Mary Powell: Leading the fight to bring back tourism

Towering over the city alongside the cathedral, Lincoln Castle completes the tourist circuit after a £22 million revamp. With more than 150,000 visitors coming through the doors since the grand reopening in April, businesses around the city are reaping the benefits from the increase in visitors.

When it became obvious that the castle required serious restoration work and plans got put into motion, it was Mary Powell, 58, who was asked to take on the challenge of organising the project and acquiring the funding for it. She jumped at the chance, eager to see what secrets could be revealed.

The multi-million pound project was part of an overall plan to rejuvenate Lincoln as a tourist destination, and the money has proven to be more than justified. In only five months the castle has brought in more than triple the visitors in comparison to last year and has taken over £1 million.

This feature interview was first published in issue 45 of the Lincolnshire Business weekly magazine, now available to read at Subscribe to the email newsletter to receive the latest edition in your inbox this Friday.


Starting off as a Tourism Officer for the Derbyshire Dales District Council, Mary’s role has changed somewhat over the last 24 years. After moving to Lincoln she became involved with marketing and PR, but 2000 wasn’t just the turn of the millennium, it was the turning point of Mary’s career. She set up Taste of Lincolnshire in 2002 and the Lincoln Waterways Partnership in 2003.

“I always said that I would leave when I got bored but I haven’t got bored yet,” Mary smiled. “I bid for money for Taste of Lincolnshire in 2002. It was the most difficult thing that I had ever done. But it was successful and we got some European money.” After this she started to understand what was required to be able to obtain funding for events and projects that could benefit the county and boost tourism.

With her expertise, she was asked to organise one of Lincoln’s biggest redevelopments starting in 2005, the £22 million Lincoln Castle Revealed project. It was anticipated to boost Lincoln’s tourism economy by between 29-55%, equating to £36-£68 million and provide an additional 600-1,100 full time jobs.

“I was personally interested in the castle, I thought that the castle was underperforming to a considerable degree. I always used to say to people that you come in the castle through the East Gate and you see the [Crown Court] – well you can’t go in there. You look to the prison building and there was only about 30% of that open to the public.

“So the place was almost an instant disappointment because you couldn’t access it. Hence why I eventually called the bid ‘Lincoln Castle Revealed’ because we were opening up so much of it that wasn’t open to the public. I think that that was the reason that I wanted to do it.”


Finding the funding

Mary knew that there would be challenges ahead and unforeseen events that the restoration scheme would have to be able to adapt to. However, as much as Lincoln Castle was in disarray, bringing more tourism to Lincoln and the rest of the county was something that Mary and the Historic Lincoln Trust kept at the front of their plans.

“We were seeing the castle as a catalyst for tourism to Lincoln and Lincolnshire and what it would do for the county,” Mary said. She applied to the National Heritage Fund for a grant. “When we applied at round one, we asked them for £6 million and then when we started doing all of the work and looking at the state of the building, it was way worse than we thought and got worse while we were doing the plans.

“We realised that it wasn’t going to cost £15 million, it was going to cost a lot more. In round two we said, ‘Can we not have £6 million, can we have £12 million?’ Which is a big ask. We are the biggest uplift that they have ever given.”

The requirements for some of the funding was that a full archaeological dig must be done on the ancient ground before the work was carried out, which literally dug up a few skeletons and caused a few delays along the way.

The full cover interview with Mary Powell is available to read in full here. For the latest dispatch of business news from across Lincolnshire delivered in your inbox every Friday, subscribe to the Lincolnshire Business magazine.