Popular historic sites 'under threat of closure'
Two of Mid Ulster's most popular National Trust properties - Springhill House and Wellbrook Beetling Mill - are under threat of closure, a local councillor has claimed.
Cookstown Ulster Unionist Party representative Trevor Wilson said it was vital people made their feelings known by taking part in a Trust consultation which closes this Friday.
He said: "Due to the present Covid pandemic the National Trust are having financial difficulties which has led to widespread temporary closures of their properties in particular their Houses throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
"At present they are currently losing approx £4 million per week so are looking at all their assets.
"To save money they propose making 1200 staff redundant including a number of staff in Northern Ireland including our Mid Ulster properties.
"The National Trust are saying that Springhill is not sustainable from the 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. "
Councillor Wilson it was vitally important that the facilities remain open.
"I'm asking people to respond to the Trust consultation by email to [email protected] and to express their support for the retention of these properties. The response date is Friday, September 11," he added.
A spokesperson for the National Trust said they 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," the spokesperson said.
"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.
"For some places, including Springhill and Wellbrook Beetling Mill 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.
"The proposal also 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.
"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."
Both properties have attracted thousands of visitors over the years. Springhill House, near Moneymore, is a 17th century plantation house and has been run by the National Trust since 1957, while Wellbrook, outside Cookstown, is a reminder of the area's once flourishing linen industry. It was given to the Trust in 1967.