IT’S OFFICIAL, the doors to the Dispatch district’s most prized tourist attraction, Newstead Abbey, are to be closed to the public and visitors from around the world for most of the year.
For highly contentious plans to shut the ancestral home of the poet Lord Byron as part of cost-cutting measures have been rubberstamped by owner Nottingham City Council.
This is despite outrage at the move from the Newstead Abbey Byron Society (NABS) and fans of the imposing building from around the globe.
The proposals were given the green light when the council’s budget was voted through at a meeting last week. However the gardens will remain open throughout the year.
Despite the abbey having been presented to the people of Nottinghamshire, the council will only open the house on certain Sunday afternoons, Bank Holidays and for guided tours. The changes will come into force on Friday April 1.
As part of the decision, several staff-members will lose their jobs.
One of those, Bette Abbott, has labelled the closure plan a ‘great disservice and injustice’.
There are also concerns the move will open the abbey to vandalism and it may fall into disrepair.
Hucknall’s Conservative MP, Mark Spencer, has called on Notts County Council to get involved in running the abbey. He said it was vital for some organisation to take over the building.
The chairman of NABS, Ken Purslow, said he had sent letters to the council with 70 ‘international names’ on them, as well as 126 other letters supplied to him by Hucknall Tourism and Regeneration Group — all objecting to the proposals.
Opposition has come from the whole board of trustees of the American Byron Society and MONKS (Members Of Newstead Kindred Spirits), who had acted previously acted as guides in the summer.
“I am very disappointed to say I have received no reply from the city council to any of this correspondence,” said Mr Purslow.
He lambasted the decision as “pathetic” and claimed the council did not give the same value to the abbey as it did to Wollaton Hall and Nottingham Castle, which it also owns.
The abbey was given to the city council’s forerunner, Nottingham Corporation, by benefactor and businessman Sir Julien Cahn in 1931.
His grand-daughter was among those who called for the council to reconsider its plans.
Coun Dave Trimble (Lab), the city council’s lead member for leisure, culture and customers, this week chose to focus on the fact that the abbey’s grounds will not be closed, labelling them the estate’s “most popular feature”.
On the changes to opening of the house, he said: “The new opening times should halve the £600,000 a year costs of maintaining Newstead Abbey and park, which is actually based in the county of Nottinghamshire.
“It should ensure this important heritage site is run in a more sustainable way as the city council seeks to balance its budget and create sustainable savings in this very difficult economic climate. We need to balance the need for city and household services and vital services for children and vulnerable adults with sustaining all our culture and leisure services and our internationally important heritage sites.
“The abbey itself has relatively few visitors compared to the grounds.”
He continued: “The abbey will continue to open for guided tours on public holidays and for special events such as the annual Heritage Open Days. School parties will continue to be welcomed for pre-booked educational activities and the site will remain available for weddings, corporate hospitality and other activities that have become part of Newstead’s annual calendar.
“The collections relating to Lord Byron and the history of the abbey will remain on display without any change. Overall our aim is to improve the visitor experience.”
The city council remains open to discussions on how best to continue to manage the house in the longer term, and is willing to talk to other partners or operators about preserving the site.
A consultation on job-losses is currently under way with affected staff and trade unions.
“Every effort is being made to re-deploy staff where possible and minimise job losses as result of the changes needing to be made,” added Coun Trimble.
“We are exploring other options with other organisations including the National Trust and English Heritage to see under what circumstances they could assist with the management of Newstead Abbey.
“Our priority ihas always been to protect the Byron legacy. We have always adhered to the covenant between the city and former owner, Sir Julien Cahn, and will continue to do this in all our discussions. These current proposals have been shared with Sir Julien Cahn’s grand-daughter.”