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100-year-olds told to find somewhere else to live after historic care home is sold off

New owners says it is not obliged to keep running the home as it is

11 March, 2021 — By Tom Foot

Mary Fielding Guild care home has already had its named changed

ELDERLY residents – some of them more than 100 years old – say they are being “pushed out” of a historic care home after it was sold on and lined up for demolition.

The Mary Feilding Guild in Highgate has been celebrated as a place for “enquiring minds” and for 60 years has been a sanctuary for a host of literary and political retirees. The late writers Diana Athill and Alison Selford lived there, as did anti-war activist Hetty Bower and Rose Hacker, who became the “world’s oldest columnist” at 100 after writing articles for the New Journal in her final years.

Current residents, however, were told on Monday they have three months to “find new accommodation” or be evicted on May 31.

They believed the charitable trust running the home had previously given assurances that staff and residents would be safe to stay before the sale of the building to Highgate Care Ltd, which was finalised on March 5.

Joy Winterbottom, 88, said: “This has been a wonderful home to us all for many years, and to be thrown out of it in our eighties, nineties and in some cases even older, is devastating. The cost is affordable, the staff excellent, and the atmosphere could not be reproduced anywhere. All of us have flourished here.”

She added: “When the trustees of the charity put it on the market, some months ago, we were assured that the place we consider our home was safe. We had expected the refurbished wing to be reopened so that the home could be brought up to full strength. During the pandemic, we have kept the virus out of the home with the help of our magnificent staff.

“But now we are expected in our old age to put ourselves at risk 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 for us to do this.”

Following the takeover, the home has already been renamed “Highgate House” and the Mary Feilding Guild website has been taken down. The home was originally named after Lady Mary Feilding, a 19th-century women’s rights campaigner and philanthropist who founded a guild that acquired the building in North Hill in 1958.

Ms Athill, who lived in Primrose Hill for many years, was a multi-prize-winning author and editor who was awarded an OBE for services to literature in 2009.

She once said of her home: “We’re fed, warmed, cleaned, kept entirely, on what we pay. And what we pay is considerably less than you can pay in far worse places.” The home has space for 40 residents but there are currently just 16 due to a refurbishment.

Highgate Care Ltd was set up in August last year by its chief executive Mitesh Dhanak, who has run care services provider Precious Homes for 25 years. In a statement, Highgate Care Ltd said: “Regrettably, we can confirm that the home will close, and residents will be fully supported across a three-month period to find suitable new accommodation.  We understand that this change will be unsettling and may be a stressful time for residents and their families, and every care will be taken to support residents during the transition period.”

It added: “The home has been financially unsustainable over a long period of time and the new owners, who have significant experience in the care sector, have reviewed the existing business model and have concluded that unfortunately it is not possible to continue to provide care in the same way.”

Rose Hacker was the world’s oldest newspaper columnist

The company added that it hoped to continue “delivering quality care on the site” and is “currently putting together initial designs for consultation” that would be made public in the coming weeks.

In a statement, the Mary Feilding Guild trustees told the New Journal last night (Wednesday) they were “shocked and saddened” as the sale had been “completed as a going concern”, meaning they had expected the care home to stay open for its residents.

They added: “The home was sold to the new owner, an experienced provider, on the understanding that he was committed to putting the home on a secure footing with all the necessary investments over time to upgrade facilities as required. We were deeply shocked and saddened to hear the news on Monday that the new owner has already concluded that the home is unviable and needs to be rebuilt from scratch.

“We will be writing to him to express our concerns and we are looking into how best to provide help and support to residents who will now need to find alternative accommodation.”

When asked about whether it was obliged to keep the home open, Highgate Care Ltd’s spokeswoman said: “The short answer is no.”

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