Nottingham City Council says it will reopen Nottingham Castle “as soon as possible” after the independent trust appointed to run it went into liquidation.
The board of Nottingham Castle Trust announced the museum’s immediate closure to visitors this morning, with Tim Bateson and Chris Pole of Interpath Advisory nominated to act as liquidators and formally wind up its affairs.
The castle reopened in June 2021 after a three-year £33m renovation, but in an official statement its board said its business model was “no longer workable”.
It blamed unpredictable visitor numbers and “a particularly tough summer”, which negatively impacted its 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 statement continued.
“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.”
The castle’s website has been replaced by a holding page, and its social media channels are no longer being monitored.
The building and its collections are owned by Nottingham Council, and will be handed back by the trust as part of the liquidation process.
“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,” said councillor Pavlos Kotsonis, who has responsibility for the city’s culture portfolio.
“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.”
Sharon Heal, director of the Museums Association, said: “This is sad and troubling news. We are concerned for the staff at the castle as well for the future of the collections and the building.
“It is a reflection of the difficult situation facing many museums and heritage buildings post-Covid and in the midst of a cost of living crisis. Serious questions now need to be asked about the governance of the castle and what the next steps are to preserve this important collection and space for the people of Nottingham.”
The castle has been subject to controversy and criticism in recent years. It was subject to a protest during the summer organised by freelance curator and poet Panya Banjoko and the campaign group Stand Up to Racism. The trust was criticised for its handling of an incident the previous year, in which Banjoko says her two young grandchildren were racially abused by another child at the site’s adventure playground.
An independent investigation into the incident in March this year found that there was a general lack of awareness and training in safeguarding policy at Nottingham Castle Trust prior to the incident, although it commended the actions of staff to put the children involved first.
Some current and former staff also criticised the trust's wider organisational culture, which they claimed had led to high staff turnover in the site's first year of opening.
The trust is currently subject to an employment tribunal by its former chief executive officer Sara Blair-Manning, who claims she was wrongfully dismissed in August 2021 after raising concerns about bullying and harassment – allegations strongly denied by the trust.
In a statement, Blair-Manning said she will pursue her claim for unfair dismissal against two trustees, Ted Cantle and Susan Hallam. She also called on the council to establish an independent investigation into the closure.
Candle stood down as chair of Nottingham Castle Trust in September, along with trustee Richard Tresidder. Later that month, Annie Hurst and Heather Mayfield were recruited as joint chief executives to replace interim chief executive David Johns.