A seductively starry petition is currently being mounted to try to stall Argyll and Bute Council’s sale of its Castle Toward Estate – in South Cowal to a private sector preferred bidder with a prospectus that could hardly be bettered in terms of sensitivity to the heritage of both the Mansion House and the estate and the sustainability of the proposed cluster of community friendly enterprises to be based there.
A host of widely known and less known artists in disciplines, including sculpture, painting and music, are being used to front the campaign. This group features everyone’s favourites like :
- Sir Simon Rattle, one of the most powerfully inspiring conductors this country and the world has known – and who gave Birminghma a new and proud sense of itself;
- Andy Scott – whose Kelpies at the Helix Park in Falkirk lift the spirits and elevate the consciousness of thousands of visitors who come there to see them – and whose Big Man Walking, we and many hope will come into being at Maryhill in Glasgow;
- and Alison Watt, Greenock born, Glasgow School of Art trained and recognised nationally first with her winning of the National Portrait Gallery’s annual award.
The nature of the campaign is expressed in the Petition here for which it is seeking signatures, asking Argyll and Bute Council to work with the petitioners to create a residential centre for the creative arts at Castle Toward.
Such places exist, modest and ambitious. If well conceived and well focused, they can be effectively transformative for practitioners and students. Even if they are none of these things they provide experiences that transform lives.
They take people out of time and place and cocoon them in a place of stillness, beauty and sanctuary without cares and responsibilities, free to learn and respond to first class tuition and creative challenge, stimulated by the presence, perspectives, skills and personalities of artists and students from disciplines other than their own.
They cost a fortune to enable and sustain – relative to the scale and ambition of each.
They can be simple and modest like the studio retreat in the Rosneath peninsula based in one of the famous Taransay huts bought and transported to Argyll.
They can be like Castle Toward might be – in the same vein – only much more grand and expensive – as the Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig in County Monaghan in Ireland, the Georgian house and small estate bequeathed for the purpose by the eminent theatre director and financially supported by the two Arts Council’s of Ireland.
They can be creative decompression chambers and stimuli for existing artists.
They can be incubators for emerging artists.
They can be for children from deprived areas, to enrich their lives, their sense of the possibilities of life and their sense of their own potential and self worth – as Castle Toward used to do in the hands of an enlightened Glasgow City Council.
They can be set up to be simultaneously all of these things.
But they cost huge amounts of money to make happen and to keep going.
This petition has been rushed into being to save Castle Toward and its estate – from what fate? That of hosting a sound business that would restore both mansion and grounds to a high level, be self sustaining in commercially earning its keep – and support local employment and local supply chain and tourism experience businesses.
What is objectionable about that?
If Castle Toward were to become a centre for the creative arts, the big questions that must be answered are:
Where will the money come from?
Will Creative Scotland fund it?
Argyll and Bute Council could never afford to contemplate such an enterprise. Nor could the council politically afford to offer a discount on the set sale price to this new project – if it is at the stage of being describable as a project. In the light of the arguments it put forward to validate its refusal of the South Cowal Community Development Company’s request for a discount on the sale, the council would shoot its own credibility and integrity in such a 180 degree change of direction.
Will the eminent artists, arts managers and emerging artists pleading for support for this proposition be putting their hands generously in their respective pockets to raise the very substantial amount of money to enable this campaign to attract more funding from the state, from the Lottery and from charitable foundations?
How much money would need to be raised just to ready the mansion and estate to act in the proposed capacity would depend on the answers to the following questions:
- Do the petitioners want to see a gloriously restored Castle Toward and estate as an inspirational retreat and place of learning , exploration and creativity?
- Or do the petitioners want to see a down-home patching up of the building to make it wind and weatherproof, cheerful – and safe – for a sort of youth hostel environment in which the same retreat and place of learning , exploration and creativity is housed?
- What are the communities ambitions for the place?
The answers to these quesstions will have to take into account the fact that the existing preferred bidder is committed to restoration – of the massive house and the gardens, keeping the entire entity together and even reinstating the lost gatehouses and cottages, of which only the foundations remain.
Against this, the reality of Option 2 above is that under this version, the property can only progressively decline to a point beyond recovery and, in that, become increasingly unable safely to house the activity it would be designed to host. This is what happened to Castle Toward already, under the aegis of Argyll and Bute Council and its tenants.
Assuming that the money could be found to deliver whichever version of the property were made ready to host creative exploration, skills development and artistic production, there would then be a very substantial annual cost to maintain and run it. Most such places offer free accommodation, food and tuition – but even if those elements could be paid for from outside sources, there will always be the cost of management, maintenance and repairs which cannot be recovered from revenue.
The text of the Petition, which can be signed here, makes its own case and is reproduced below verbatim and in its entirety. The article For Argyll published last night on the bid currently progressing to sale is here: Castle Toward: Denice Punler – care for historic estate and caught in someone else’s war.
It in important to point out that if the proposition behind this petition is not in a position financially to progress its ambitions now; and to show good cause that it would be capable of establishing and sustaining the provision it has in mind – then for every week this petition may delay the sale of the property to the preferred bidder, Castle Toward will continue to decline and the Council continue to spend £22, 250 a month to secure and insure it – taken from funds intended to better Argyll and Bute.