STAFF were in tears following the sudden closure of a hotel and business venue on the edge of Morpeth.
The workers at Longhirst Hall were told without warning on Friday morning that they were losing their jobs and within minutes, vans arrived to collect items from the premises.
The events took place after the Glasgow-based tenant management company which runs that part of the site, Hotel Lease (Number 3) Ltd, ceased trading.
Meanwhile, dozens of couples have been left in the lurch as they had weddings booked at the venue for the coming weeks and months.
Pegswood resident Sonia McKernan, who was a receptionist at Longhirst Hall for 10 years, said all the staff were called into a meeting at 10am to be told the news by the firm’s directors.
“We had no inkling at all before the announcement and we were devastated and stunned at what we were being told,” she added.
“They said that the bank had seized the company and there was nothing they could do to stop the liquidation process. We were then asked to collect our belongings and leave.
“It’s awful that we’ve all lost our jobs in an instant. As I was there so long, it felt like I was part of a family.
“I’m now applying for everything I can to try and get another job.”
Louise Warburton and James Dalgarno, of North Seaton, Ashington, were due to get married at the hall on July 18.
They paid a £1,000 deposit in December.
“We were told the news on Friday evening by my sister and we were stunned because everything had been arranged,” said Miss Warburton. “We tried calling Longhirst Hall over the weekend but there was no reply.
“As we didn’t pay by credit card, we have got in touch with our bank to see if we can claim back the deposit money and James has been to a branch of the Citizens Advice Bureau, but it looks unlikely that we’ll get somewhere.
“I’ve been calling the registrar, photographer and others we booked to check that they would still be available for the alternative venue we’re trying to find.
“It’s causing a lot of stress, although I feel extremely sorry for those who have lost everything because of the closure.”
The hotel and business conferencing properties were leased from owner Felton Property & Investments, which has not gone bust.
Director Stephen Cowell said: “Longhirst has been part of my life for more than 20 years and I’m very, very sad that the hotel has closed. I’m also sad for the plight that individuals have been put in following the closure.
“Our immediate concern has been to protect and secure one of the county’s most valuable buildings. It’s too early to say what will happen now – in all likelihood it’s going to take some time. As much as I would love it, it’s very unlikely that a new user is going to come forward tomorrow.”
The closure does not affect the Decoro spa next to the hall and the sports facilities elsewhere on the site – Morpeth Cricket, Hockey and Tennis Club and Longhirst Hall Golf Club.
Rosie Ross, chairman of Morpeth Cricket, Hockey and Tennis Club, said: “We bought the Freehold of the grounds last year and therefore became self-sufficient from the hall.
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“We would hope that whatever happens, it continues to run and give employment to local people and bring people to the area.”
The hall was designed by famous architect John Dobson and built in the 1820s. It was once a school and a community home for children and in recent years, part of the building was used by Northumbria University and the former Castle Morpeth Council.
County councillor Alan Sambrook, whose Pegswood ward includes Longhirst, said: “We were all really shocked because it happened so suddenly.
“The disgusting part of it is that the company must have known it was in financial trouble and so it should have given some warning to the staff weeks earlier.
“It’s sad that about 70 jobs have been lost and we will now have to see what happens with the site. I hope it remains a hotel because that is what the area needs.”
The authority is working to support those affected by the closure and most of the 79 couples who had booked a wedding ceremony at Longhirst this year have already been contacted by a registrar and given advice about finding an alternative venue.
Trading standards have also been busy dealing with requests by those who are looking to retrieve deposits paid for function room bookings.
These people are advised to contact the liquidator – Grainger Corporate Rescue and Recovery, 65 Bath Street, Glasgow G2 2BX. Contact Scott McGregor by telephone on 0141 3533552 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Credit card payments have some protection under the Consumer Credit Act and anyone who has made such a payment to the hall should contact their debit and credit card companies to make a claim.
Some of the weddings have been re-booked at Eshott Hall and Doxford Hall and the owner of both, Robert Parker, also told the Herald that about 20 of the former staff at Longhirst have been in touch to see if there are any positions available at the venues.