Nottingham Castle Trust Appoints New Chief Executive

The Nottingham Castle regeneration programme has made a key appointment in the run up to the re-opening of the historic site in 2021.

Sara Blair-Manning, who has a highly experienced background running heritage projects, will become Chief Executive Officer of Nottingham Castle Trust, the organisation appointed to run the Castle. Selected from a competitive field of 60 applicants, Sara will take up the post on 23 September.

The £30 million plus regeneration of the 1000-year-old site including the former palace of the Dukes of Newcastle, is one of the biggest projects of its kind currently underway in the country.

Sara will lead the development, delivery and operation of Nottingham Castle to become a world -class visitor destination in the heart of city. Redevelopment is well underway, and Sara arrives at a pivotal point as the trust moves from research, development and fundraising to the operation of the Castle complex.

The transformation, with the ambition of becoming one of the country’s most visited historical sites outside London, will re-open with exciting and engaging interactive attractions. These will include telling the legend of the world-famous outlaw Robin Hood and explaining the part played by the people of Nottingham in the 17th Century Civil War and, almost two centuries later, the rebellions which paved the path to a wider parliamentary democracy. The Castle experience will include the restored art galleries capable of hosting national and international exhibitions while the caves will be exposed as never before.

Sara is currently General Manager of National Trust Properties in South Nottinghamshire and North Lincolnshire managing a number of sites including the acclaimed Workhouse at Southwell, which has just completed a £1.2m investment to broaden the visitor experience.

Her portfolio, turning over £2 million a year, includes the 1,500-acre Gunby Hall in Lincolnshire. In her six years as General Manager and leading a team of 52 staff plus 450 volunteers, she has shaped programmes boosting visitor numbers from 75,000 to an expected 250,000 this year.

After graduating from Nottingham Trent University with a BA in Creative Arts, Sara worked in a number of art and museum posts.
Nottingham Castle Trust Chairman Ted Cantle said: “Sara Blair-Manning is a highly motivated and creative heritage professional with a track record of delivering results. She has worked in the arts and heritage sectors for more than 20 years with organisations such as Arts Council England, Ambassador Theatre Group and the Museum Association. Her work history shows a strong commitment to visitor service and an understanding of the needs of audiences in cultural venues; qualities we shall need at Nottingham Castle.”

Said Sara: “The transformation of Nottingham Castle is truly exciting, and I look forward to putting in place the leadership team that will implement the trust’s demanding targets and ambitions. I firmly believe this will re-establish Nottingham as a key destination on the tourist map.

“I am passionate about diversity, inclusion and education and have been successful in establishing and managing effective, multi-disciplinary and diverse teams of staff and volunteers. I believe that a high quality, educational, creative and accessible visitor offer leads to offering opportunities to reflect and learn from the past in order to safeguard the future.”
Mr Cantle thanked Heather Mayfield who leaves as interim Chief Executive after a career in the sector where she retired as Deputy Director of the Science Museum in London in 2014.

Ted Cantle said: “Heather has been a wise adviser to both the trust and Nottingham City Council as we have undertaken this complex but fascinating project. We lose her as interim CEO, but we know she will be available for sound advice as we head towards this high-profile city milestone.”

The Castle is expected to become a significant driver of the local economy bringing in visitors who will spend in cafes, bars and hotels. Castle owner Nottingham City Council is supervising the design and construction work of the transformation project, including the museum and art gallery and visitor centre and has funded the scheme with the help of £13.9 million from the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The trust has raised approaching £3,000,000 in a fundraising programme which is ongoing.

Councillor Dave Trimble, City Council portfolio holder for Culture, Leisure and IT, said: “This has been a long journey but the council has seen the potential by backing the project with a substantial investment. We believe it will be a real boost to the local economy, creating jobs and bringing visitors from around the world to the city who will spend money.

“I am delighted that the trust has been able to recruit a Chief Executive of Sara’s background and credentials and we look forward to working closely with her in ensuring an outstanding visitor attraction.”

Sara Blair-Manning role at National Trust Properties

  • Gunby Estate, Hall and Garden (including 1500 acres, 3 tenant farmers and 28 residential properties) – focusing on quality visitor experience
  • Monksthorpe Chapel – focusing on tranquillity
  • Tattershall Castle – focusing on excellence in historic conservation techniques
  • The Workhouse, Southwell – focusing on diversity, inclusion and social history
    + Holiday cottage portfolio for Lincolnshire
  • The Workhouse at Southwell has just completed a major transformation (£1.2m of which £365k came from The Wellcome Trust) with the Infirmary building being conserved and now included in the visitor experience, a new café, a new visitor reception building, new multi-layered interpretation – including digital platforms, exhibitions, recreated historic rooms, costumed interpretation, new art spaces programmed by our artistic fellow and contemporary relevance storytelling inserted across the whole experience. Michael Day (Ex CEO, Historic Royal Palaces) said of the project. “You should be very proud – it’s high quality contemporary interpretation that really helps to connect visitors with the stories of the place and the wider issues. Bravo!”

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