Making sure tourism is accessible to all was a key motivation as county councillors approved a £100,000 loan to Alnwick Youth Hostel.
As previously reported, a survey on the listed building, on Green Batt, revealed that £243,000-worth of work is needed, but the loan ‘will be used to complete the work that has been identified as urgent and necessary in order for the business to stay operational’.
The proposal, which will see the social enterprise (AYH) pay back the money over 15 years at 3.2 per cent interest, was signed off by the council’s cabinet on Tuesday (February 12).
Coun Cath Homer, the cabinet member responsible for tourism, said: “It’s a good business case and while I understand the risks, they are mitigated by what’s in the report.
“Alnwick is a wonderful market town, it’s a major contributor to the county’s tourism economy. One thing that’s really important is to make it accessible for all and as a youth hostel, it really ticks all those boxes.”
Coun Richard Wearmouth added: “It’s really important to make sure we can have inclusive access in terms of tourism. We have very nice hotels and other facilities, but we have to make sure it’s open for everybody.”
And the loan, as well as the rent-free, 99-year lease being offered by the council, which will take over ownership of the building from Advance Northumberland (formerly Arch), ensures that the hostel’s directors can continue with their ‘exciting plans for the future of this great asset to the town’.
This is because the building, once the town’s courthouse and police station, but now featuring 57 beds across 15 en-suite rooms, ‘shows serious structural wear to the stonework and substantial sums are needed for repair, more than we have immediately available’.
In a statement, the board continued: “This is a very welcome deal and we are grateful to the council for appreciating the community value of this socially-focused business and its role in the town’s growing visitor economy.
“The repairs are essential and would ultimately have fallen to the council anyway, but this arrangement enables directors to retain local control and develop the outside areas properly that are presently made safe with temporary works.”
Chairman Bill Grisdale added: “We are very pleased with the steady growth in customers, though directors recognise that there is still much potential for increased marketing and improved facilities.”
The property formerly belonged to the county council before the now defunct Alnwick Community Development Trust purchased it and developed it into its present function, which was opened by the Queen in 2011 and is now continued by the surviving trading arm, AYH.
It is an independent hostel affiliated to the Youth Hostel Association run by a company limited by guarantee with charitable objectives and controlled by a board of unpaid directors, with four paid employees and a managing director, yet to be appointed.
The main purpose is to provide inexpensive but high-quality accommodation for all kinds of visitors, but especially school and college groups from across the UK and Europe. Profits not needed for repairs and maintenance are shared among local voluntary groups with a focus on young people.
Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service