Friday, 14 March 2014

Whitstable Castle under siege

When comedian Harry Hill opened the newly-restored Whitstable Castle three-and-a-half years ago he joked that it could be useful in case Herne Bay ever invaded.
Now it seems that the Castle is being besieged and embattled from within, without any interference from external marauders.
The Trust which runs the tourist attraction and venue is being given extra ammunition in the form of a £15,000 emergency grant from Canterbury City Council to cover core running costs for 6-8 weeks and avoid ultimate financial defeat. I presume this takes them roughly to the end of April when there will be an opportunity to start afresh with a new annual budget.
The request for reinforcement was discussed in a private parley by the council's executive, but the upshot is now in the public domain in the minutes on the council website here, and it's been published in both the Whitstable Times and the Kentish Gazette.
News of the parlous state of the Castle coffers comes hard on the heels of the sudden departure of the latest manager who had been in place for only a few months - and from what I hear there does seem to have been a high turnover of staff, with now at least three managers gone in as many years. An extravagant use of firepower or a succession of surrenders by beleaguered captains?
I think it is of great regret that the Trust has not yet commented on either of these two significant events. After all, the building is public property (owned by the council) and was restored with public cash (council grant and lottery money). If the Trust, which is made up of well-intentioned local people, were to come forward and say something like, 'look, it's proving harder than we thought to run this enterprise, especially in these difficult economic times - we just need help to get over a bumpy bit and then we'll have another go at doing better' - I think most people would be sympathetic.
To sit tight and say nothing smacks of a siege mentality and a missed opportunity to enlist the support of the local community which the Castle is intended to serve, especially those who worked tremendously hard to protect the local landmark. 
I've been keeping an eye and an ear on the Castle for a while because I've long been interested in and involved with similar community ventures. I know just how hard it can be to work co-operatively and smoothly with a board of trustees/directors (the generals, if you like), a team of paid 'officers' and a raft of foot-soldier volunteers, as I've worn all three hats at different times both locally and in the Midlands before that. Talk about hats, you probably need steel helmets to be involved with the Castle as it's such an expensive and prestigious project (£2.5 million to renovate and Lord knows how much to maintain).
I don't know anyone on the board or employed at Whitstable Castle to tap up for inside intelligence so, like anyone else interested, all I can do is turn to the website - usually a sure indicator of any organisation's general health and vigour - and here is what I found: 
The Whitstable Castle site still proclaims on its home page the 'latest news' that it will be closed on Christmas Day.
Let's hope this Castle is not made of sand.

  • If you're looking at the minutes through my link to the council website, you will need to scroll right down the page to item 206. (No point in clicking to the pdf which gives no detail.)

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