2020 has been a particularly challenging year for the heritage sector and Dundonald Castle has been no exception. Dundonald Castle is managed on a daily basis by the Friends of Dundonald Castle (SC031541) and everything we do here is by and large public service, from making lunches and hot drinks for our hungry travellers in the cafe, to giving guided tours of this 14th Century Castle, hosting public events and jousting or medieval apothecary sessions for our school groups! We had been booked solid for our Education Programme for most of 2020, and the arrival of Covid-19 meant that one by one they had to cancel, as we ourselves had to close down completely mid-March in line with Scottish Government and Historic Environment Scotland guidelines.
However, our innovative staff and volunteers came up with ideas to help us to diversify what we could still do, and in particular, given that schools were closed down and many parents were home-schooling, we thought it would be advantageous to offer fun history lessons online to let them enjoy finding out about what life was like in a medieval castle! We also had medieval craft sessions, as well as detailed history lessons about each of the four castles which have stood on this volcanic plug some 60m above sea level since the Bronze Age, as well as virtual tours of the Castle itself, which were aimed at those who were stuck at home and missing out on getting out and about. Not for the faint-hearted, there was even a virtual ghost story tour just to vary the programme up, as we like to do here at Dundonald Castle!
The world slowed down in 2020 but we are doing all we can to show that it hasn’t stopped! Friends of Dundonald Castle Charity (SC031541) was established in 1996 with the building of our Visitor Centre which now acts as the operations centre for all that we do. We have plans to expand this in order that we can offer even more to our visitors whose numbers had risen from 9.5k in 2015 to a staggering 25k in 2019, and with a marked increase in the number of school group education visits which rose to over 100 in 2019. We host or facilitate 30 free or subsidised clubs and community groups here, specifically for the local area and have people of all ages getting involved. We are missing all of our usual activities and groups right now and cannot wait until we can welcome them all back safely, when we are allowed to do so.
Since March 2020, of course most of this has stopped but we have been doing all we can to stay in touch with our community as well as partners, key stakeholders, and professional organisations, who have also shown us a great deal of support by way of webinars, online training and advice. We are so lucky to have such a supportive community which has helped enormously to take us from strength to strength. Presently we have 36 volunteers -aged from 10-90 – as well as paid staff. Pre-Covid-19 we were financially viable without grants, but since most of our funding comes direct from castle admissions and event’s programme sales, as well as from the gift shop, the cafe and donations, we had very little income. Behind the scenes our management team and Committee spent many hours working out ways that we could actually stay open at all!
Dr Kirsteen Croll, our General Manager explains:
“It was touch and go, but thanks to the ingenuity, commitment and dedication of our wonderful team, we did manage to open again in July with the help of HES (Historic Environment Scotland), and were the 4th site in the guardianship of HES to reopen when the first lockdown lifted, and one of the first in Ayrshire. We worked tirelessly to put in place a system of stringent safety measures and began again by delivering gradual accessibility to both the Castle and the Visitor Centre.
The feedback we’ve received from this has been tremendous. People really appreciate being able to venture out and visit places they might never have been to, often fairly close to home when the Covid-19 safety regulations made it that we had to stay within our own immediate area. This has meant so much to people making the climb to the top of the hill here to see the outstanding views – as far as Ben Lomond to the north and Jura to the west – or to be able to have a personally guided tour through Dundonald’s unique medieval castle. It fairly helps to blow away the cobwebs and let people start to appreciate how lucky we are to have all this on our doorstep, as well as taking their minds off the worry about everything that has been going on during the pandemic”Dr K. Croll, General Manager FODC
It has not been an easy year for any business or organisation and we know it will be a long road ahead to get back to where we were prior to March last year, but in order to ensure the unique and fascinating heritage here and it’s royal castle continue to be a source of interest, education and enjoyment, we are up for the challenge.
We wish every success too, to all the other organisations like ours in the heritage sector, which offer not only visitor experience, but can be vital to help communities generate income and jobs. Covid-19 has shown us that closure has had a marked effect on our community and in many ways we realise even more now just how much of a community focal point our work has been. We have used this time to re-evaluate our aims and to step back and look to see where we can improve things, and ensure all our policies and directives are up to date and meeting best practice. It’s also heartening to read some of the online reviews which tell us we are doing a really good job! The most important thing this situation has made us realise more so than ever before that we are lucky to have our dedicated and committed team of volunteers, staff and our community who are behind us in all that we do, and we appreciate more than ever the resilience and innovation they have shown during what has been an extremely challenging time. It’s been incredible to see the many creative ways we have been able to carry on and to be able to give as much as we can to our community and so we nominate them; our community, our volunteers and our staff, as our contribution to the National Lottery Heritage Treasures Day alongside the Castle itself – in a lesser known corner of Scotland. We look forward to welcoming everyone back to the site as soon as it is safe to do so.
To watch our educational online content please visit and subscribe to our FODC YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCBoPBB6r2EiMtswf9q-NiaA