‘Don’t lease landmark Sunderland venue to entrepreneur for third time’ ask petitioners

Donna Graham, centre, started the petition asking Sunderland Council not to lease the Pullman Lodge to Seamus Whelan for a third time.
Donna Graham, centre, started the petition asking Sunderland Council not to lease the Pullman Lodge to Seamus Whelan for a third time.

More than 100 people have signed a petition urging the council to stop leasing a landmark building to a businessman whose ventures have twice run into problems.

At the weekend, the director of The Pullman Lodge, Seamus Whelan, vowed all bookings would be honoured after the company which runs the seafront building went into liquidation.

Though many brides and other customers have voiced their concern over events at the site, famed for its train carriages, Mr Whelan promised that future weddings and functions will take place.

It is the second time Mr Whelan has brought the Pullman Lodge back from liquidation.

He was one of a number of directors at Rosalind Leisure, which took over a five-year lease from owners Sunderland City Council in December 2013.

Now Donna Graham, a former guest at a Pullman wedding which went wrong, is leading a petition on campaign website Change.Org entitled “Sunderland Council: Stop Seamus Whelan creating companies to operate the Pullman.”

Donna, 34, from Chester-le-Street, was a guest at her sister Leanne’s wedding to Dayne Dormand which took place at The Pullman in May 2014.

She says a number of errors, including a lack of toast drinks served and staff members swearing at guests, led to a civil court case in which the company was ordered to pay the married couple £700.

But because Rosalind Leisure went into liquidation the debt was never paid.

Mr Whelan has told the Echo he believes the petition is “counter productive” and has sparked concern from those who have made bookings.

Donna, a wedding co-ordinator, said: “When I saw that Seamus had set up a third company, I knew I couldn’t sit back and let it happen again. I don’t want other people’s big day ruined.

“It’s a stunning venue, and run properly it could be great.”

After Rosalind Leisure failed, Mr Whelan formed Signal Box Hotel Limited with fellow former Rosalind director Simon Burdus, and the Pullman reopened in March last year.

Mr Burdus is understood to have left the company in October, leaving Mr Whelan as sole director.

The company ran into difficulty in January this year, when utility firm Corona Energy Retail 5 Limited filed a petition to make Signal Box insolvent, setting a deadline of February 1 for Mr Whelan’s company to resolve the outstanding debt situation.

Mr Whelan said he was forced to put the firm into liquidation after being unable to negotiate with the creditor.

Now, a new company, Pullman Lodge Hotel Limited, has been set up to run the venue.

Mr Whelan hopes to reopen the business to visitors once the lease of the buildings has been renegotiated with the council and has said he has around 40 testimonials from happy customers.

The council has said it is aware of the present situation at the Pullman, including the involvement of the official receiver, and is considering its options.

Mr Whelan said: “I think Donna’s petition is potentially harmful.

“I did what I did to protect the majority of our creditors, people who are dependent on us going forward.

“The petition is from somebody who had an experience back in 2014 and I can cite people who in 2015 who can say it’s been phenomenal what we have done.

“What this lady is asking for is what we have put right.”

He said he has more than 20 bookings which will be honoured.

Budding bride Katie Johnson, 25, from Monkwearmouth, is one of those concerned about her big day.

She’s due to marry her partner of six years, Owen Wooton, 24, at The Pullman on August 13.

The support worker said she chose the venue because of memories of the site when she was younger.

“They had a play area when I was little and we would always go there, so I thought it would be a special place to get married,” she said.

“I knew it had been in trouble previously, but when I went to visit I fell in love with the place again. I didn’t realise it was the same people operating it.

“When the story broke at the weekend about the liquidation I had a lot of friends and family asking me what I was going to do.

“I rang Seamus and he says all bookings will go ahead, even though our £500 deposit is with Signal Box Limited that has gone into liquidation.

“But it’s in six months’ time and I’m worried about what happens between now and then.”

Katie and Owen’s booking is for a wedding breakfast for 100 people, following a ceremony at St Benet’s, and a night function for a further 80 people.

She says she’s now torn between trusting that the function will go ahead or losing a deposit and looking at other venues.