COMMUNITY leaders have spoken of their shock at the “painfully sad”  closure of a popular County Durham attraction, because of the“insurmountable challenge” posed by the economic impact of the Covid-19 lockdown.

Crook Hall and Gardens in Durham was subject to a ten-week forced closure due to coronavirus, with staff furloughed and weddings and other events postponed. Despite the easing of lockdown, owners Maggie and Keith Bell said the business is about to go into liquidation.

Michelle Gorman, managing director of Visit County Durham, said “We are shocked and saddened to learn the devastating news that Crook Hall and Gardens is to go into liquidation, this is a real blow to the county’s tourism community. 

“Keith and Maggie Bell worked so hard to establish such a successful visitor attraction, one of County Durham’s true hidden gems, we are very sorry that they are experiencing such difficult and challenging times.

“The tourism sector has been particularly hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, losing weeks of trading at a time when the main tourism season was just about to start, recovery will take some time, but Visit County Durham is committed to supporting businesses and individuals as we try to re-open in the new world that we will find ourselves in.”

Adam Deathe, business engagement manager for the Durham Business Improvement District (BID) said: “Crook Hall has been an integral part of the Durham offer for the last couple of decades and it is painfully sad to see something like that fall victim to the Covid-19 crisis. 

“Maggie and Keith Bell took it over in 1995 and they have been developing it over the years. They have a great offer - there was something for everybody there.”

He added: “Crook Hall has stood for some considerable time and will be there in the future. We hope that somebody or something will come to its rescue and it will be brought back to life for future generations to enjoy.

The Durham Civic Trust chairman John Lowe said: “We are very very shocked and obviously deeply saddened by the new, not only from a heritage point of view, which is obviously which is a prime concern to the trust, but also from the point of view of the people who live and work there. 

“It’s an important facility within our neighbourhood and will be great loss. I hope they hope to sell it and it may well be that new owners will be able to restore the business. Crook Hall is one of the main attractions outside the World Heritage Site for the city.”

Chair of the City of Durham Parish Council Councillor  Elizabeth Scott said: “We are all extremely sad to hear that Crook Hall has become the latest casualty of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“This is an incredibly popular venue for visitors of our city, known for its amazing grounds and welcoming customer service. 

“We very much hope that the Hall’s 19 employees (as well as seasonal staff) are able to find alternative suitable employment. “Longer term, we hope that any new proprietors of the Hall will be able to keep it open to members of the public as it is such a beautiful and historic part of our parish”.

She added: “Over the last few weeks the City of Durham Parish Council has been supporting local businesses with an unprecedented level of grant funding and support and advice from our retail consultant Graham Soult in an effort to safeguard jobs in the city”.  

The attraction employed 19 permanent staff and double that in holiday periods.