Ford Castle’s defences breached by cuts

AN outdoor education centre in a Northumberland castle is to close at the end of the month, with no prospect of it re-opening soon.

Ford Castle
Ford Castle

AN outdoor education centre in a Northumberland castle is to close at the end of the month, with no prospect of it re-opening soon.

Ford Castle, which currently serves as an outdoor education centre run by Northumberland County Council, is closing its doors on August 31. It had been running at a loss.

The lease for the castle, near Wooler, will remain with the authority beyond that date and The Journal understands the council has spoken to at least one party about taking over the site.

But nothing has at present been agreed, meaning the site stands to become disused from the end of the month.

The council will still be responsible for the maintenance of the castle, with a full repairing lease in place, having been extended in 2006 and thought to have several years to run. The authority could be faced with a hefty bill if it seeks to terminate the agreement early.

It is thought staff at the site will continue until the end of the month although it is not known what will happen to them beyond then.

A local county councillor last night said it was "disappointing" that nothing was in place for the castle after August and added he hoped something would materialise soon.

The council has been operating the castle as an outdoor residential training centre for young people for more than 50 years, having leased it from Ford and Etal Estates since 1956.

The site has also been available as a wedding or conference venue and for private hire, and has self-catered holiday accommodation.

A contingency plan was even drawn up by the county council to use the castle as an alternative headquarters to Morpeth’s County Hall in the event of a nuclear attack in the Cold War 1980s.

Council bosses revealed in February that the facility would close at the end of this month, with it having been trading at a significant loss at a time when the authority has to make around £45m of savings this financial year.

A total of 14 staff were then employed at the castle – four full time, nine part time and one casual – and the authority said it would be looking to redeploy workers or help them find alternative employment.

Council bosses said they would work with the estate and the local community to find an alternative future use for the castle.

The closure was opposed by Ford Parish Council, county councillor for Wooler Anthony Murray and Phil Hearne, the executive director of the Northumberland Church of England Academy.

A number of Journal readers who visiting the castle as schoolchildren contacted us to voice their sadness at the move.

In the aftermath of the announcement, Dougie Watkin, county councillor for Norham and Islandshires, in which Ford lies, called for the site to be marketed to private operators, a view backed by Andrew Joicey, brother of castle owner Lord James Joicey, whose family bought the estate in 1907.

The council last night said it had "nothing to add" to previous statements.

Coun Watkin said: "At the present time I am not aware of any developments, which disappoints me greatly.

"It is a magnificent opportunity for someone and I hope that something happens in the very near future, both for the good of the employees of the castle and for the castle itself."

Ford Castle is where King James IV of Scotland spent his last night before being killed in the Battle of Flodden in 1513.

During the 1880s it was owned by Louisa, Marchioness of Waterford, a renowned painter.

Neither Lord Joicey nor his agent could be contacted for comment yesterday.

 

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