London care home residents given three months to leave

New owner of Mary Feilding home in Highgate, whose previous residents include literary figures, wants to knock it down

It has been home to literary legends, psychoanalysts and activists, but now residents at the Mary Feilding Guild home in north London have been told they have to leave at the end of May after it changed ownership.

Last Monday, Highgate Care, the new owner of the Mary Feilding Guild home in Highgate informed residents that they had to be out by 31 May. Residents were told that the gas and electricity would be turned off on that day so they could not stay beyond that.

The Mary Feilding Guild, the charity that had run the home since 1877, sold it to Highgate Care the previous week, but residents had been assured that they were safe. A letter a fortnight ago from the guild director, Mary McGloin, told them: “The new owner takes the home over as a going concern, and all staff apart from me will transfer over on the same terms and conditions.”

Highgate Care wants to pull the building down. It said it is “considering a number of options” and “putting together initial designs for consultation with the local authority and neighbours”.

One resident, Joy Winterbottom, an 88-year-old former French teacher and former social worker, said: “During the pandemic, we kept the virus out of the home with the help of our magnificent staff. We had no visitors except for such vital matters as visits to the doctor – and even that had to be followed by 10 days confined to our own room.

“But now we are expected in our old age to put ourselves at risk in order to go out and look for somewhere else to live. Not all of us are fit to do this, and anyway until the pandemic is over, it is not safe.”

It is no ordinary residential home, with an atmosphere more like a university. Previous residents include the late writer Diana Athill, as well as the political activist and suffragette Hetty Bower, who died in 2013 at 108, two months after giving a speech at the 2013 Labour party conference.

Previous residents include the late writer Diana Athill.
Previous residents include the late writer Diana Athill. Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

It was set up in 1877 by Mary Feilding. Highgate Care’s first act was to change the name to Highgate House Care Home.

A spokesman for the trustees said: “We now understand that the new owner intends to demolish the existing property and build a completely new home on the site. Four days after completing the sale the purchaser announced a three-month notice period to the staff and residents after which the home will remain empty.

“However, it will take at least seven months to produce a detailed design, obtain planning permission, and commence construction. During this time the home could have been kept open for existing residents and staff, rather than force them to move, and making staff redundant. The elderly residents will now be forced to seek alternative accommodation during the Covid restrictions, therefore severely limiting their choice.

“We are appealing to the new owner to reconsider this wholly unnecessary decision to shut the home immediately. We believe that it is not unreasonable to delay the closure procedure to one month before a start on site. This would allow residents and staff reasonable time to consider their options, and by this time the pandemic should have eased.”

A spokeswoman for Highgate Care said: “The home has been financially unsustainable for a significant period of time and we assume that this is one of the reasons the home was put on the open market. The Mary Feilding Guild trustees would have been aware that a new owner would need to make significant changes.”

Mary Feilding residents having afternoon tea in the library.
Mary Feilding residents having afternoon tea in the library. Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian

Judy Sumray, 96, a former media researcher, said: “We have made strong bonds of friendship here over the years, and it will be devastating to break them. The staff are very angry on our behalf, even though it is dreadful for them too.”

Local MP Catherine West said: “I’m deeply shocked that a care home boss could treat vulnerable older residents in this way, giving them eviction notices in the midst of a pandemic. I’ve written to the care home minister immediately and expect answers as to how older people could be treated in such a disgraceful way.”

The Highgate Care spokeswoman added: “We are acutely aware of the anxiety such news will have caused both the residents and their families and therefore our priority has been to hold individual meetings with residents and offer our full support in listening to concerns and start the process of helping to find new accommodation. The team held meetings within days of completion as there was no desire to mislead residents or staff once a decision had been made.

“At the end of the first week, six of the 16 residents already have new homes lined up, four more have potential accommodation in mind and we are confident that this trend will continue with support from the Highgate House team.

She said it had taken on board the time it will take residents to reasonably find alternative accommodation “balanced with wanting to remove the uncertainty of where they will be living at the earliest opportunity”.

“It is with this in mind, that a three-month window was considered sensible. Naturally, there will be an understanding of individual circumstances and some flexibility for any residents who are not yet settled in alternative accommodation by 31 May,” she added.


Francis Beckett

The GuardianTramp

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