‘It’s like knocking out heart of village’

Horsdonside in Wooler
Horsdonside in Wooler

TWENTY-FIVE elderly people will have to leave their homes following the announcement that a north Northumberland sheltered housing complex is to close.

The community in Wooler has reacted with dismay after Berwick Borough Housing revealed to Horsdonside residents last Tuesday that the site is to close due to a lack of funding available to bring the accommodation up to standard.

The housing, which has a full-time warden, is currently home to 25 tenants in 24 properties, with further empty properties in the complex.

Horsdonside was built 40 years ago and was transferred to Berwick Borough Housing from the borough council. It would require significant investment to bring it up to Governement standards.

Brenda Smith, whose 94-year-old mother Margaret ‘Stella’ Forster has lived at Horsdonside for about five-and-a-half years, said: “It was a big shock to everyone.

“When we heard there was going to be a meeting with Berwick Borough Housing, everybody thought it was to do with the renovations. They had promised to put in new bathrooms and kitchens a couple of years ago.

“There was just stunned silence at first and one lady ran out crying.

“They said that if people couldn’t move elsewhere in Wooler, they would have to go to Alnwick or Berwick, it was just so casual. It hit everybody as being quite cold.”

Mrs Smith hasn’t told her mother the news yet as ‘she would be too frightened’.

“She’s 94 and she would never understand what’s going on,” she said. “It’s the upheaval of moving from where she’s happy. She often says ‘I’m lucky to be here’ in Horsdonside.

“Trying to cope with a new place and new people, she’s really too old for that.

“It’s people’s lives, they have made that their home and thought I’m going to be here, but all that has gone.

“What are they going to do for the elderly people? Wooler has an ageing population.

“They are going to knock down the one place they have got, it’s like knocking the heart out of Wooler.”

At Monday night’s meeting of Wooler Parish Council, members vowed to fight for this ‘community’.

Chairman Coun Alfreda Hindmarsh said: “It’s a community up there, they are like a family. They are breaking up the community.

“They are literally putting 25 older people out of house, one has been there 14 years, one is 96 years old.”

The situation led to town and county Coun Anthony Murray resigning his position on the Berwick Borough Housing Management Board.

“I can speak quite openly tonight because the chairman of Four Housing Group (Berwick Borough Housing’s parent company) accepted my resignation this morning.

“I felt I have tried to serve two masters for the past three months.

“My first loyalty is to the community I live in. As county councillor, I can fight as hard as possible for what I hope is the best deal.”

Elsewhere support is also coming from the Glendale Gateway Trust (GGT) and MP Sir Alan Beith.

A group initiated by the GGT featuring representatives from a number of stakeholders met on Tuesday morning, where it was agreed to bring private sector landowners and social housing providers into the discussion to explore the kinds of provision which could be promoted in the medium term.

And Sir Alan is meeting residents at Horsdonside on Saturday from 1.30pm.

He said: “This must be an extremely worrying time for the tenants and I will help in any way I can.

“I know Berwick Borough Housing are providing support to help find new homes for the tenants and I will be making sure tenants are looked after.”

Bernie Hogg, operations manager at Berwick Borough Housing, said: “Following a careful and very detailed review of the viability of Horsdonside, taking into account the lack of demand for bedsit accommodation, its age, poor condition and that it does not meet the Government’s Decent Homes Standard, we sadly have taken the decision to close the scheme.

“Although this was a difficult decision to make, we have taken this step because we strive to provide the best service to, and improve the lives of, both our current and future tenants through the provision of better quality homes.

“We are committed to making sure our tenants and their families face the least disruption when moving to alternative accomodation.

“We realise the situation is sensitive for tenants and our staff are working hard to closely support them every step of the way to help them find new, suitable homes.”