The closure of an Alnwick care home, which would have led to job losses and elderly residents being relocated, has been averted.
The last-minute reprieve for Abbeyfield House, on South Road, was revealed this week after the member society responsible for the care home pulled out of a merger with The Abbeyfield Society, the national charity.
As such, Abbeyfield House will continue to be run and managed by the Abbeyfield North Northumberland Extra Care Society (ANNEC). The vacant Ravenslaw House on the same site is owned by The Abbeyfield Society.
In May, when Abbeyfield withdrew its development plans for the site, the Gazette was informed that there were moves to close the home.
The Gazette was told that ANNEC had no plans to close the home, but that the merger was going ahead, raising the spectre of closure plans once ANNEC ceased to exist.
This week, the closure appeared to be a concrete reality subject to the merger being signed off, prompting a late about-turn by ANNEC at a meeting of its executive committee on Monday.
Committee chairman Jim Thompson explained that the decision came due to an impasse being reached in the discussions with Abbeyfield.
He said: “We are going to continue to employ people in the Alnwick area and we are going to continue to provide residential care.
“In north Northumberland, we are like a family. We need to balance the books and cover the costs, but we have a very dedicated staff who care for the residents and we known they are very appreciative of that.
“It’a all about providing a caring service,” he added, expressing his gratitude for the efforts of all the staff, particularly given the tumultuous time over the past few months.
“I’m also very grateful to the executive committee for all the support they have given me and I’m sure we have arrived at the best decision.”
An Abbeyfield spokesman said: “As a charity, The Abbeyfield Society has been meeting the needs of older people for many years, and Abbeyfield House in Alnwick, run by ANNEC, has served the local community for more than 30.
“We work together with many of our local member societies to serve the needs of local communities in the most appropriate way.
“Older people’s needs in the Alnwick area will continue to be met by ANNEC and we understand their decision.”
In February 2014, Abbeyfield announced a £13million project for a pioneering hub-and-spokes model for supported housing, which it hoped would offer choice to the elderly of Alnwick and its surrounding rural and coastal communities.
Known as the North Northumberland Family of Abbeyfield Project, the proposed scheme was to involve transforming the facilities in Alnwick into a housing and support hub.
The charity’s plans also included the redevelopment of a ‘significant site’ in Alnwick, understood to be the Maltings on Lagny Street, which was to offer a number of supported-living apartments.
The spokes in the plans were to be relatively small sheltered houses in the rural and coastal areas surrounding Alnwick.
However, nine months later, the scheme had been scaled back to an £8million project to replace the current premises in Alnwick with a new building, which was also to involve demolition of the historic Ravenslaw House, once the home of fishing tycoon William Hardy.
In January this year, a planning application was submitted to Northumberland County Council for the replacement of Abbeyfield House and Ravenslaw House with a major three-storey development featuring 28 Extra-Care flats for independent living alongside 31 care suites.
This sparked concerns from a number of neighbours before the Abbeyfield Society revealed in May that it had withdrawn the plans after listening to feedback from residents and the county council.
Looking ahead, Mr Thompson said: “We are not disheartened and will keep on looking at options to see how we can achieve this north Northumberland vision.”