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Heading toward closure

As the famed Castle Toward centre faces an uncertain future, fears are being raised about the prospects for other residential education centres

As the famed Castle Toward centre faces an uncertain future, fears are being raised about the prospects for other residential education centres

The campaign to "save" Castle Toward near Dunoon has now garnered more than 4,300 signatories - a testament to its influence in the music and art world.

Opened 60 years ago by the City of Glasgow Corporation, it has gained a reputation for inspiring generations of musicians and artists (more than half-a-million youngsters have taken part in expressive arts courses over the years), but also as a residential facility for outdoor pursuits.

In mid-November, Argyll and Bute Council, which runs the centre, ordered it closed to residential courses over health and safety concerns. It estimates the cost of making it safe at pound;595,000, but says the total cost of works to bring the property to an acceptable standard is even higher - pound;977,000.

The company which operates the centre, Actual Reality Learning and Leadership Ltd - which is supported by the Castle Toward Trust - claims the figure is much lower.

Christopher Mason, a director of Actual Reality, points out that Strathclyde Fire and Rescue Service reported its concerns in April last year yet, despite requests from Actual Reality for permission to complete its action plan based on the fire brigade's recommendations, Argyll and Bute Council did not intervene until mid-November, when it announced the closure of Castle Toward to residential use after sending in its own health and safety team.

The two sides were due to hold a meeting of their technical experts on Wednesday - after The TESS went to press. This is expected to be followed by further meetings next week between Actual Reality and council officials.

Dr Mason said Actual Reality hoped to reopen the centre "in a matter of weeks rather than months", but that its ultimate aim was to buy the property from the council.

Castle Toward was first put on sale by the council in 2003 but the move was thwarted by a public campaign. Last month, Argyll and Bute Council's executive announced it still wanted to sell all or part of the property.

Dr Mason said Actual Reality was anxious to buy the property, but would need public support to do so. It was last valued at pound;4.3 million.

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