Friends of Portencross Castle
How FOPC started
Friends of Portencross Castle (FOPC) is a charitable company formed with the goal of protecting the future of Portencross Castle in the best interests of the public. The local residents who founded the company set out to give the castle new life by repairing it so as to protect it from the elements. Having done so, their hope is that future generations can continue to enjoy both the castle and its beautiful and serene surroundings.
In Spring 1998, when it became clear that Portencross Castle was to be put on the open market by its owner (at that time, Magnox) many people signed a petition circulated by a local residents group, the Portencross Association. The Association's aims were: to keep the castle in public ownership by way of a Trust; to maintain the building as a stabilised ancient monument; and to ensure continuing public access to the foreshore around the castle.
The Association approached and tried to persuade public bodies to assume responsibility for the castle, but its only positive response came from a building preservation trust. The feasibility study of this trust involved restoring the castle as a dwelling house to be used for holiday letting. As a result, the Association could not support this, and decided that the only option available was to submit its own proposal and offer for the castle. To this end, the Association formed a company (limited by guarantee and with charitable status) called Friends of Portencross Castle (FOPC).
(The various reports commissioned as part of FOPC's work are shown beside the text on this page. Click on each image to see the reports. Minor corrections have been made to The Standing Building Survey and Watching Brief by GUARD as shown in the pdf text.)
FOPC's plans face rejection
FOPC's resulting purchase proposal was rejected but so, apparently, were a good number of substantial private offers. Neither would Magnox, which by this time was known as British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL), accept FOPC's plan to rent the castle for a nominal sum for a period of up to 5 years while it pursued funding. BNFL noted that FOPC had no track record or expertise in the business of castle repair and withdrew the castle from sale on the open market. It stated publicly that BNFL would not accept a private bid, but instead would seek the best possible outcome for the castle's future in a responsible fashion. From FOPC's perspective, this was a major step towards the result for which it had been campaigning.
Some years passed, during which Portencross Castle continued to deteriorate without any apparent movement away from this impasse. This situation was the last thing that FOPC wanted to see. In order to move towards a resolution of the castle's future, FOPC decided to compromise in the extent of its rehabilitation, with the proviso that the ultimate ownership would be vested in a publicly oriented trust. With that in view, a London-based trust negotiated with BNFL and FOPC with the possibility of restoring the castle for holiday letting.
FOPC's feasibility study
FOPC agreed to support the trust's proposal to conduct a feasibility study, especially as the plan was to conduct this study equitably with two possible options: consolidation as anancient monument, or restoration for holiday letting. FOPC could not, however, accept the condition that if the best option was complete restoration, then BNFL would transfer title of the castle to the London-based trust. One of FOPC's main objectives was that ownership of the castle should eventually be secured, in perpetuity, in a publicly oriented trust established for this purpose and administered by a board of trustees. FOPC was not able to support any other outcome.
Possibly as a result of this question over ultimate ownership, the London-based trust announced that it was withdrawing from the project. BNFL invited FOPC to produce its own feasibility study (with the help of a grant from the Architectural Heritage Fund), together with a business plan and ownership proposal,all by the beginning of October 2002. This extensive task was completed and, encouraged by BNFL support, FOPC continued to pursue its ultimate goals.
FOPC also entered Portencross Castle for the BBC Restoration programme hosted by Gryff Rhys Jones. We did not win the competition but the programme certainly raised the profile of the project.
Success at last
After numerous negotiations, studies, business plans and grant applications, BNFL decided to support FOPC's proposal. BNFL would turn the title to the castle over to FOPC with the proviso that the few remaining BNFL-owned land parcels at Portencross would be part of the titles. Lengthy legal examinations ensued and other requirements arose. For example, due to the requirements of grant-awarding bodies over public access to the castle, FOPC modified its original goals to include making the castle sufficiently safe to allow controlled public access to parts of the castle interior.
The end result was the official turnover of title to Portencross Castle and specified pieces of land to FOPC on the 22nd of December 2005.
FOPC enters a new phase
FOPC then entered a new phase of endeavour - generating sufficient funds to pursue the goal of consolidating the castle structure. Work was initiated to halt water damage through the temporary covering of the castle roof. Historic Scotland (HS) agreed to support the project on the condition that some support was also received from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). An application for the first stage of a grant (Project Planning Grant) from the HLF was submitted at the end of May 2006.
Although most of the development costs were being raised from the main funders (approximately £820,000), FOPC was required to raise at least 10% through its own resources. FOPC is also be required to raise funds for long-term maintenance of the castle and this will continue to be a long-term commitment.
The final countdown to opening
After a plethora of bureaucratic to-ing and fro-ing, negotiations and general delays, Portencross Castle opened its door to the public on an exciting, sunny and emotional Opening Day! The twelve years FOPC has been involved in working to get to this point is a testament to the patience and tenacity of its members. From this point on, developments will be reported in the News section of this website.
Much gratitude once more to all who have supported this effort!
Pictures above courtesy Gordon Cowan, Caley Youth Centre