A NORTH Northumberland castle, which shut its doors as a venue for school trips after more than 50 years to widespread dismay last year, is set to reopen.
Northumberland County Council decided to close Ford Castle as a residential education centre in August last year, amid swingeing budget cuts.
But on Friday, it was announced that school-trip provider Chateau Beaumont has joined forces with the council to reopen the centre in April under a new joint venture as Ford Castle Adventure Limited.
By creating this partnership, the council aims to secure Ford Castle as an outdoor centre for at least the next 20 years, creating employment opportunities in the area.
Based at Stanhope in County Durham, Chateau Beaumont has operated a residential centre in France for UK school groups for more than 10 years, providing education in the French language and culture as well as subjects such as history, geography, PE and PSHE.
At the launch on Friday, the company’s managing director Peter Smith said that he was ‘absolutely delighted’ to be teaming up with the county council to offer courses for schools that will keep ‘young visitors occupied from breakfast till bedtime’.
He also said that they wanted to become part of the community, including trying to hire local people for any jobs created.
“We hope wherever possible to recruit people from this area,” he said.
“We very much want to be part of the community and we hope the community come to regard us as an integral part of village life.”
The return of the castle as a setting for school groups was welcomed by local ward member Coun Dougie Watkin and landowner Lord Joicey.
“I wish them every success,” Coun Watkin said.
“The castle has been in the doldrums for a number of years, I hope this is the launch of something exciting and worthwhile that brings more jobs to this part of the world than we have had for a number of years.
“The enthusiasm shown is laudable and the backdrop they have got can only lead to success.
“I’m so pleased that the county council has worked something out.”
Lord Joicey, of Ford and Etal Estates, said: “I’m delighted that the council has reached an agreement with a company to whom it wishes to sublet Ford Castle.
“The public response to news of the castle’s closure served only to highlight how much it has been enjoyed by visiting school children over the years.
“I am sure that under the new arrangement this unique learning opportunity will develop and thrive for the benefit not only of the children and others who visit, but also the local community.”
Mr Smith said that while there will be preferential rates for Northumberland schools, the company wants to broaden the appeal of the site and attract schools from around the country to the ‘magnificent setting’.
During the summer holidays when English schools tend not to visit, it is hoped that French and other foreign schools will visit for EFL (English as a Foreign Language) courses.
Ford Castle Adventure Limited plans to upgrade facilities such as the bathrooms and also wants to build a high ropes course.
A range of courses will be designed with topics to match the National Curriculum, and the company also wants to maximise the history and heritage that the area has to offer – from local attractions such as Flodden, Holy Island and Bamburgh to World Heritage Sites at Hadrian’s Wall and Durham Cathedral.