Camden News by SIMON WORE Published: 18 September 2008
John Humble, vice chairman of Novas’s management board, at Arlington House
Fears over future of Arlington House
Novas Trust puts landmark hostel up for sale during £25million renovation project
THE future of a historic Camden Town hostel is in question after it emerged that Arlington House has been put up for sale by its owners. The landmark building in Arlington Road – which has given shelter to the writers George Orwell and Brendan Behan during its 103 years as a beacon for the homeless and destitute – could potentially be sold to the highest bidder.
The current owners, social justice charity Novas Scarman, bought the hostel from Camden in 1993 with the covenant that the property must be used to provide “social housing at affordable rents for single homeless people”.
How that stipulation will be interpreted by whoever buys Europe’s largest hostel is unknown.
The Novas Scarman Trust confirmed they had placed an Invitation to Tender this week, stating “the landlord function had been transferred” so the group could focus on their “new mission of social enterprise and personalised support”.
But what Mr Orwell might have called the company’s “newspeak” has not convinced everybody.
Hostel tenants and Trust governors are worried the sell-off will strip company assets to the detriment of society’s most vulnerable.
John Humble, the vice chair of Novas’s voluntary management board and a former resident at Arlington House, said: “There is concern, particularly amongst staff. There was a lot of friction regards selling it – this was the crown jewel in the Novas empire. “And there’s the uncertainty about what an incoming landlord would do about bed spaces. It just came out of the blue and the reasons haven’t been fully explained.”
Mr Humble, 68, is an example of the success of the Novas structure. A jobless builder from Middlesborough, he is now a key figure in the organisation. “Arlington is where it all started for me. I very much doubt if somebody off the streets would be able to get into management if a housing group took over, for example,” he said.
Tenant Frank McGucken, 38, added: “The staff hide everything under the carpet about the sale of the building. They don’t tell us anything at all. It’s diabolical.”
The charity, which reported an operating deficit of £277,000 in 2007, has sold off much of its portfolio in the last three years, but the sale of Arlington House has never been publicly mentioned.
Staff cuts have gone hand in hand with previous sell-offs.
The building is in the middle of a £25million renovation project which will reduce bed numbers from 370 to 130.
A Novas Scarman spokeswoman said: “The Novas Scarman Group has decided to sell Arlington House. “We have a clear, long-term commitment to the customers of Arlington. We will offer support in the future, as now. “We will expand opportunities for people to get jobs and move on into a home of their own.
“It is the landlord function that we are transferring.”