Work can finally begin to shape the future of Wisbech Castle after the town council took possession of the historic building this week.
A working group has been set-up headed by the town’s mayor Councillor Steve Tierney who is confident the project will produce a community asset all residents can enjoy.
As chairman of the Wisbech Castle Committee Coun Tierney will be spearheading the drive to bring new life to the currently disused building and he hopes the working group, which currently has a membership of around 15 volunteers will meet for the first time within the next couple of weeks.
Not wanting to pre-empt too much of what the working group might decide Coun Tierney said: “There are loads of ideas floating around at the moment, but exactly what we will take forward has yet to be decided.
“I’m fairly confident that one thing that will happen is the re-location of the tourism office into the castle. At the moment we are paying for an office in Alexandra Road and the move will not only save the town council money, but it will also ensure staff are available in the castle.”
Coun Tierney, who says he is “extremely excited” at the prospect of bringing the castle back into community use, said initial work will need to be carried out to repair the building, but he hopes it will be open in some form in time for this summer’s Rose Fair.
“One thing is certain the town council want’s the castle to play an integral part in all the festival events and we very much hope it will be ready to some extent for the Rose Fair weekend,” he said.
There will be a three-tier approach to managing the building with the council’s castle committee retaining overall control. The working group will formulate ideas and help bring those to fruition, while it is hoped to establish a friends of Wisbech Castle group, which Coun Tierney says will help get the message out to the community.
“Essentially the friends group will be like a giant mailing list so we can get information out about what’s going on fairly easily, initially this will be free to join, but it may have a small charge going forward as we will obviously be conscious of bringing in an income to help the castle become self-financing,” said Coun Tierney.
The town council has borrowed £150,000 from Cambridgeshire County Council to pay for essential repair work and has raised a further £30,000 by increasing its share of the Council Tax precept - a one-off rise which will deliver £30,000 for years to come.
“We don’t take putting the Council Tax up lightly, in fact it is something I am reluctant to do, but this is a one-off rise and the money raised will cover the bills we envisage the castle will bring. The people of Wisbech said they wanted us to take on the castle and we have to pay for it some how,” he added.
Already various organisations have been in touch expressing an interest in using the castle including an escape rooms company interested in using the dudgeon and a paranormal group who may be interested in hosting events.
Other ideas Coun Tierney said are at the forefront of the working group’s minds is re-introducing weddings, but whether that would just be as a venue for the ceremony and for photographs or something more such as offering marquees in the garden has yet to be discussed.
One thing Coun Tierney said the council is very keen to see is the building being used by the local schools and the aim will be to make it as accessbible as possible. It is also hoped to work in tandem with the neighbouring museum.
“The beauty of it is at moment is we have a fairly blank canvas, it is up to us to determine what the castle becomes in the future. One thing I am certain of is that we will do everything in our power to ensure it does not become an albatross for the residents of Wisbech.
“I was reluctant to take it on in the first instance because I worried it could become a bit of an albatross, but my colleagues persuaded me otherwise and I must admit I am extremely excited about the project. It will be brilliant if it is cost neutral, but what would be awesome is if it becomes profitable and a true asset to the town. We just have to make sure that is what happens.”