Right-to-buy almshouses put to rest

Written by  Monday, 08 February 2016 09:09
Simon Smith, clerk to the visitors (trustees) of the Jesus Hospital Charity Simon Smith, clerk to the visitors (trustees) of the Jesus Hospital Charity
A question mark hanging over the future ownership of Barnet’s many historic almshouses has finally been resolved after the government gave an assurance they would not be included in the extension of the right-to-buy scheme for housing tenants.

When the government announced last year that homes owned by housing associations were to be included, almshouse charities asked for an immediate clarification, fearing that their properties might have to be made available for purchase.

There are almost 1,000 almshouses within the Borough of Barnet, more than any other London borough, and there are well over 170 within a mile of Barnet parish church, one of the highest concentrations in the country for a town of its size.

Peter White, chairman of the Lancelot Hasluck Trust, which has 44 almshouses off Parkside Gardens, East Barnet, and includes Chipping Barnet in its primary area of benefit, was one of the first local charity leaders to seek reassurances from the government about the future status of almshouse properties.

Jesus Hospital Charity, which has 54 almshouses in High Barnet, joined Mr White in writing to the Chipping Barnet MP, Mrs Theresa Villiers, urging ministers to respond.

Simon Smith, clerk to the visitors (trustees), told the Barnet Society that the lack of clarity in the government’s intentions had caused considerable uncertainty.

“We were facing the prospect of government policy breaking up the great historic tradition of benefactors providing homes for elderly and needy people, a tradition that in High Barnet’s case dates back to the 17th Century.”

After months of lobbying by the Almshouse Association, Greg Clark, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, has finally given MPs an assurance that almshouse charities are entities that are distinct from housing associations, and therefore are not included in the right-to-buy scheme.

In welcoming the Mr Clark’s statement, Mrs Villiers said almshouses were part of the town’s unique identity.

“Here in High Barnet we have charities that are hundreds of years old, and that are still supporting local residents. There have been almshouses in Wood Street since 1672, and they are an integral, and much-loved, part of our local heritage.

“So obviously it makes sense for the government to respect the fact that almshouse charities are not the same as housing associations, and that they fall outside the right to buy scheme.”

Before the Secretary of State issued his reassurance, there had been months of media speculation that elderly people living in almshouses might be allowed the right to buy their properties, confusion that prompted the Almshouse Association to call on ministers to protect the unique status of member charities.

the lack of clarity in the government’s intentions
had caused considerable uncertainty

Most of Barnet’s many almshouses bear the names of the original benefactors, and Mr Smith says it would have been a travesty if the continuing benefit of their generosity years ago was undermined by government action.

“Almshouses still play a significant role in providing accommodation for elderly people of limited means, who are often in housing difficulty, and the 16th and 17th century benefactors who established these charities intended their bequests to provide charitable housing for generations to come.

“One reason why obtaining government clarification was so important is because almshouses are expanding. For example, in response to the growing demand for affordable housing, Jesus Hospital are in the process of seeking planning permission to build some more almshouses in the area, and we were shocked by the thought they might be included in the right-to-buy scheme.”

In and around High Barnet there are four major almshouse charities:
Jesus Hospital Charity is responsible for 54 almshouses (including Ravenscroft’s, Garrett’s, Pagitt’s and Wilbraham’s) on sites in Wood Street, Monken Hadley, Potters Lane and Grasvenor Avenue.

Eleanor Palmer Trust: 74 almshouses and sheltered homes in Wood Street, Spring Close, Bells Hill and Chesterfield Road.

Thomas Watson Cottage Homes: 29 bungalows and flats in Leecroft Road.

Leathersellers’ Company: 21 flats at Leathersellers’ Close, The Avenue.

Mr Smith, and the visiting officer for the Jesus Hospital almshouses, Jane Porter, give regular talks on the history of almshouses, and explain why Barnet has benefited so greatly from the generosity of the early benefactors.

“Almshouses are a great British tradition, dating back more than a thousand years, and it is a concept that has been taken up around the world. The first almshouses were established in York in 970 by King Athelstan, the grandson of Alfred the Great,” said Mr Smith.

“Given this great historic legacy, you can see why the almshouse charities were so alarmed when we thought our properties might have to be sold off to residents, so we appreciate the fact that the government has finally listened and cleared up the confusion.”

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5 comments

  • Comment Link Monday, 08 February 2016 12:09 posted by Alex Palmer

    Great article. Well done....and thanks for all the work you all do for Ma Palmer xxx

  • Comment Link Monday, 08 February 2016 12:10 posted by Joe Spedding

    Well done Simon Smith

  • Comment Link Monday, 08 February 2016 22:32 posted by Paul Baker

    Well done, Simon.

  • Comment Link Friday, 10 June 2016 03:15 posted by The Almshouse Residents Action Group

    All very well but:-

    Almshouses categorize as inadequate housing according to UN housing criteria because, under current English law, occupants can be summarily evicted without judicial oversight.

    This is a disregard of their rights as citizens of the European Union and a violation of their human rights, engaging inter alia Article 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

  • Comment Link Saturday, 19 August 2017 07:40 posted by Harry Dell

    My name is Harry, I work for Jesus Hospital Charity, the above comments maybe true but I have seen nothing but sheer effort and determination both by senior management and Trustees to keep the ladies in their homes, there does unfortunately come times through illness and immobility that ladies may sometimes be referred to Social Services, this is an action taken for the continuing benefit of the ladies, I have been employed at the charity 10 years and as far as I recall only 4 ladies have had to be permantly rehoused in residential care homes. The ladies receive a high level of attention from the charity, including yearly events and weekly activities, the maintenance of their homes is second to none, in short our ladies are leading very happy and social lives.

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