Nottingham Castle has closed its doors to the public after the trust that runs it fell into liquidation, a year after a £33m revamp of the site failed to bring in expected visitor numbers.
In a statement published on Monday morning, Nottingham Castle Trust said it was “saddened and hugely disappointed” to be closing. It added that visitors were “significantly below” the 300,000 a year projected after a three-year renovation.
“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,” the statement read.
“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.”
The trust previously said the revamp, funded by sources including Nottingham city council and the Heritage Lottery Fund, would turn the site into a “world-class heritage destination” to rival the castles at Warwick and York.
Sharon Heal, the director of the Museums Association, said the news was “sad and troubling”. “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,” she said.
“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.”
Research by the charity has shown local authority expenditure on museums and galleries in England declined by 34% in real terms between 2009-10 and 2019-20.
“Add to this the impact of the pandemic and escalating fuel bills and there is nothing less than a perfect storm facing our much-loved local museums,” said Heal.
The castle’s renovation included a new visitor center and cafe, refurbishing and adding galleries, an interactive Robin Hood exhibit and an outside play area.
Nottingham Castle Trust has faced heavy criticism over the past year, particularly over its handling of an alleged racist incident between children in the castle’s play area, which led to a protest and an open letter by 40 current and former staff calling for trustees to step down.
The trust’s former chief executive, Sara Blair-Manning, is also claiming she was wrongfully dismissed in August 2021 after raising concerns about bullying and harassment, allegations that are strongly denied by the trust.
Pavlos Kotsonis, Nottingham city council’s portfolio holder for leisure, culture and planning, said the news of the castle’s closure was a “huge disappointment”. “This is clearly a significant blow for the city and its visitor economy,” he said, adding the council was supporting affected staff and safeguarding the site and its collections.
“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.”
Lilian Greenwood, the MP for Nottingham South, said it was her understanding that “the trust are handing the site back to the council”.
Once an important royal fortress, most of the original medieval Nottingham castle was destroyed in 1651 and the site is now largely taken up by a Victorian rebuild of the 17th-century mansion, which was built on the site.
The site, which contains the gatehouse and parts of the ramparts from the original castle, sits on Castle Rock and dominates the city’s skyline, with 40-metre high cliffs to the south and west.
There were complaints about ticket prices when the site reopened in June 2021, leading to the trust introducing a reduced ticket price for local people living in certain postcodes.