Nottingham Castle, Nottingham’s chief tourist attraction and a remarkable heritage site, has closed its doors to the public and to staff, announcing on 21st November 2022 that the Nottingham Castle Trust, the charity in charge of running the site, was being liquidated. Adaora Elliott looks into why this happened, and how the pandemic and cost of living crisis have affected businesses in Nottingham.
The Trust have cited unpredictable visitor numbers due to Covid, as well as cost of living crisis for its dire situation. Whilst it is clear they did have a huge role to play in the Trust’s downfall, it certainly isn’t the only reason. Since re-opening its doors in June 2021 after a three-year refurbishing project that cost £30 million, the museum has been hit by a number of scandals and criticism, almost all of which were directed at the board.
The former chief executive of the Trust, Sara Blair-Manning, who had been working with the Trust since 2019, was fired after alleging instances of bullying and harassment from the Trust and has gone on to raise this to an employment tribunal in August 2021 over claims of wrongful dismissal. Also in August, Nottingham Trent University PhD researcher, author, poet and grandmother, Panya Banjoko, allegedly had an incident of racism against her grandchildren, which the HR group The People Factor believes was handled badly. This was followed by an open letter from Nottingham Castle staff of colour in November, also claiming instances of discrimination and a culture of fear.
The hopefully temporary closing of Nottingham Castle shows the direct consequences of the recent crises for Museums and cultural sites
The new chief executive, Robin Bischert, left after just a few months along, with several senior leadership team members; the finance director, communication and customer service director, programmes director, two learning and visitor experience managers, the marketing manager, exhibitions manager, and volunteers manager. All of this on top of complaints of the admission prices to the museum and various other exhibits attached to the Castle being too high, the Trust owed the council £1.859 million in loans and a further £821,000 for services rendered and were in a £335,516 deficit of their own funds as of March 2021. In the 18 months that Nottingham Castle was reopened, the Nottingham Castle Trust was not up to the task of keeping it open, and the cost of living crisis only exacerbated their problems.
The cost of living crisis has affected every area of life, but in a post-Covid time when travel has been interrupted, and where local expenditure on museums in England has gone down by 34% from 2009-2019, the hopefully temporary closing of Nottingham Castle shows the direct consequences of the recent crises for Museums and cultural sites. In their closing statement, the Trust said “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 Cost of Living Crisis saw the fall of ‘real’ disposable incomes, high inflation and higher energy prices which have become the perfect flashpoint to endanger museums like Nottingham Castle. The energy price caps offered by the government to households were not given to businesses or institutions so, for many cultural sites, prices have soared. Large and old buildings like museums are hard to heat, but with it being open to the public, they can’t just turn it off to avoid the monumental bills increase. On top of that, with the general public also having less money, museums with entry fees like Nottingham Castle have also been in trouble. When people are struggling with energy bills, and food has gotten more expensive, people are less inclined to spend £14 on a museum and more for additional Robin Hood related tours.
There was no official word from the Castle and with every employee having lost their jobs and access to their work emails, there was no one for traders to contact about the status of the market
So many people were affected by the closing of Nottingham Castle, and even though the council says they will reopen as soon as possible, that doesn’t help the Nottingham Castle employees who suddenly found themselves without a job on 21st November.
Amongst those affected are the independent traders who were set to set up a Christmas market at the castle on 25th November, just days out from its unexpected closing. They were mentioned specifically in the brief statement issued by the Trust “Stall holders for the Nottingham Castle Christmas market and other suppliers will be contacted directly.” Despite the statement on their website, they did not directly contact stall holders; they were all informed of the Castle’s closing at the same time as the public. There was no official word from the Castle and with every employee having lost their jobs and access to their work emails, there was no one for traders to contact about the status of the market, and they were left with only a sense of uncertainty.
Gabrielle from Resin by Gabrielle has been selling her beautiful handmade jewellery, accessories and ornaments since the first lockdown in 2020, but this is only her third market stall which was marred by the last-minute closing of the Castle. Someone at the Trust must have had an inkling about it prior to 21st November and yet allowed planning for the market to continue as usual right up until the last minute, not even informing castle staff until the morning of. Ella from Ellastrated — who sells hilarious and delightful illustrations on postcards, stickers, posters and beanies — spoke about the initial worries about funds. For independent businesses and artists who had put up £150 for a space at the Nottingham Castle Christmas Market and a further £50 for a gazebo, expecting a return from selling at the market, she now does not know if she will ever get it back.
The coming together of so many different groups and individuals so quickly has shown the strength of the community in Nottingham
Thankfully, a former Nottingham Castle employee reached out to them independently so they were certain about the market’s cancellation. He also put them in contact with Nottingham BID, Pitch Presents and Creative Quarterly who stepped in to assist the 23 independent market traders relocate the 3-day Christmas market hosted at Sneinton Market Avenues for free so the traders weren’t left completely in the lurch this Christmas. Ella was even able to earn back what she had lost at the market.
The coming together of so many different groups and individuals so quickly has shown the strength of the community in Nottingham even in the face of several conflating crises. Nottingham BID CEO, Alex Flint said in a statement to Creative Quarter “When Nottingham faces challenges like this, we pride ourselves on finding solutions; in this instance, the strength of our partnerships has demonstrated that we are a city which cares, and pulls together to support the local economy.”
We can only hope that Nottingham Castle bounces back with the same resilience that the Christmas Market traders have.
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