Castle Toward, the choice: an unfundable dream or private sector investment to restore the estate NOW

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:

  1. Do the petitioners want to see a gloriously restored Castle Toward and estate as an inspirational retreat and place of learning , exploration and creativity?
  2. 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?
  3. 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.

To: Argyll and Bute Council

Castle Toward on the Cowal peninsula, Argyll, has been a home to the arts as well as outdoor education for over sixty years. Some of the greatest Scottish names in music and art were amongst the 400,000 young people who were inspired there and graced it’s beautiful corridors. Through the auspices of an enlightened Glasgow City Council that purchased the estate in 1947, it housed residential courses in Art and Music, indoor and outdoor education, for inner-city Glasgow children.

Why is this important?

This campaign is now calling for the present owner of Castle Toward, Argyll & Bute Council, to protect this treasured Scottish icon from development. We want and seek to work together to restore the Castle, to be the flourishing hub for youth arts and sport that it once was. This campaign will demonstrate that within the ethos of Culture for Life, this project can attract funding from Scotland, the UK and further afield.
From renowned conductor Sir Simon Rattle to Andy Scott, sculptor of the world famous Kelpies, our campaign has united more than 100 artists, musicians, and actors to tell personal stories of how their time at Castle Toward proved career defining.

This new and independent campaign is not aligned with any political interest or previous activity. Its aims are simply to bring prosperity, increased visitor footfall, credit and artistic prominence to Argyll and Bute.
Please visit our website for further information.

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Related Articles & Comments

  • Had the community bid got the support it deserved instead of the herded result that we all remember then I may welcome the bid from Ms Punler, however again your promoting a one sided view and not appreciating the wealth of support that the community bid still has, wake up newsie!

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 20 Thumb down 11

    Chris Fergusson September 22, 2015 9:21 pm Reply
    • The only ‘one side’ we are putting is realism and the best possible deal for the community.

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 10 Thumb down 16

      newsroom September 22, 2015 10:47 pm Reply
      • No what your doing Newsie is trying to peddle a ‘logical fallacy’ and failing to be believable.

        Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 20 Thumb down 9

        Chris Fergusson September 22, 2015 11:15 pm Reply
  • Not sure how you can conclude that a community bid would have resulted in a patched castle either! Indeed the only patching of castles so far is that of the council, who appear to have deliberately run the building down to oust the previous tenants! Tell me more of these principles that you feel are being followed by the current bid!

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 19 Thumb down 8

    Chris Fergusson September 22, 2015 9:28 pm Reply
    • We did not say that a successful community bid would have resulted in a patched up mansion house; but that it would inevitably result from Option 2 in the choices open in varieties of creative arts centres.
      Was the community bid not predicated on a possible later sale of the house?

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 7 Thumb down 16

      newsroom September 22, 2015 10:46 pm Reply
      • Your research truly is astounding, indeed even if Actual Reality had stayed in the building this ‘Not for profit’ organisation was still clearing a six figure sum annually, it was indeed offer the council money before it’s eviction on h&s grounds to fix the issues. indeed the buildings current condition is nobody’s fault but the council’s, please check your facts.

        Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 17 Thumb down 8

        Chris Fergusson September 22, 2015 10:57 pm Reply
        • You are persistently misquoting or misreading what we have said.
          We have not once mentioned Actual Reality, although they were the council’s tenant.
          As we understand it, they did – in good faith – put their own money into repairing the state of the mansion houses’s electrics which the council, as the owner of the property had seriously neglected – and then used as a pretext for closing down Actual Reality’s activities in the premises.
          We have at no point placed responsibility for the state of the property on any shoulders but Argyll and Bute Council’s.
          While what happened to Actual Reality does not bear examination and was a part of the culture breeding the council’s treatment of the SCCDC, it is history and, while that will influence emotions, it has no place in the current situation.
          Past wrongs continue to hurt but it is pointless and self-destructive endlessly to rehearse them into the future.

          Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 7 Thumb down 19

          newsroom September 23, 2015 12:09 am Reply
  • As for pleading the councils poverty, since refusing the communities bid, the council have absorbed nearly £200k in running costs and have also decided to lower the asking price, so if their so poor why didn’t they accept the community buyout?

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 19 Thumb down 7

    Chris Fergusson September 22, 2015 9:41 pm Reply
  • because Cllr Walsh and Morton got in a huff ably supported by sleeping partner McQueen— well he is getting on a bit. Of course Russell MSP (snp) and his buddy Breslin (ex snp – but wishes to be one by 2017)helped fuel the fire–not literally –leave that to Labour peers.

    I would like to know what public monies will be given to this particular bid, what happens if things go pear shape and do we as taxpayers get our monies back?

    Has For Argyll had a few wee chats with the preferred bidders? It seems as is usual with For Argyll they are quick to pick sides but with unnerving repetition the wrong one. The tories are quiet the lib dems are quieter still. Tells you something is happening.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 18 Thumb down 5

    No Cheese Here September 23, 2015 12:19 am Reply
  • If the ‘preferred bidder’ is successful I can see, in the future, the estate will have expensive homes built for the wealthy and holiday homes, or caravans, dotted all over the estate and the general public excluded from what they have enjoyed for years.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 12 Thumb down 6

    george September 23, 2015 9:51 pm Reply
  • I believe the houses will be built, sold off for a fortune, monies pocketed and the rest of the estate sold off as quickly as possible.Imagine, 40 new houses at £200k each = £8 million. Talk about asset stripping, this would really take the biscuit. Of course, A&BC would deny any knowledge of this possibly happening.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 12 Thumb down 6

    Alex September 24, 2015 1:27 pm Reply

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