Hotel workers laid off amid fears for the future of the Northumberland venue

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Staff at an historic Northumberland hotel have been laid off amid uncertainty about what the future holds.

The Blue Bell Hotel in Belford closed in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic and there is concern about its financial viability even when it is permitted to reopen.

David Ratliff, who has owned the venue since 2004, said: “Very sadly, and as a result of the government advice to hotels, pubs and restaurants, we were forced to close the hotel in March.

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“We have always supported and valued our staff, a number of whom have been with us for almost 10 years.

The Blue Bell Hotel in Belford. The Blue Bell Hotel in Belford.
The Blue Bell Hotel in Belford.

“However, whilst we had hoped to retain our team with further government support, as the business falls just above the threshold for qualifying for Government or Local Authority help, and we have received nil, we have sadly had to let our current people go.”

Although the Government’s roadmap to recovery suggests that hospitality businesses could reopen from July 4, he has concerns about the financial viability of the Blue Bell with social distancing restrictions in place.

“The official guidance from the Hotels and Pubs Associations predict a bleak outlook for the hospitality industry until the back end of the year when opening up, if feasible, will only be for 30% occupancy and pub customers,” said David.

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“We also appreciate that many customers will feel reticent to use such venues for some time or indeed until a vaccine becomes available.”

Despite this, he has been heartened to hear that a number of its previous staff have already secured new posts.

“We have been humbled and grateful for support received to date from the local community, businesses and our suppliers and are in regular talks with our local MP and councillor regarding their assistance with helping us secure the future of the hotel for a further 300 years,” he said. “We remain positive about the long-term outlook for the venue.”

Belford Parish Council is keen to ensure its future as a hotel is preserved.

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Councillors have agreed to look at the idea of registering it as an asset of community value.

“That would give the community first right to put a bid in if it came to market,” said Coun Guy Renner-Thompson, parish council chairman and local member on Northumberland County.

“I’ve spoken to people at county have said that if the parish council submit the forms to get it listed as an asset of community value it would most likely be passed.

“It would also give it more protection in the planning system so even if someone did try to convert it into housing or flats it would be another way of stopping it.”

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Coun Kerry Noble said: “We should do this. We should use anything we have as a lever to protect it for the community.”

Coun Thomas Keys, who also raised concerns about the condition of the building, particularly its windows, added: “We have to be seen to be doing something rather than nothing at all.”

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