Olympic fittings to be sold off

Summer 2004 news report

Hexham Courant

News that the RMS Olympic collection is to be sold has caused outrage in Haltwhistle.

Local people now want to know if anything can be done to prevent the impending sale.

The finest collection of fixtures and fittings from what was the Titanic's sister ship, it is due to be auctioned in September.

The sale could realise anywhere between £250,000 and £500,000 for Hadrian Enterprise Park owner Ray Cowell and his business partners.

During the town's annual meeting on Monday, one lady said she had been angered by the news, revealed on the front page of last week's Courant.

Chairing the meeting. Coun. Alan Sharp said: "I didn't know anything about it either until I read the Hexham Courant.

"I have made some inquiries about the legality of the sale, but the Olympic collection was conveyed, along with the whole of the premises, by Akzo Nobel to Ray Cowell

"I don't think anything can be done about it, but we are currently looking into it.

"I share your concern, and I know other councillors have got on to me about it."

Coun. Anne Burns said that she had been making calls on the subject, but she was not prepared to say anything more than that for now.

"Ray Cowell gave a verbal undertaking, though, that nothing would be sold," she said.

"I thought that would be as good as the written word. It was said within other people's hearing as well."

After the meeting, local resident Vic Fleming said this was another case of Haltwhistle's history being eroded.

At a time when the town was turning its focus on tourism, it was in danger of losing prime examples of its heritage - the very reason tourists would be attracted to the town.

He drew a parallel with Haltwhistle Church Hall.

In a letter to the Courant, he said:
"Only at Christmas the headlines were 'Akzo brings joy to town'.

"Mr Cowell outlined his vision for the renamed Hadrian Enterprise Park by throwing his weight behind tourism initiatives which would use the stunning architectural features of the RMS Olympic.

"But, alas, now that Mr Cowell and his advisers have suddenly realised the value and sale potential of these items, the only answer is to sell.

"A short-lived joy indeed - and goodbye to another piece of Haltwhistle history.

"What hope for tourism in the future?"

In another letter to the Courant former employee Sheila Ferol said: "I would like to say how disappointed and angry I feel about the sale of the Olympic fittings.

"I was lucky enough to start my working life in the office complex built up with the ship's fittings, and on leaving nearly 40 years later, I was given permission to video these same fittings, that to me were a huge part of my life.

"I feel that the new owners have not taken into consideration how much these items have been a part of Haltwhistle people's lives over the past years and looked forward to the Olympic Hall being opened as a restaurant, as was reported."

She suggested that ramps could be installed to provide disabled access to the canteen and toilets, which are on the ground floor.

As well as providing employment in the town, running the attraction as a restaurant or function room would raise money to invest in the rest of the building, such as installing a lift.

She added: "That would be better than, after such a short time of owning the site, putting everything up for sale to the highest bidder."

When he announced the news, Mr Cowell said that feasibility studies had revealed that using the Olympic fittings as the basis of a visitors' centre was not a financially viable option.

For one thing, he said a lot of work would need to be done to bring [the] building itself up to modern standards, including wheelchair access.

Attempts this week to contact Mr Cowell for a comment proved unsuccessful.

Relates to Ship:

Olympic

Acknowledgements

Reproduced by courtesy of the Hexham Courant.
With thanks to Robin Waite - Senan Molony

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