The community has rallied round to tell the trustees in charge of Alton Abbey: we’ll help you if you can house our desperate Ukrainian refugees.
As reported on our websites last week, the trustees of The Order of St Benedict at Alton Abbey were approached to use the empty, furnished rooms to help refugee families who have to move out from their hosts after six months of living in the town.
But the trustees have so far refused to meet with community leaders, reiterating in a statement that its role is only to support ‘the monastic community at the abbey and assisting destitute and infirm merchant seamen’.
The trustees have also said it would require a change in the objects of the charity to enable refugees to stay in the abbey, and that while they are “currently considering the future of the abbey site, we do not believe this working monastery in an isolated rural location far from public transport links is appropriate for refugee housing”.
Weunderstand an Alton solicitor has offered to provide the trustees with a free re-writing service to amend the documents.
East Hampshire District Council has also intimated funds may be available to facilitate the use of the abbey for refugees.
Tony Souter – who has travelled on a mercy mission to Ukraine with much-needed supplies, and headed up the successful Energise Ukraine campaign to send vital generators to the war-torn country – has written to the trustees asking for help , and said: “I don’t consider the ‘remoteness’ of the abbey being an issue – cars and minibuses could easily be organised.
“In any event, other Ukrainian families are being hosted in far more remote areas.
“The abbey has been used as a retreat in the past so we would have hoped this would have set some kind of precedent about accommodating guests.
“Only two monks are living there now and the abbey has rooms aplenty – living space, a kitchen, dining room, gardens, vegetable plots, a chapel... in short, everything needed for a small community of women and children to thrive.
“There is, of course, an understanding the abbey may, at some point, have to be sold. That would be a considerable loss, not only to the abbey charity but also to the fabric of Alton.
“In the meantime it is not impossible to imagine a temporary legal agreement being drawn up between the trustees and East Hampshire District Council to allow for a temporary variation of the trust’s governing document.
“The Ukrainian refugee crisis is temporary and I would anticipate the Ukrainian residency at the abbey, should we be able to reach an accommodation with the trustees, would also be temporary.
“What exercises people in Alton and beyond is the abandonment of any humanitarian consideration of this emergency by the Order of St Benedict and the egregious under-use of a building specifically set up to offer succour to those in need.
“That need, as defined by the Order’s Charity Commission entry, is not just restricted to destitute merchant seamen.
“We don’t have any grievance at all with the monks at the abbey – we would just like an opportunity to talk to the trustees.”
While the future of the abbey is being determined, community leaders have also told the trustees that hosts of Ukrainian refugees are entitled to a monthly ‘thank you’ payment from the county council for each family they house.
This has recently been raised from £350 a month to £500 for hosts taking in refugees who have been in the country for more than 12 months.
In a statement, the trustees of The Order of St Benedict at Alton Abbey said:
“It is kind of the community leaders to think to assist us, but we do have our own advisers.
“The trustees take their responsibilities seriously and all the factors mentioned, along with many more, were taken into consideration in arriving at our decision.
“There are factors which are private and confidential and which therefore we are not able to make public.
“Therefore I am afraid we cannot add to our statement.”
The trustees' original statement read:
“The trustees share the concerns being expressed in the town regarding the need for appropriate accommodation for refugees.
“While we are currently considering the future of the Abbey site, we do not believe that this working monastery in an isolated rural location far from public transport links is appropriate for refugee housing.
“Also the trustees wish to make clear the charity is only able to carry out charitable activities which fall within its charitable objects, as set out in its governing document, which are the support of the Monastic Community at the Abbey and assisting destitute and infirm Merchant Seamen.”
the trustees wish to make clear the charity is only able to carry out charitable activities which fall within its charitable objects, as set out in its governing document, which are the support of the Monastic Community at the Abbey and assisting destitute and infirm Merchant Seamen
The Order of St Benedict at Alton Abbey