ONE of the biggest events venues in the county is to close, with its owners saying it has fallen victim to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Shepherds Inn, which has been major venue - for the farming community in particular - for decades, will not reopen when Covid-19 restrictions are fully lifted. However, its owners have pledged to keep it as part of their food brand and promised major redevelopment.

This week staff have been busy contacting people who had booked the venue for future events, some of which included wedding receptions.

David Jenkins, one of the owners of the Pioneer Foods family business, said the decision not to reopen the Shepherds, as it is now known, was the “toughest decision they had to make”.

“It was a tough call. We are quite passionate about what we do, but the future for a banqueting venue of this size is uncertain until at least into next year,” said Mr Jenkins.

He added that Pioneer, like other businesses, had been hit hard by the coronavirus crisis and as a company they had to furlough more than 200 staff.

“We will certainly have to make redundancies in several departments,” he said. “We have been hit hard by the crisis, losing business because of the shutting down of businesses that we serve as part of our food service solutions to caterers.”

A statement from the Jenkins family said that the Shepherds Inn, part of the Rosehill premises which includes the Auctioneer pub and function suite, had now been earmarked for a major redevelopment and change of use.

It apologised to all those with future bookings at the venue, and thanked its loyal customer base.

“We are quite tight for space, and once our business recovers, this will enable us to make some changes on that site,” added Mr Jenkins.

“But if we have to go into another lockdown I just cannot think of this. We have to be quite positive about the future.”

Since 1974, the Shepherds function room, or the ‘Cesare’s Palace’, as it had been nicknamed, has been used to host civic events, dinner dances, weddings, party nights, conferences and exhibitions.

But the decision not to reopen will be a major blow to the farming community, with which it has become synonymous.

“We had our wedding reception there 31 years ago,” said Gillian Potts, from Dalston. “It was very popular with the young farmers and weddings.

“It will be a great loss to the farming community. They thought of it as their own venue.”

She continued: “It had a good reputation for great food, but it did need bringing into the 21st-century.

“Unfortunately it had not moved with the times, but it is still a great shame it is not reopening, it was an institution for farmers.”

Heather Pritchard, pedigree sales and marketing manager at livestock auctioneer’s Harrison & Hetherington, said: “It was one of the first sites, along with us, to open in the seventies.

“I think the farming community will miss it. It was used a lot for wedding receptions, birthday parties, and a lot of breed societies used it for social gatherings.”

Keith Twentyman, National Farmers Union Cumbria group secretary, said the Shepherds had a great reputation for its “excellent food”.

“It will be a huge miss,” he said, “but maybe the days of 400-seat venues has gone.”

Mr Jenkins added that the family would now concentrate on the Auctioneer and the Auctioneer Suite, the latter which seats up to 100 people.

Pioneer also runs three retail outlets throughout Cumbria and it is well-known for its Lakeland Beef.

A statement from Graham Jenkins, said: “Most of our custom today revolves around large weekend functions, supplemented by ad-hoc events during the week. Unfortunately many of these bookings have been cancelled due of the coronavirus.

“We have therefore taken the very difficult decision not to re-open the Shepherds function room for business once the current restrictions are lifted and instead put our energies into the Auctioneer side of the venue.

“In the future, the Shepherds part of the premises has been earmarked for a major redevelopment and change of use.

“We are extremely sorry for the disappointment and inconvenience that this will cause for our loyal customers and particularly for those who had events booked in the Shepherds in the future.

“We would like to thank all of our customers over the years for bringing many fantastic functions and events to the venue.”