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Convention centre which was a Nightingale Hospital frustrated by reopening delay


By PA News

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The director of a conference centre which was converted into one of the seven English NHS Nightingale hospitals says the delay to the further easing of lockdown restrictions is “pretty devastating”.

Harrogate Convention Centre (HCC), in North Yorkshire, had looked set to reopen its doors this month following a major conversion back to its regular use from being a temporary 500-bed stand-by hospital.

But it will now have to wait until July 19, following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement earlier this week.

HCC director Paula Lorimer said the centre, with the Royal Hall theatre, is desperate to open and stressed its importance to many other businesses in the town.

Ms Lorimer said: “We have a full diary for Harrogate Convention Centre and the Royal Hall that we’re just desperate to run, so the news this week was pretty devastating for us.

“We’ve got around £15 million of economic impact sitting in the diary just waiting to start, with a full entertainment programme in the Royal Hall.”

Conventions draw in 150,000 visitors a year to Harrogate, according to Ms Lorimer.

The Harrogate Conference Centre in Yorkshire (Danny Lawson/PA)
The Harrogate Conference Centre in Yorkshire (Danny Lawson/PA)

She estimates that 50% of bed and breakfast business in the town is reliant on visiting exhibitors and that the centre boosts tourism, with Harrogate being voted the best place to return to for leisure after a business visit.

Ms Lorimer said she did not understand why her industry needed to shutdown in the first place but stressed that it is vital there are no more delays.

“It’s hard to explain to organisers of exhibitions why their event can’t go on when it’s fine to go to a supermarket,” she said.

“The time has come now when we have to get these events open in order to ensure that businesses don’t go under.”

Ms Lorimer was also keen to stress that the health of exhibitors and visitors was most important, and that HCC will follow all required precautions when it is allowed to open.

The first major event will be the Home and Gift Show, which will now open on July 19, with 10,000 delegates expected to attend.

“We’re going to be really proud to blaze the trail for the opening of convention centres, conferences and exhibitions in the UK,” Ms Lorimer said.

Jim Mossman, founder of Cold Bath Brewing, situated just yards away from HCC, agreed the centre is vital for business in the area.

He said: “It does have an immense effect, not just on us but on the town as a whole and the economy, especially in the winter season, when it is historically quiet, some of the big conferences we get are really make or break.

“It’s very central to the hospitality trade in Harrogate,” he added.

Mr Mossman also said the delay to reopening was a shame for his business, which has lost events, but he said he is hopeful things will improve in a few weeks.

The HCC was converted into a hospital within weeks and opened virtually by Captain Sir Tom Moore in April last year.

But it was not needed to treat a single Covid-19 patient and closed earlier this year.

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