyddan Castle Trust by the local authority means that the 29-year arrangement will not be possible after March next year.

Bodelwyddan Castle, which won the Museum of the Year Award in 1989, has been home to displays of 19th-century works from the NPG’s collection since 1988. There are 155 portraits on display at the castle, which has also hosted several NPG touring exhibitions.

Bodelwyddan Castle Trust would have to raise £224,000 a year to continue the arrangement because of the high costs of providing the right conditions and monitored environment  for the paintings.

Kevin Mason, the director of Bodelwyddan Castle Trust, said seven out of the castle’s 13 employees would be made redundant, adding that he would lose his own job.

“Inevitably this cut means job losses and, professionally, our trust cannot justify the retention of national collections as it would find it difficult to maintain the specific conditions required to maintain the loan,” said Mason.

“My recommendation to trustees to end the loan agreement was an inevitable consequence of the county council’s decision.

“Denbighshire council officers seem to consider this a simple cost-cutting exercise, but do not appear to have thought through the implications in terms of loss of cultural credibility and the economic benefits that such national collections bring to the region.”

Ken Davies, the chair of Bodelwyddan Castle Trust, said: “This is a tremendous blow for the trust and for our partners at the National Portrait Gallery but perhaps more importantly it sees the end of an arrangement that really benefited local residents, whether through the partnership’s general education work or the economic benefits that it brought to the area.”

“The council’s input was relatively small when compared with those benefits and it is difficult to comprehend why such a dramatic cut in funding has been agreed.”

A spokeswoman for Denbighshire County Council said: “The difficult financial environment within the public sector over recent years has meant that the council has had to review all expenditure. We have decided that we cannot continue to justify this subsidy to Bodelwyddan Castle Trust.

“We have been discussing this situation with the trust for some time, and subsequently made the decision to delay the removal of the subsidy until April 2018 to allow additional time for the trust to plan its future financial arrangements.”

Mason said he was first warned of the situation in September but at the time was under the impression that funding from the council would be reduced gradually over the next three years.

“In late January this year we were told that the castle would receive a full grant this coming financial year and then nothing after March 2018,” he said.  

A statement on the NPG’s website said it regretted that trustees at the castle decided to end the partnership with the gallery.

“The decision has been taken due to the costs associated with presenting works from a national collection at the castle,” said the statement.

“We understand that it was with great reluctance that the Bodelwyddan Castle Trust have made this decision, but that they had no choice due to recent funding reductions from Denbighshire County Council.”