TO say the recently-appointed director of Cardigan Castle has had a baptism of fire in his new role would be something of an understatement.

Jonathan Thomas returned to work in his home town on March 4 – three weeks later and with his feet barely under the table, the country went into nationwide coronavirus lockdown.

“Things were changing so quickly that we could barely keep up,” said former RAF operations officer Jonathan as he looked back on his first couple of months in charge.

“For the first week, coronavirus was nothing more than a mention on the horizon and then, all of a sudden it became hugely important and disruptive.”

So home working it has been for the most part, though with wife Bethan a nurse at Withybush and two young children, William 7, and Clara 4, it has been something of a juggling act at the family’s Cilgerran home.

But while the castle, like so many other businesses, remains closed under the current restrictions, it has given the new boss a chance to take stock and look ahead to what he still believes is a bright future for both the castle and town as a whole.

“I was a pupil at Cardigan School and can remember coming to the castle in the sixth form just after it had been bought by the county council,” said Jonathan.

“I had always been interested in it as a child but back then, before all the changes, it seemed a mysterious place and, locked away.

“To now be back working in Cardigan and at the castle, life seems to have come full circle.”

After seven years in the RAF, Jonathan then worked for QinetiQ, familiar to many in the area for its association with defence work at Aberporth, though he was in fact stationed at Pendine where he was operations manager.

“We were actually visiting friends in Germany when my wife saw the job advert for the castle on her phone and we talked it through and to now have this opportunity is fantastic,” he said.

And his view has not changed despite the current fears and uncertainties over Covid-19.

“There has been two stages to the job so far,” said Jonathan.

“Firstly, there was the initial reaction to the crisis and the decisions to be made as to whether you can stay open or close prior to the lockdown. We decided to close and the day after that everything else closed anyway.

“It has been difficult as it is a relatively complex business with the accommodation side, events such as wedding and concerts, catering and the flow of visitors and it’s all about trying to work out the relationship between everything and the impact in the short, medium and long term.

“Now we are looking more to the future, though even now things can change so quickly. In what guise can we reopen and what can we offer people that’s relevant to what they want and will bring in revenue?

“In that respect, we are no different to any other business but I am also very much aware that the castle is very much part of Cardigan and the local community and we want to build on that and grow that relationship with the town.”

Since winning Channel 4’s Great British Buildings Restoration of the Year crown back in 2017, the fortunes of the castle and town seem to have been very much interwoven.

That success just over three years ago sparked a flood of interest and visitors from around the UK and further afield have flocked to the castle, with Cardigan as a whole reaping the benefits as well.

The castle has also become very much a community asset, playing a major part in the life of the town from the newly-established St David’s Day parade and lantern parade, to sell out concerts featuring the likes of KT Tunstall.

But the castle has to pay its way – hence the need for accommodation, conferences, wedding etc and it is that revenue stream that has dried up in the current crisis.

All the weddings that had been scheduled for the summer have been cancelled and rebooked.

“That’s disappointing for the couple and ourselves from a business perspective but we have been as flexible as possible and everyone understands the situation,” said Jonathan.

Then there is the issue of the castle’s accommodation - when can it be reopened? Will people still want to travel here from all over the country? What PPE will staff need to clean the rooms? Will there need to be a contact tracing system in place?

And how can the castle cope with visitors under social distancing regulations? What about the outsourced catering operation?

“It’s such a complex picture but all the staff, volunteers, guests and visitors have to be comfortable with whatever we decide,” said Jonathan, who is in constant discussion with his board of trustees.

“For us, losing a full summer or a massive portion of it is very, very difficult to make up for in terms of revenue, as it is for all tourism-related businesses.

“This is quite a substantial blip but we remain quite positive for next year and will hopefully get back to a full calendar of events.

“Last year’s concerts proved hugely popular and I see the castle as the focal point of the community.

“People buy into the fact that it is their castle and belongs to them and the people of Wales in a wider sense because of its history and its importance to both the town and the country.

“I am so keen for people to come and get even more involved. We have some great people here already and there are more opportunities for volunteering, such as for specific summer events.

“We are also very much open to ideas as to how people want to see the castle develop and getting people involved as much as possible.

“Hopefully, the castle will continue to go from strength to strength and we will have a better idea of where we stand in the next 12 months.”