Castle manager hoping to forge closer links with town
THE new site manager at Barnard Castle is hoping to foster closer links between the historic monument and the town.
Stephen Usry took up the post earlier this year having moved to the town with his wife and two children from near Washington DC, in their native USA, in August 2019.
His wife, Taylor, is the global social media manager for Crafter’s Companion, the venture started by County Durham entrepreneur and Dragons Den star Sara Davies, which has the headquarters of its global business at Newton Aycliffe.
They came across Barnard Castle while looking for a home nearby and have settled in the town – their son now attends Montalbo Primary and their teenage daughter is at Teesdale School
After studying Tudor England at university and working as an antique furniture appraiser, Mr Usry is putting his love of history to good use in his new role.
“There is nothing like this in the US. Getting to hang out and talk about history all the time is pretty good,” he said.
Working alongside Mr Usry is historic property steward Libby Firby-Fisk, who has also taken up residence in the town – although her move was not nearly so far; she comes from Darlington.
“Libby and I make a very good team, and because we both live in the town, we are keen to integrate town and castle,” said Mr Usry.
That is not possible under the current Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, but he said he hoped some activities may be possible next year.
“I would love to bring the town market into the castle around the time of the anniversary of the town charter. I would like to have plays and production here,” he said.
“One of the mandates we are working on is enhancing that bond [between town and castle]. It is not as strong as it should be. The town is here because the castle is here, so we want to strengthen that bond.”
He said feedback from visitors since the castle reopened in July has focussed on car parking and signage.
While there is nothing he can do about the car parking situation in the town, he said improved signage was “hopefully in the works”.
Since the castle reopened, Mr Usry said it had proved extremely popular with visitors.
“It mimics a lot of other places. Rather than going overseas, people have been staying in the UK and we are still seeing people from a wide geographical range.”
As a result of the conditions created by Covid-19, a system of pre-booking times to visit the castle was introduced when the doors were unlocked.
“We reopened on July 4 and every day starting that week we were fully booked until the end of the summer holidays,” said Mr Usry.
“Weekends are still being fully booked. Some of that is people not going overseas but there has been a genuine curiosity about Barnard Castle thanks to Dominic Cummings. That’s been interesting – we suspected that might happen.”
As for what the future might bring, he is not so sure. From November 1, the castle will be open at weekends only.
“We are anticipating enhanced visitor numbers – people are still interested and until people are going overseas we are definitely a destination. We are curious. It's hard to gauge what is going to happen – but the castle is a beautiful place to spend some time in.”