Sat, 23 Nov 2019
Streatley residents have launched a campaign to save the village youth hostel, one of the first in the country, from being sold.
Hill House has been operating for almost 85 years, having been donated to the Youth Hostels Association (YHA) by villager Florence Reiss in 1935 to provide a hostel with affordable accommodation for young people to visit the countryside.
The Goring Gap valley is situated between The Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and the North Wessex Downs AONB.
Over the years, thousands of young people have passed through the hostel’s doors, including hikers and school groups from around the world wishing to enjoy the Goring Gap, the Ridgeway and Thames Path.
Among the campaign supporters is Sarah Steed, a granddaughter of Mrs Reiss, who was so concerned about the situation that she travelled from Ely, Cambridgeshire, at the end of October to meet hostel manager Nick Crivich with Streatley resident and campaigner Mark Kibble.
The present management has overseen significant development of the premises over the past 20 years.
It is open 365 days a year, has 48 beds, a high occupancy rate and is in the top tier of YHA hostels in profitability.
However, for reasons not fully explained, say campaigners, the YHA has decided to sell the property with or without the ‘option’ of continuing to run it as a YHA franchise.
A likely outcome from any sale, they believe, is that new owners would close down the hostel and develop the site themselves or sell it on for profit.
A grass-roots campaign Stop the Sale of Streatley YHA has been set up by local residents “on behalf of all the users of the hostel to help save it and ensure it continues to flourish”.
They intend to email and write to the YHA executive, its trustees, the Charity Commissioners and other parties to reverse any decision to sell off the property.
Dr Steed is proud of the house’s history, which is linked with that of her own family, respected social reformers with firm roots in Streatley.
Prior to her grandmother gifting it to the YHA, the Reiss family accommodated London children at Hill House, offering them respite from the city.
At this time, the Reisses were considered notables with ‘strange friends’.
Dr Steed said: “It was considered to be hugely peculiar.
“They were people with a practical turn, they were using their own house to accommodate young people and help them, as well as linking with other social reformers.
“All the London girls would go marching off down into the village, with their colourful talk – much to the delight of the local residents.”
This is not the first time Streatley’s hostel has faced the threat of sale.
The YHA also attempted to sell it off in the early-1990s.
It was thwarted by a campaign by local supporters, YHA members and concerned organisations such as the Countryside Commission, led by another of Florence Reiss’ granddaughters, Annette Steed.
Supporters are seeking out the original documentation of Mrs Reiss’ gifting of the property to the YHA.
Among this, they believe, is a covenant asserting that Hill House must remain open as a hostel.
Should this be the case, it would almost certainly prevent its closure.
Stop the Sale of Streatley YHA group said that although it understood that the YHA, as a charity, needed to be fiscally prudent and careful with its resources, “its current financial position is healthy so this is not a ‘distress sale’”.
It says: “The family who donated the property in the first place have not been consulted about the YHA’s plans.”
Mr Kibble added that there was a lack of hostels in the surrounding area and Streatley’s was not struggling financially.
He said: “Trying to work out why the YHA are selling it is our issue. It’s not because the YHA needs money – it [the Streatley hostel] is making a profit.
“Above all, when they’ve been given the property through philanthropists, to then sell it on seems a breach of trust.”
The YHA said the Streatley hostel would require significant investment in the future, which would prove “financially unsustainable in the long term”. It does not, however, consider outright closure to be its first preference.
YHA spokesman Sam Littlechilds said: “We have developed a new ‘Enterprise’ or franchise model whereby we either lease or sell a hostel to an entrepreneur who continues to operate the hostel under the YHA brand, but has the means and incentive to provide the investment that the hostel needs.
“YHA Streatley is a hostel that we have been looking at in this light.”
To find out more about the campaign to save the hostel, visit the Facebook campaign page at @stopsaleofstreatleyYHA