Thu, 13 Feb 2020
Locals gathered at Goring Village Hall on Monday evening for the public launch of a campaign to prevent the sale of a much-loved youth hostel.
Last November, the Newbury Weekly News reported on the formation of the Stop the Sale of the Streatley YHA campaign, which champions the cause of Hill House, a village institution for almost 85 years.
Hill House was donated to the Youth Hostel Association (YHA) in 1935.
Prior to this, it had been operated by the Reisses, a philanthropic family headed by de facto manager Florence Reiss.
The Reisses made it their life mission to host London children at the house, many of them from deeply impoverished backgrounds.
These ‘guests’ were able to explore the surrounding countryside and engage with local people.
The hostel’s social ethos has declined in significance over time, though it has welcomed thousands of tourists, hikers and schoolchildren through its doors over the years.
It offers access to scenic walking routes, including the Thames Path National Trail and the Ridgeway National Trail.
The present management has presided over significant development of the premises.
Now, however, the YHA is advertising to sell it.
The organisation – which owns more than 150 hostels across England and Wales – argues that Hill House is in need of essential maintenance and that it cannot afford the upfront costs.
This is despite the popularity of the Streatley facility, among the most profitable hostels in the UK.
By way of a concession to concerned locals, the YHA demands that any prospective buyer must operate the premises as a hostel for three years after purchase.
Critics have pledged their opposition to any sale which endangers the establishment’s present status.
Among them is Dr Sarah Steed, great-granddaughter of Florence Reiss.
At Monday’s meeting, attended by around 30 people, Dr Steed spoke on the history of Hill House and outlined the campaign’s case.
At the centre of the controversy are the circumstances surrounding Florence Reiss’ decision to donate the hostel to the YHA in 1935.
Campaigners believe that the transfer of ownership was agreed under a covenant, with the YHA bound to keep Hill House open as a hostel in perpetuity.
This document – if it exists – has yet to be recovered.
However, Dr Steed has enlisted local lawyers and historians in an effort to locate it.
In the interim, she stressed that there is much villagers can do to help the campaign.
Hundreds of letters and emails of complaint have already been sent to the YHA.
Streatley resident Mark Kibble – a campaigner against the sale – said: “The meeting unanimously voted to support the campaign in its objectives of getting the YHA to withdraw the property from the market and to explore many of the funding opportunities that are coming to light to keep the hostel open.
“The campaign has drafted a document outlining the history and the opportunities for the future which will be published in the next few days.
“As the YHA celebrates its 90th anniversary year, it would be shocking if it did this by closing a unique hostel that was gifted to them, and lose a fantastic asset to those that enjoy coming to this area of outstanding natural beauty.”