NEW owners of a health club are trying to restore its battered reputation after previous management ceased trading while owing members, staff and suppliers thousands of pounds.

About a dozen staff – many of them teenagers – are still waiting for wages following the closure of Wickwoods Country House & Spa in Albourne, near Hassocks, in January. Hundreds of members who paid fees in advance are also out of pocket while couples who booked the club as a wedding venue have been left heartbroken.

The club has been bought by Lee and Vanesa Goossens but they say all debts are owed by its former management.

The couple originally sold the club to Hove-based businesswoman Shadi Danin in 2004.

It is understood Ms Danin, who also owns Shadi Danin Beauty Clinic in Hove, bought the freehold of the club under her own name using a bank mortgage while she set up a company called Wickwoods Health Club and Spa Ltd to operate the club itself. This company went into administration in October 2008.

Insolvency experts Atherton Bailey were called in and agreed to sell the business to a new company, the similarly named Wickwoods Spa & Health Club Ltd, set up by South African-based businessman Hemanth Rajkumar Singh.

Major investment was needed to revive the business but new money failed to materialise and Wickwoods shut in January. Members were originally told it would reopen after refurbishment but it is understood that, around this time, Ms Danin sold the freehold of the club to another company, Country Clubs (UK) Ltd. This company paid a fee to Atherton Bailey for the club’s assets a few days before selling the whole business to Mr Goossens, who said he and four other investors paid a “significant sum”.

Despite this, he is not liable for any past debts as these are owed by Wickwoods Spa & Health Club Ltd. Although this company is technically still active, a spokesman for Atherton Bailey said he did not believe the company had any assets and Mr Rajkumar Singh is thought to have relocated to South Africa.

Mr Goossens said he is now trying to re-establish the club “to its former glory”. The club is due to reopen in May after a £450,000 makeover.

The couple plan to spend a further £2 million during the next three years.

Mr Goossens said the Wickwoods name had been “tarnished” by the way so many people had been let down.

He said: “A woman came in the other day who had put down a £750 deposit for a wedding. We had to tell her it wouldn’t happen as we won’t be ready in time and that her money had been lost in the previous company. She broke down in tears. We would have done it if we could.”

Mr Goossens says he is offering members who have lost money a discount while trying to honour any bookings.

Staff and suppliers are also furious to find themselves out of pocket.

Suzanne Hill’s 17-year-old daughter Eleanor worked as a waitress at Wickwoods for 18 months and is owed about £600 in wages.

Mrs Hill said: “The sad thing is she is still at college and bought a laptop because she thought she had that money coming in.”

Jo Calvert, of DG & Pool Leisure, said they were not paid for work they did on the steam room in February 2009.

She added: “We were left holding the baby for £1,200 and chased and chased for it.

We had worked for Wickwoods for many years and this was the first time this had happened.”

Ms Danin told The Argus she had nothing to do with the company set up by Mr Rajkumar Singh.

She added: “I was the landlord.

I had nothing to do with the business side.”