Close to the boundary where South, North and East Ayrshire meet, there is a triple celebration happening at the site of Dundonald Castle. On Friday 19 February 2021, the Friends of Dundonald Castle SCIO (SC031541) will successfully complete the Community Asset Transfer of the castle visitor centre and a small area of adjacent land from South Ayrshire Council. This year the Friends also celebrate their 25th Anniversary as a community charity, and 2021 further marks the 650th Anniversary of the castle first becoming Royal Dundonald Castle in 1371!
The visitor centre is located at the foothills of the 14th century royal castle on the edge of the ancient woodlands in the heart of the village of Dundonald. The centre, a community hub, acts as the operations base for the work of FoDC. Ownership of the building will secure the centre for future generations and will continue to support the local economy, currently employing 9 staff and 36 volunteers – aged from 10-90. Taking ownership of the land means the charity will now be able to develop plans to expand their work space further to accommodate the vast array of events, activities and outreach that they offer throughout the year.
Dundonald Castle is a well-known feature of the Ayrshire landscape. The present visitor centre, now open all year, provides an information centre, museum, castle tour guide service, popular cafe, gift shop and toilet facilities. The centre welcomes visitors from all over the world to Dundonald Castle: a tower house built on a volcanic plug some 60m above sea level for King Robert II in 1371. Visitor numbers to the site have sharply risen from 9.5k in 2015 to 25k in 2019. This increase in popularity is mirrored by educational visits to the site: rising from 3 groups in 2015 to 100 in 2019.
In addition, FoDC also run or facilitate 30 free or subsidised community events, working closely with other community charities and organisations: Shakespeare outdoor plays; Movies in the Castle; Book Fayres; Yoga on the Hill; community archaeological digs; guided castle tours and nature walks in the local SSSI; Spooky Tours, and Hallowe’en to name but a few. The visitor centre also hosts regular weekly and monthly clubs and community groups: Knit ‘n Natter; Scrabble; Walking Groups; Art Club; Historical & Archive Society; Ayrshire Young Archaeology Club, and the Crazy Castle Kids amongst others.
Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, FoDC have worked hard to adapt, support and engage their community through the creation of new digital content and by moving events and activities online. This has attracted participants from the local community alongside followers from all over the UK, Canada, the USA, Australia, Ukraine, Norway and beyond.
Dr Kirsteen Croll, General Manager of FoDC said:
‘This past year has been particularly challenging for the heritage sector and Dundonald Castle has been no exception. Completion of our Community Asset Transfer is a huge morale boost for the village of Dundonald and beyond. We are so lucky to have an incredibly loyal community and supportive stakeholders and partners. The purchase of the visitor centre, completed on 19th February, is a true team effort. Our sincere thanks go to South Ayrshire Council, Historic Environment Scotland, the Community Ownership Support Service, the Scottish Land Fund, Philippa Whitford MP, Jeane Freeman MSP and our Ward Councillors, for all their support throughout the asset transfer process. We are excited to look to the future and work with all our community to further develop the charity and continue to improve our outreach and engagement, ensuring open and accessible heritage for all.’
Phil Galbraith, FoDC Project Co-ordinator said:
‘The asset transfer is wonderful news. The timing is perfect, being only a few days prior to 22 February, which marks the 650th anniversary of the accession of King Robert II, the first of the Stewarts, to the throne in 1371. This also marks our 25th year as a community charity, Friends of Dundonald Castle, making this year a triple celebration for us here at Dundonald!
Owning the Visitor Centre opens up the way forward to raising funds for a larger, enhanced building. It may seem strange to be planning such a move during lockdown, but we believe this is the very time to do so. In the future, we hope to be able to welcome local and international visitors to an expanded community hub, alongside an enhanced museum, accessible guided tours and planned virtual reality experiences. Such a development will be a tremendous boost to morale locally, especially since the intention would be to boost the local economy by using local companies for construction and supplies as far as possible.’
To celebrate the 650th Anniversary of Royal Dundonald Castle, a digital programme of community events will be launched shortly. Be sure to keep an eye on our social media and website for details.
South Ayrshire Council Leadership Panel, Community Asset Transfer Dundonald Castle Visitor Centre:
Councillor Peter Henderson, SNP, said the takeover is an, ‘ideal example of community empowerment at work.’
Councillor Julie Dettbarn, SNP, said, ‘I am absolutely delighted to support this application. It is a picture-perfect Asset Transfer.’
Depute council leader Councillor Brian McGinley, Labour, described it as a, ‘robust and proactive proposal.’
Historic Environment Scotland,
HES Sustainable Place Manager, Pauline Megson said, ‘We are delighted to see the progress by Friends of Dundonald Castle (FoDC) in bringing the visitor centre into their ownership, enabling them to go from strength to strength with their much-valued community-led heritage offer. The work of the FoDC is critical to the success of Dundonald Castle, in partnership with HES.’
General Manager FODC: Dr Kirsteen Croll:
Communications/Media Coordinator: Lauren Welsh
Project Co-ordinator FODC: Phil Galbraith