The Key to the North.

Innovate Educate Ltd worked alongside Wakefield District Council’s Museums and Castles team on the fascinating journey to evaluate The Key to the North project at Pontefract Castle.

Pontefract Castle logo
Painting of Pontefract Castle

The challenge.

We have worked alongside Wakefield District Council’s Museums and Castles team for a number of years. The evaluation of the Key to the North Project was by far the largest project running over five years. It began in 2015 with a successful NLHF bid and ended in 2019 with achievement of the key project; Pontefract Castle being removed from the Heritage at Risk Register.

The brief was to evaluate progress over five years to ensure:

  • Pontefract Castle has been made safe and more accessible physically
  • The castle is more accessible emotionally and intellectually through its events and engagement programme.


The Key to the North project required robust evaluation design, desk research, strong communication skills for both formative and summative assessment.

Our data collection methods included surveys, observation, focus groups, walking alongside and creative consultation.

What we delivered.

We delivered a strong evaluation project, working closely with the castle’s team, stakeholders, the local community, young people, schools and heritage professionals to tell the story. We reviewed the process and plan each year.

The community view the castle as ‘our castle’ and took a keen interest in developments on site. Our reports have proved the good practice of the small team delivering this project and provided advice and guidance where necessary.

As a result of a great team effort the castle is now transformed. It has developed a hugely successful volunteer scheme and regularly runs imaginative events attracting large audiences.


At the start of the project, Pontefract Castle was referred to as ‘the forest’ because it was so overgrown and neglected. Now the town has a castle, visitor centre, volunteer and engagement programme it can be proud of.

There is a much stronger connection between the town and the castle. There is greater pride in the town because of the conservation works and a Townscape Heritage project in the town centre.

This is a fascinating story. We have evidenced the change and provided recommendations for next steps.