CALLS have been made for a Northumberland castle to be marketed to the private sector.
Northumberland County Councillor Dougie Watkin spoke out on the future of Ford Castle, in calls backed by the brother of the site’s owner, following the recent announcement that the authority is to cease using it as an outdoor education centre.
Council bosses revealed the facility, near Wooler, is to close at the end of August with the castle having been trading at a significant loss.
That loss has continued to rise despite the authority’s efforts.
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.
It has also emerged meanwhile that a contingency plan was 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.
Following the closure announcement, bosses said they will work with the estates and the local community to find an alternative future use for Ford.
Lord James Joicey, the castle’s owner, last night confirmed the authority will still hold the lease after the site closes in August.
Coun Watkin, in whose Norham and Islandshires ward the site is based, said private operators should be approached to sublet the site.
He pointed to the examples of Lumley and Langley castles as successful private enterprises in the North East.
Coun Watkin said uses of Ford which maintain employment – possibly creating even more jobs than the council has at the site, and enhance the area should be considered.
He said: “Langley is going from strength to strength, I believe Lumley is the same.
“We need someone with a solid marketing base to come in and do that kind of thing.”
The councillor’s calls have been backed by Lord Joicey’s brother Andrew, a farmer at Cornhill.
He said: “There are good examples of that, it is always a struggle when you have got a huge building like that that requires serious maintenance.
“I think that with the right person at the helm it could be made a success.”
Mr Joicey believes the castle, if well managed, “would not be such a loss maker as some people might think it is.”
Consideration of Ford’s use as a base for the council in the event of Cold War nuclear attack has meanwhile been confirmed by Lord Joicey.
Staff may have been based in the site’s underground rooms, under the contingency plan.
Readers of The Journal have been contacting us with their stories of visiting Ford Castle as schoolchildren.
Retired Dorothy Lamb, 60, of Gordon Street, Amble, went with Prudhoe County Secondary School, now the town’s high school, aged 10 and again when 12.
The weekend trips, in the late 1950s and early 60s, saw Dorothy visit the River Tweed and the surrounding countryside.
She said five generations of her family have been on school trips to Ford, and says her own visits inspired her to move North.
“Kids that are in the towns, it gives them breathing space and time to explore and learn lots of things.”