Staff at Cornish leisure attraction and heritage centre Heartlands in Pool, which announced its shock closure earlier this month, have pleaded for one more month’s employment.

Around 40 staff were given just one month’s notice to find new jobs when the venue closes on January 31.

The Heartlands Trust and its landlord Cornwall Council announced that the majority of facilities on the £35m site had become financially unsustainable and after the National Lottery Community Fund pulled its funding the only option was to close.

An empty What's On sign tells a sorry tale at Heartlands ((Pic: Lee Trewhela / LDRS))

Philip Desmonde, the Conservative councillor for the area, told a meeting of Cornwall Council on Tuesday, January 16 that he was “very distressed and very saddened at the sudden closure of Heartlands, not only as a local facility which is much enjoyed. It has a far wider context at the heart of the vision for Pool.”

He said his main concern was for the employees: “The decision to give just one month’s notice to staff seems to me too harsh. I met with a number of them last week and the sudden loss of a job at the end of January is going to place them in considerable difficulty with mortgage payments, higher purchase obligations and general bills to pay during the winter.

“They were distraught and desperately worried.

"There were tears.

"There was a couple who both work at Heartlands.

"The common plea was for just one more month of employment to enable them to get new jobs. "Would it be too unreasonable for the trustees to enable an additional month until the end of February for so many local people who so rightly deserve our support?”

The council’s Conservative deputy leader Cllr David Harris said he first became aware there was an issue with the Lottery ceasing its funding in October /November.

“On the advice of officers, we – Cornwall Council – put in an extra month’s money to ensure staff could continue.

“Staff were more likely than not going to be laid off before Christmas and on my insistence we put in the extra month because I said – and you know my views on budgets and how tight I am with money, be damned with that – you do not lay people off before Christmas.

“The council has no obligation to put money in here whatsoever but we did because in my view it was wrong [not to], so to answer that question we’ve put that extra month in.”

Cllr Desmonde asked if the employees were informed by the trustees of that financial extension “or did it come as a total shock and surprise to them at the end of December to find that they were being terminated at the end of January?”

“The short answer is I don’t know exactly what the trustees informed the employees,” replied Cllr Harris. “We are not part of the employer / employee relationship.”

Cllr Desmonde outlined how it appeared Heartlands was financially solvent in the two years prior to its surprise imminent closure.

“In November 2021 the Cabinet attended a meeting of the trustees to hear of their financial sustainability issues after Covid and the cost of living impact.

"Nevertheless we were led to believe they would remain solvent until the end of that year.

“That was the case with the March 2022 financial statements indicating an improving position and going concern declared by the trustees.

"The draft 2023 financial statements until the end of March have a warning of financial sustainability but this is coupled with a going concern assurance.

"On the face of it, a hopeful scenario for the enterprise.

“I do not want to consider blame for the apparent change in outlook from March to Christmas 2023, but I understand the Lottery fund decision to withdraw support triggered the trustees decision to close down.

“Existing businesses at Heartlands will be able to continue and Cornwall Council will care for the landscape and spaces.

"I hope the World Heritage Conference will take place as planned and an assurance will be appreciated, but my main concern is the employees.”