How the Castle Studies Trust Selects its Projects

The way the Castle Studies Trust selects the projects it will award grants to is a simple but thorough process that takes place in two parts:

  • Assessment of the projects by our team of experts
  • Based on the feedback from our assessors, the trustees decide which grants to award at a board meeting in February.

As you can see our experts are not only some of the leading experts in the field, they also cover all countries in the British Isles to have the local expertise.

Applications are sent to our assessors immediately after the closing date. They then assess each of applications on six criteria:

  • Will the project advance the study/understanding of castles?
  • Importance of site and/or castle studies topic being researched.
  • Does the applicant(s) have the necessary skills and expertise to complete the project to a satisfactory standard?
  • Is the aim achievable by means suggested?
  • Is the aim achievable within time frame (ie within nine months)?
  • Are costings realistic and achievable?

On each of the criteria the assessor is asked to mark the application – out of ten for the first two criteria, out of five for the rest – and to put the mark in context make comments explaining the mark. The higher a project’s score, the higher its assessment. As an additional check we will then ask each assessor to rank their top three or five projects, depending on the number of applications received.

This is a classic example of where great minds may not think alike. In both the first two years of grant award rounds at least half the applications have been ranked in their favourites by at least one assessor. Indeed, in the first two years, only one project has received universal support by assessors – the Wressle garden survey.

This provides both challenges and some flexibility for the trustees, who, having read through both the applications and the assessors feedback then have the difficult job of selecting the projects at an afternoon-long meeting. In making that choice the trustees also have the added consideration of not just the quality of the research but also how the projects can benefit the Trust, in terms or raising awareness of it and consequently funds for the following years.

The process of selecting the projects is carefully minuted so feedback can be given to the applicant if required. Decisions on grant awards are wherever possible made on unanimous decisions of the trustees. When this is not possible a majority decision will suffice.

The successful applicants are then informed. As is always the case for granting giving charities there are always more good projects that can be funded. In some cases where the project is just not quite good enough, we suggest they can apply next year.

To see which sites are being considered in 2016, read our summary.

Three years of the Castle Studies Trust

Three years ago this month, the Castle Studies Trust officially became a registered charity. A group of castle enthusiasts while visiting castles realised there is still so much we do not know about these fascinating structures, even the basics of what they look like, let alone what they were used for and how they developed over centuries. This, combined with continued long term cuts to traditional funding organisations the enthusiasts decided to do something to help and set up a the CST.

From the start there have been three key tenets of the Trust:

  • Being a new source of funding for such work and not taking monies from existing sources and thus reliant on public donations.
  • Focusing on sites not in the care of major heritage organisations such as Cadw. This means we concentrate on castles which are privately owned or run by trusts or local authorities where even less is known about this sites.
  • All results must be published within a set time frame (currently nine months) and freely available to the public.

The charity exists to push the boundaries of our understanding of castles. We are primarily a grant-giving body and are run entirely by volunteer trustees. Once we were set up fundraising began in earnest so we could support research projects. Enough was raised so that in late 2013 applications were opened. As luck would have it, we were able to support four grants that year, one in each of England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. It is an annual process and earlier this year we awarded our second set of grants to another two sites.

There are thousands of castles in the British Isles, built over hundreds of years and they are visited by millions of people every year. Some are very well understood. Many are in the care of national heritage organisations such as Cadw or the National Trust. But with so many castles there is always more to learn. That is why we feel we can make a real difference.

We work around castles which large heritage bodies might not have the resources for but have incredible potential. This year we are supporting two projects, one at Gleaston in Cumbria, and the other at Pleshey in Essex. Between them we have a site at risk of decay or even collapse and a castle which was the pride of one of the richest men in 12th-century England.

Aerial photo of Pleshey Castle. The castle consists of a grassy mound next to a kidney shaped enclosure, all surrounded by a moat. In the background is the village of Pleshey.
Pleshey is one of the grantees for 2015

Already we’re seeing the results from our first set of grants coming through. At one of the sites the work we supported has triggered further research supported by the Archaeological Institute of America. The Trust isn’t going to change our understanding of the Middle Ages overnight, but we can make an invaluable contribution and pave the way for more work.

The application process for new grants opens in September. We’re eagerly looking forward to see what projects are suggested.

Three years in, we’ve come a long way and in the future hope to support even more projects. With your support we can continue working at the cutting edge of our understanding. Help us do something exciting.

This new blog will be used to explain what the Castle Studies Trust does and the projects we support.