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Brodick Castle will not open to the public this year, after the National Trust for Scotland confirmed the news to the Banner this week.
However, there is still some hope that the country park will be able to open to the public after the present tight Scottish lockdown restrictions are eased.
The news came as the NTS announced a series of emergency actions designed to ensure the survival of the trust during the pandemic and its aftermath. As a result, the trust is placing 429 of its permanent workforce, including 16 on Arran, at risk of redundancy and is preparing to launch an emergency fundraising appeal.
The decision not to open the castle this year is a huge blow to the prospect of any tourism on Arran this summer. The castle only reopened last April after being closed for two years for fire prevention works and a reworking of the collection. Ironically its new interactive exhibits and an extended opening until Christmas saw the castle have once of its best seasons ever.
Now it will be Easter 2021, at the earliest, before it will reopen, with even that uncertain as only 18 NTS properties are scheduled to reopen next year, but it seems likely the Arran property will be one of them.
The opening of the country park depends on wider decisions from the government about when lockdown is lifted.
Just how important the NTS is to tourism is highlighted in figures released by the charity, which show it delivers more than £300 million of annual economic gain to Scotland and accounts for 54 per cent of attraction visits in Ayrshire and Arran.
The trust says the magnitude of this year’s expected income losses are of a level similar to the trust’s current financial reserves and, without taking these actions, it would put the future and wellbeing of some of Scotland’s most iconic places, including Brodick Castle and Country Park, at risk.
With no money coming through the gates, and the charity’s estate and holiday accommodation closed since March to comply with government instructions, means that its income has been virtually eradicated during what is normally the busiest period for membership recruitment and property visits.
The loss of direct income has been compounded by poor stock market conditions that have depressed the value and dividends paid by the charity’s investments, as well as a growing number of people giving up their memberships due to the property closures and personal circumstances.
The trust’s total charitable income from all sources is forecast to collapse to the tune of £28 million this year, and to fall again in 2021 even if current restrictions are relaxed. This does not include estimated investment losses of £46 million due to stock market conditions.
The situation was raised at First Minister’s questions on Wednesday by Arran MSP Kenneth Gibson. He said: ‘First Minister, 429 of 751 National Trust for Scotland jobs, including 16 at Brodick Castle in my own constituency, are at immediate risk as the charity struggles during this pandemic.
‘Although NTS has acted urgently to sell non-heritage land and property, while seeking support from grant-giving bodies, total losses could run to £74 million this year.
‘What will the Scottish Government due to ensure NTS survives, along with the often beautiful and historic heritage it protects, ranging from the haunting island of St Kilda to Bannockburn and the birthplace of Robert Burns thereby saving jobs and the National Trust’s historic legacy for future generations?’
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the Scottish government would look to do what it can to assist the NTS, given its importance to Scotland.
Earlier this week trust chief executive Simon Skinner had outlined the dire situation the charity was in. He said: ‘The extreme and unprecedented public health emergency has put the charity’s future in doubt.
‘This is despite us running the trust in a financially prudent way, building up our reserves, and latterly taking critical decisions at the outset of this crisis, reducing our expenditure to a minimum, foregoing the recruitment of seasonal staff, terminating temporary and fixed-term contracts and furloughing a large proportion of our permanent staff.
‘With some level of restrictions likely to apply post lockdown, and having effectively missed the busiest part of the visitor season, I see little prospect of us being able to return to more normal levels of membership, visitation and income for the rest of this year and beyond.
‘Even after we’ve done all we can to stave off the worst, it’s crystal clear that we need radical action if we are to buy more time that will give the trust space to overcome income loss and weather depressed economic conditions.
‘Post-lockdown, we plan to scale back our current offering to match the anticipated restrictions that will remain. We propose to initially focus on the safe, phased reopening of a core of 27 built heritage properties around Scotland, primarily those best able to accommodate social distancing. The remainder will be placed on a care and maintenance basis, with the aim of opening a further 18 sometime next year, and the rest once there is a general upturn in the economy and the trust’s fortunes.’
‘Our countryside properties will open to welcome people when restrictions are lifted,’ he added.