Wisbech Castle Project
I have been asked by the Leader of Wisbech Town Council if I will Chair the new Castle Committee, whose job will be to handle the oversight of Wisbech Castle once the Town Council has it under its control. Since my time as Mayor comes to an end in May, freeing up a lot of time, I have accepted the role. Being the Chairman does not mean I am “in charge” of Wisbech Castle, it simply means I will be Chairman of the Committee and Working Party. Running the Castle will be very much a team effort. I’d like to talk a little about my initial ideas for the running structure of Wisbech Castle. These are just ideas, subject to discussion and agreement of everybody else involved.
I think it appropriate for there to be three platforms to running the Castle. The Castle Committee, the Castle Working Party and the Friends Of Wisbech Castle group. The way the Committee and the Working Party will interact will run on a similar basis to the Town Council’s Festivals’ Committee and Working Party, which has proved to be a successful model over recent years.
The Castle Committee will be a constituted Committee of Wisbech Town Council, made up of seven Town Councillors, whose primary role will be to maintain the Council’s control of the project and scrutinise the spending on it and to oversee the work done by the Working Party. I would guess the Castle Committee will meet three or four times a year.
The Castle Working Party – who will do most of the work and organisation of the day-to-day running of the Castle – will be a group made up of Councillors, representatives of interested local groups, and knowledgeable volunteers who bring skills to the table. I hope that this Working Party will be a dynamic and imaginative bunch, with a mixture of skills and backgrounds, able to press on with multiple projects, income streams and public offers. I would welcome communication from anybody who might like to be on the Castle Working Party. But please bear in mind that members of the Working Party will be expected to put time and effort into the project on a voluntary basis, and so should be sure they are able to handle the commitment that something as important as this will take. I would expect the Castle Working Party to have monthly meetings, and for members to touch base with each other and the Chairman and Vice-Chairman, often.
The Friends Of Wisbech Castle will be a completely free voluntary organisation made up of anybody who values Wisbech Castle and want to join. People who become “friends” will receive regular direct updates, early notifications of plans and events and possibly special opportunities and offers to enjoy all that I hope Wisbech Castle will come to offer. Once this launches, I hope we will get hundreds, or even thousands, of people join in and become a part of the future of Wisbech Castle.
I see the aims of the project to be threefold. First, to maintain Wisbech Castle as a public resource and asset, regularly accessible to the people of Wisbech and its guests to enjoy and make use of. Second, to maintain and preserve the historic building in good order for current and future generations. Third, to work towards making sure the building is not an undue burden on taxpayers of the Town and to aim towards cost neutrality, or profitability as early as feasibly possible. I should add that cooperation and partnership with other Wisbech features like Wisbech Museum and Peckover House will not only be desirable, but crucial.
First Things First
What we can do in the very short term is limited by the work needing to be done in the building. First priority will be to get urgent repairs done so that the building is in a fit state to be used. To clean up the gardens and get the whole site ready for further use. If this is planned well and the work goes without too many issues, then the Castle should be usable for at least some activities in the next few months. After that we can pick and choose what to renovate and work on as the Committees decide on what the various uses will be, so that we can roll out activities and ideas in phases.
There are so many ideas for what the Castle could be used for and how its access and usefulness could grow. Both for things that have gone before like school visits and weddings, heritage open days, fetes, art fairs and garden tours – to many brand new ideas for the future. While I am Chairman I will encourage creativity, imagination and fresh thinking. The door will be open to anybody with a great suggestion or proposal. If everything goes according to plan, Wisbech Castle will take its rightful place as a centre-piece and an incredible community asset for now and for the future.
All Committee Meetings will be open to the public. Discussions, ideas and decisions will be published transparently. I hope that Wisbech Castle will have a Facebook Page and a Twitter Feed. I hope to have a website for Wisbech Castle set up. These things will all be free and operated by volunteers. It will be my aim to encourage engagement, support and volunteering throughout the Wisbech Castle Project – to welcome anybody who loves the Castle and the Town to be a part of it and to contribute to it. I would welcome participation, even from critics of the project, as long as those critics come to the table with an open mind and a desire to help. I would hope that people who have something to say will come and be a part of the project and say it on record so that it can be thought about and addressed, rather than just snipe from afar on social media or elsewhere.
Once again, these are just my initial ideas. They are all subject to discussion, to debate and to challenge by those people who are part of the Project. I wanted to put my ideas down so that people could see where I’m coming from, but that should not be taken to mean the whole thing isn’t open to the great ideas and suggestions of everybody else. In fact I know that several of my Town Council colleagues are overflowing with ideas, as are members of local organisations and also many individuals. There is nothing easy about this project and I will not claim there is. It’s a real challenge and also carries some risk. No doubt about it. But is it worth trying? Is it worth doing? I believe so. Wisbech Castle is part of the fibre of the Town, built into its DNA, a long-standing historic monument both in its current form and for what has gone before.
A Committee of Councillors can’t do this alone. Wisbech Town Council can’t do this alone. But together, I really believe we have a great opportunity here to deliver something absolutely incredible for Wisbech and everybody who lives here. If you are excited about Wisbech Castle, if you think you have something to offer or can help – please get in touch.