Nottingham Castle bid – part two

I made no particular secret of my views on the last scheme that was submitted to the Heritage Lottery Fund last year. It was rejected in May – but the City were encouraged to make a further bid. I thought it was all a bit bland – and I blogged about it just over a year ago.


Well there is a new bid – about to be submitted – and this time we’re dropping Robin Hood (boo!) – in favour of the story of the 1831 Riots.

Forgive my cynicism – but the what? The ‘famous’ 1831 Riots? Really? Look it up on Wiki and you’ll see we don’t even get a mention.

The feedback from HLF before was that they liked the historical connections and the rebellious nature of us local folk. The latter, of course, was claimed by the Castle Working Group. It actually came out of the Sheriff’s Commission trip to the USA in 2008. And was crystallised by a record store on Bleeker Street in New York – called Rebel Rebel. But that is detail.

Perhaps there was a need to revisit the story of Nottingham Castle – but leaving Robin Hood out? That is completely bonkers.

Clearly the story of the 1831 Riots (which were in Nottingham and Bristol) will be a world class attraction – and people will flock here to hear of it.

It’s enough to make you riot.

Nottingham Castle – backwards we go?

There was disappointing news for Nottingham last week.


Our Heritage Lottery bid to upgrade the Castle failed. We were seeking nearly £15 towards the estimated £26m cost. Six out of 11 projects were successful in sharing £68m:

* Silverstone, home of British motor racing in Northamptonshire
* HMS Caroline, the last surviving warship of the First World War fleet, in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter
* Redruth’s old brewery transformed to celebrate Cornish heritage
* London’s Alexandra Palace – ‘The People’s Palace’ – with over 140 years worth of history
* 12th-century Auckland Castle in Durham, home to a spectacular collection of Zurbaran paintings
* Aberdeen Art Gallery and Cowdray Hall, the city’s public gallery with an impressive collection of early and contemporary works

We now have to wait another 12 months to re-submit.

You may know that I sat on the Sheriffs Commission back in 2008/9. Five years ago we were pressing for the Council to bring on board the private sector, that looks even more necessary now.

I was a little underwhelmed last year when I saw the plans for the first time. In fact, I blogged about it here.

We really need to aim higher and in my opinion we need to bring a different game to Nottingham. There is such an opportunity here – Robin Hood is a world brand and we just don’t use it. Five years have passed since we looked at some of the options. Lets not wait another five years!

In the meantime my good friend Johnny Lyle sent me a link about a theme park that looks like it might go ahead in Sherwood Forest. Pity they didn’t put that in the Castle?

Nottingham Castle – the vision

I was at a presentation last week to see the proposals put forward by the Nottingham Castle Working group. This is the group that replaced the Sheriff’s Commission.

They have spent the last few years considering the future of Nottingham Castle. This was a private presentation to the Invest in Nottingham Club members. There were around 40 people from businesses around the City present.

There weren’t many surprises. The City of Rebels idea has found fortune, there could be a glass elevator on Castle Rock and the caves will form an integral part of the scheme. They are hoping to make an application for grant funding – which might be for between £20-30m. The intention is to create a world class attraction. So far so good then.

There is an acknowledgement that the current offer is poor – with a hotchpotch of things – starts, bandstands and various artefacts which get placed at the Castle when we can’t find anywhere else for them.

But, there are some issues I have with the scheme. Firstly the role of Robin Hood continues to be played down – with him being part of the story of rebellion. I still believe we miss a trick by not having Robin Hood at the very centre of the story. Secondly, the art is to remain at the Castle – which I don’t understand at all. Art plays an important part of Nottingham’s offer – but the permanent collection is in the wrong place to my mind.

The proposals include a plan to extend at the back of the moat-house entrance. This extension will house ‘facilities’ and create the new entrance to the world class attraction.

Whilst this is a step in the right direction this won’t in my opinion be world class. I just cannot understand why we can’t aim higher?

The Castle – visitors desert it….

It was just last Friday that I cut and paste some of the ideas that were being promoted by the City Council for the future of The Castle and Robin Hood. If you read the blog you might have also read the interesting comment made by Bakersfieldlad – one of my regular contributors! Worryingly he made reference to a blog written by a Canadian visitor…

Plimouth Plantation – a world class attraction

I am at risk of being just grumpy about our lack of using Robin and The Castle – but if you want a third party view read this young travellers brutally honest view of us a city. It’s here. If you are of a sensitive disposition and think that we have got it even half right go here instead.

As I picked up my Nottingham Post on Friday night my heart sank even further. It seems that visitor numbers have fallen through the floor at the Castle. in 2010 we had 266,490 – in 2011 that had fallen to 170,225. A drop of 36%. Wow. At £5.50 a pop that’s quite a drop in revenue too.


Well, because the Castle is crap. It’s not a Castle, but that could be overcome. The cafe is poor. The art is dated – and of limited interest. Robin Hood plays too small a part. The story of Nottingham is demoted to the basement. The Cave tour is not a great experience. Once in a lifetime is plenty.

It shouldn’t be like this. Good luck to the Castle Committee – but they need to act quickly though… Before it’s too late and those visitor blogs start spreading!

Robin Hood – the cat’s out of the bag

As I blogged about a few weeks ago, the City Council have now shared some of the ideas they have been working on for Nottingham Castle. As I had hoped, many of these ideas were picked up by us on the sheriff’s Commission three years ago.

Some of the ideas:

* Using the story of Robin Hood as a guide through key periods in Nottingham’s history to create links to
important historical events

* Providing a significant educational experience for all visitors, using the excitement and richness of the
Nottingham Castle history to engage visitors, particularly younger people, in an exploration of different
ideas and activities

* Exploring the castle site as a symbol of Nottingham’s importance nationally within social protest and
rebellion through the ages – and the development of democratic institutions as a result

* Creating a new Visitor Centre that provides modern facilities and access, new toilets, a café / social
space and a place where visitors can engage with the castle programme and enter the site

* Creating an entrance directly from the castle to improve access to the caves beneath the castle which
are themselves a rich source of history

* Hosting a more diverse all-year-round programme of outdoor festivals and events

* Enhancing and exploring the historic early English architecture of the castle to create a sense of place
as part of a world class heritage site

* Offering a range of indoor and outdoor leisure opportunities to generate an improved family offer that
encourages users to spend more time at the site

* Connecting the castle with other key heritage sites including Brewhouse Yard and Ye Old Trip to

This is now out to public consultation… It will be interesting to see what the Nottingham folk think. You can comment here.

It’s a pity it has taken this long to get to this point?

The power of the volunteer

I was struck last weekend as the Olympics finished how powerful a force volunteers can be.

Evidently there were 240,000 applications – in the end 70,000 were ‘employed’. By all accounts they did a fantastic job – and were universally praised.

These are people who gave up their time for free. This was not just the time at the events, but also in attending training sessions. It looks like the cost was in giving them a uniform.

I blogged about the Castle Announcement last week. We’re still waiting for that. But one of the themes I picked up on and we saw to great effect in America was the use of volunteers. We saw at the Plimouth Plantation and at Getty museum in Los Angeles how world class attractions were using an army of volunteer helpers. These were either people who were enthusiasts or former teachers. They were all knowledgeable, cheerful and incredibly helpful.

Despite what people think it’s not always about the money. Sometimes the love of the job / project shines through…

We really ought to tap into this new seam of enthusiasm. It’s always been there, but seems to be at an all time high right now?

Nottingham Castle lends itself to this sort of initiative… So what’s stopping us? Oh, yes, we don’t have anything there to show off.

Nottingham Castle – an imminent announcement?

I keep passing Nottingham Castle and wondering when someone will do something with it. It was three years ago that we went to the USA in search of what would make a world-class attraction for Nottingham. I was pretty unceremoniously invited to leave the Sheriffs Commission in 2010 – for having a conflict of interest!

I have heard on several occasions that Ted Cantle (former Chief Executive of the City) and his reformed committee (the identity of whom I do not know) are about to make an announcement. I wait with eager anticipation… Although I was told this last year too.

I was looking back over the weekend to some of our ideas at the time – and thinking how valid they still remain today. I chose back in October 2010 to try to use 17 words to describe what made a great attraction – you can see them here.

We had long since decided that ‘Robin Hood’ wasn’t enough – and that a wider theme was needed. The Eureka moment was in New York when we saw a record shop – “Rebel Rebel’. Nottingham – City of Rebels was born. It was, and is, a great concept which we ought to use. I have recently seen the use of volunteers again at the Olympics – like we saw in The Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Again a volunteer bureau can’t be that difficult can it? And last week in London I saw an amazing glass elevator in a hotel – and was reminded of the idea we had to take an elevator from Brewhouse Yard up to the Castle Grounds.

I still don’t understand why some or all of these ideas we had haven’t been used. Perhaps I will be pleasantly surprised soon?

I have a feeling I won’t – I think the Castle needs massive investment – and I can’t see that coming from the Council. It needs private money. We need to think big. Or not bother. Which would be a missed opportunity – again. Deja Vu?

Newark sorts it story…

One of my key issues at the moment with Nottingham is our lack of story. We don’t really have a coherent message to feel – I have blogged about this before – a lot!

I can’t quite understand why we don’t embrace Robin Hood and The Castle. The work I did in 2008 with the Sheriff’s Commission seems a relevant today as it did then. People in the know keep telling me a big announcement is on the way about the Castle. The best I can get is “It’s Big”. With a capital B.

I live in hope.

In the meantime, Newark have won themselves a £3.5m Lottery fund grant to build a Civil War Museum – the first of its kind in the UK. It seems to me that Newark has always had this connection with History – its place on the Fosse Road, its historic castle and the number of re-enactments they hold. They have their story – and will now appear firmly on the map.

Two Grade 2 listed buildings are to be converted to tell the story of Civil War in the 1600′s. The total costs are expected to be over £5m. They are also utilising the skills of the local college to create apprenticeships – looking at Heritage conservation.

Let’s hope that Nottingham can get to a similar position – otherwise we slip again, and allow visitors to wander off to Newark?

Wollaton Park – another missed opportunity

I live very close to Wollaton Hall and Park – one of Nottingham‘s finest Elizabethan mansion houses surrounded by 500 acres of public open space. It really should be a treasure – like Nottingham Castle. Should be but sadly is not.

I was at the Hall at the weekend. There was a motor show – I though on for the whole weekend, but actually only on for Sunday. Never mind, there’s always the coffee shop and cafe. Sadly cappuccino gets mixed up for latte (a common problem).

We ventured into the shop – although it looked closed – I presume there was a power-cut – there were no lights on! And the stock was the usual tat. A girl behind the counter looked rather bored.

The highlight of the shop was above my head – a Mk1 Raleigh Chopper bike – built in 1970 – within a few miles of The Hall. I hadn’t realised that they stopped producing this iconic bike until 1984. The ape-bars, motorbike seat and central mounted gear change were the epitome of cool back in 1970. The price was £32 – which was clearly far too much for my parents – I never had one.

But back to the shop – and the Hall generally. The cafe is better than it was a few years ago, but they need to learn how to make coffee. The shop desperately needs sorting out. As does the visitor experience generally. The place looks unkempt. The grounds are more ‘wildflower meadow’ than neatly kept. The toilets hover around average.

Wollaton Hall is a great asset for the City, but we just don’t see it as such. I don’t think it would take a lot.

One of the great examples we saw in America 18 months ago was the use of volunteers (especially at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles). It wouldn’t be difficult here to do that? In the meantime this looks like another asset that wastes away and we miss another opportunity.

Lowry – and the art world snobs.

I caught (by accident not design) the ITV programme ‘Perspectives‘ last week. It was about Lowry, the Salford based artist – who according to Brian & Michaels (truly awful) No.1 song in 1978, “painted match-stalk men and match-stalk cats and dogs”.

Laurence Stehen Lowry

It is clear that he did more than this. He provided a social commentary of a period of time when Britain was changing. He painted at night;his day job was a rent collector. His father was an Estate Agent.

His life was characterised by his parents – especially his mother. She was highly critical of him, but he remained faithful to her – to the exclusion of others.

There were two things that stood out in the programme. The first was the chance encounter with a, then, 13 year old girl; Carol Ann Lowry – who was not related. She inherited his works that had not been previously sold.

The second was that the Tate own 23 Lowry paintings – and all are in storage in the basement of Tate Britain. There was a certainly amount of snobbishness displayed in the explanation of why they were not displayed. It is constantly being “discussed”.

I couldn’t help but wonder why this was. The works do require you to look beyond the simplistic figures. But that is surely the point?

Perhaps Tate should permanently lend the works to the Lowry Centre in Salford? I am sure they would appreciate them!

In the meantime, a little closer to home, there are two Lowry’s at Nottingham Castle… and they are well worth a look!