National Trust properties in district 'under threat of closure'

A COUNCILLOR has expressed his concerns that some of Mid-Ulster's most popular National Trust properties could be under threat as the body seeks to make £200 million of savings due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The National Trust announced over the summer that they would be reviewing their estate and would axe up to 1,200 staff members across the UK.

This is due to a severe reduction to its income as a result of closures enforced by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Cookstown Councillor Trevor Wilson expressed particular concern for Springhill House and Estate in Moneymore and the Wellbrook Beetling Mill and Estate in Cookstown.

Other National Trust properties in the Mid-Ulster district which will be affected by the Trust's proposals include The Argory and Ardress House, outside Dungannon.

The buildings at Springill and Wellbrook both remained closed to the public, though people can still walk around the grounds.

In a statement to the Courier, Cllr Wilson said: "The National Trust properties in Mid-Ulster are under threat of closure

"I understand the National Trust are saying that Springhill is not sustainable from a financial point of view. It is likely Springhill House will remain closed for the foreseeable future probably independent of any future relaxation of Covid restrictions.

"This includes the historic house, visitor facilities, shop, cafe, costume collection, education section and the second hand bookshop. Under the Reset Proposals, staff relating to these are at risk of being made redundant.

"The opening hours of Wellbrook are also to be significantly reduced.

"At present all the gardens and oudoor estates are open at both these properties but the car parks remain closed at Springhill meaning that anyone wanting to use these facilities need to park on the main road, which is far from an ideal scenario.

"It is vitially important that these facilities remain open and I'm asking people to respond to the National Trust consultation by email to enquiries@nationaltrust.org.uk and to express their support for the retention of these properties. The response date is this Friday, 11 September."

A spokesperson for the National Trust confimed that some amenities would be closed but denied that any properties would be closed entirely.

They also declined to comment on whether any job losses would be incurred at local properties.

In a statement to the Courier, the National Trust said: "We recently announced cost saving proposals after losing almost £200m as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

"We have reviewed our spending and ways of working to ensure we emerge from this crisis in a strong position to keep on protecting and caring for places so people and nature can thrive

"We are refocusing our efforts to protect cultural heritage, with changes to the way we manage our properties so they are tailored to their own unique characteristics, while ensuring they continue to offer visitors and supporters the first class experience they have come to expect from us

"Under these proposals some of our smaller properties would reopen on a different basis as part of a move away from a one-size-fits-all approach."

The Trust confirmed some of the impact the Reset Proposals would have, should they be ratified, a process which should be completed by next month.

"For some places, including Springhill, Wellbrook Beetling Mill and Ardress House the proposal includes a reduction in opening hours, moving from a fixed number of opening days to a more flexible booked basis, although the grounds would remain open for local walkers," said the spokesperson.

"The proposal includes a plan to review the visitor offer at Springhill while we decide how best to share the story of the building and people that lived here. The Argory would continue with its current visitor offer, although it’s proposed the shop would close.

"We are currently in a consultation period around the proposals, the outcomes of which will not be confirmed until early October.

"We are unable to share any information regarding the specific implications for any of our members of staff, especially as all proposals are still subject to consultation."

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