Staff at Whittington Castle have painted a bleak future for the popular tourist spot if they are not able to bring in money, after a call to help funding.

With coronavirus lockdown forcing the 11th century castle to close, making a huge dent in its resources and all-but-closing off its ability to bring in tourists, chairman of castle trustees, Jonjo Evans, feels the impact will be too hard to recover from.

With much of its income, including a government grant, going on maintaining the castle while it is closed, Mr Evans believes the precedence of closed signs around the castle may be a shock to the public.

But he says it is a genuine threat.

“I have a sinking feeling we are going down for good this time after years of financial problems, and this is tragic given that we started this year with light at the end of a long tunnel,” said Mr Evans.

“For years now the castle has been treading a financial tightrope, with no external funding, relying on our tea room and car park for a regular modest income to pay wages.

“With free admission, we are heavily dependant on events such as weddings, re-enactments of landmarks in history and other popular activities to help cover the huge annual cost of keeping the place going.

“As a rule we do well to break even. People see the castle always bubbling with activity and life, swarming with tourists all summer, and assume the finances are ticking over nicely. They should see the books.

“Our public liability insurance, for instance, costs £1,000 a month, so the maximum £10,000 grant we received as a result of coronavirus will be gone on that and running costs such as utility bills and other recurring and unavoidable overheads by the end of the summer.

“Long before that happens, leaving us in effect uninsured and with nothing left in the bank, we will need to take steps to seal the site off to stop people sneaking in. The law requires this, and it’s a bleak prospect.

“The Gatehouse will still be visible from the road, but the moat bridge, along with the road approach to the rest of the castle and its grounds will have to be barricaded and in the absence of an injection of funds I can’t see any of it re-opening when the crisis is over.

“We need capital now to keep going and at the very least make the small improvements we had planned to do from income.

“Now would, of course, be an ideal time to put the work in hand with building allowed and the public excluded anyway. This is an ideal opportunity which should be seized.

“The saddest aspect of all this is that we started the year with high hopes, with more weddings and other events than ever before booked and some major re-enactments which would have given us a prosperous season.

“We already have plans drawn up as part of a long-term plan to protect the castle’s future, but without some immediate working capital the whole project will have to be abandoned.

“The kitchen, for instance, is totally inadequate to cope with the growing popularity of our cafe. This was originally designed as a tea room selling the odd cake, but has been a real hit and before shutting down was serving a range of meals producing ever greater turnover.

“The fact is we cannot continue keeping this important site open for public enjoyment without some money in the bank for us to do so.”

Mr Evans believes that the castle is taken for granted, but does understand why.

He added: “It has stood just as it is now for centuries, and people can be forgiven for assuming it will always be there for their enjoyment and relaxation.

“I am afraid that’s the way it is. We will be forced to shut up shop and walk away, some of us having put years of unpaid work into helping the public to enjoy this wonderful ancient monument.

“There will be no need for trustees of a building which the public can no longer visit. The entire community will be a whole lot poorer as a result, even property owners whose house values benefit enormously for sharing the village with such a historic and important tourist attraction.”

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