Firm to pull out of park hall

Whirlow Brook Hall.
Whirlow Brook Hall.

COUNCIL-owned Whirlowbrook Hall is facing an uncertain future after it was announced this week that the current tenants are pulling out after 25 years.

The building is a prestigious venue for weddings, conferences and other events and the location for the park cafe.

After “many months of soul searching”, directors of F Fretwell-Downing Group said they had been unable to reach an agreement with the council on a new lease for the historic building in Whirlowbrook Park and the company will leaving at the end of October.

The lease had been due to expire at the end of March but has been extended by seven months to allow all weddings and other events booked for the busy spring and summer season to go ahead as planned.

Fretwell-Downing says it is in discussion with clients who have made arrangements for after October 31 “and is doing everything it can to reduce the potential upset”, including relocating some events to its sister venue, The Maynard in Grindleford.

With the possibility of the lease expiring, it has been able “to minimise the impact on future weddings” and has not been taking bookings beyond October for some time. It has not been disclosed how many bookings are affected.

The cafe, which was run by the company as part of its lease, will return to the control of the council.

Fretwell-Downing director Jane Hitchman said: “For some time now we have been in discussion with our landlord, Sheffield City Council, regarding the possibility of renewing our lease. As long ago as late 2009 we were in discussion with Sheffield City Council so that we could plan operations ahead for a number of years.

“However, we now find that we cannot continue with the terms of the lease in the long term. For a number of years the business has also been subsidised by its sister venue, The Maynard, and Fretwell Downing computer companies, which used the facilities and added value to maintaining the premises.

“Some of those companies have been sold and another has relocated and no longer has a need for such a venue. This, combined with the obvious effects of the recession, has tipped the balance and we have unfortunately reached the end of the line.”

Ms Hitchman said the company will operate from The Maynard, a wholly-owned family concern, after October 31, and The Maynard’s business is unaffected.

She said an “extremely difficult decision” had been taken about Whirlowbrook Hall after working through all possible options.

Paul Billington, council director of culture and environment, said: “It was an unexpected decision and we were working with them to try and find ways for them to extend their lease. Regrettably, it has not been possible for them to commit again to this venue.

“We were pleased that the company took up our offer to extend their lease for a further seven months until the end of October, so they could honour all their bookings for spring and summer weddings. We will be considering future uses for the building after the end of October.”