A year ago today, the YHA announced the closure of 32 hostels in a radical shake-up of its network. The news was greeted with dismay, both from hostellers and from small communities for whom their youth hostel was a an important source of income. Campaigns were started to “save our hostel”. Angry letters were written both inside and outside the Association. Questions were asked at council meetings. Now, twelve months on, we can see what’s been happening in each case.
Before we even start, two of the hostels were only half under threat. Liverpool and London Thameside (formerly known as Rotherhithe) both take their place on the list of 32, but will only be closed if a suitable alternative can be found locally. If they can’t be replaced, they’ll be kept in the network. As will be seen below, YHA also hope to open replacements for seven other hostels on the list.
The remaining 30 hostels were split into three groups, scheduled to close in successive years:
To Close October 2006
- Sold Autumn 2006. It will become a private house, despite the objections of the Parish Council.
- Sold to a private buyer in September 2006, but it’s still being operated as a youth hostel under the YHA Enterprise scheme.
- A property leased from the Duke of Northumberland, closed and returned to its landlord.
- Thrown up to house refugees from the Spanish Civil War (they don’t make temporary buildings like they used to, do they?), it was closed in October. However, the new owner is apparently going to run it as a YHA bunkhouse.
- Another leasehold hostel that’s been closed and returned to its owner.
- Sold to Pendle Borough Council, who are leasing it back to YHA so they can continue to run it as a Youth Hostel .
- Sold and closed in 2006, but apparently set to reopen as an enterprise scheme hostel in 2007 (though it’s not on the website yet). This is one of the few hostels to have its own attractive website, hopefully the new owner will have access to update it.
- Sold in September 2006 to the landlord of the local pub, who’s running it so successfully as an Enterprise hostel that he’s taking on up to ten staff to help out!
- Sold in September 2006 and closed. YHA is looking for an alternative site in the area.
- Sold and closed, there are rumours that it will be run as an independent hostel. The United Reformed Church also have property in the village that might become available to walking groups. Surely somebody can run a successful hostel on the crossroads of the Pennine Way and the Coast-to-Coast?
- Kirkby Stephen
- Despite the hopes of the local council, the hostel was sold in September and has closed. However, the new owner intends to continue running it as a hostel under the Enterprise scheme.
- Closed in October 2006. With Buxton hostel closed some years ago, only Gradbach Mill (and a camping barn near Wildboarclough) remains in the western Peak District.
- Steps Bridge
- Sold in September 2006 and closed. Once again, the buyer is apparently going to run it as a YHA bunkhouse.
- Another leased hostel returned to its owner.
- Ty’n Cornel
- Bought in July 2006 by private benefactors, who are leasing it back to the Elenydd Wilderness Hostels Trust to operate under the YHA Enterprise scheme. Downgraded by YHA to a bunkhouse.
- Bought in July 2006 by the Glendale Gateway Trust with help from the Northern Rock Foundation. They are continuing to operate it as a youth hostel.
In addition to this list, a number of hostels had already been earmarked for closure in 2006. Blaencaron, Dentdale, Hampstead Heath, Kemsing, Llanbedr and Malvern all closed their doors for the last time. Byrness was sold to a private buyer in September 2006, who is operating it as an Enterprise hostel. Baldersdale, too, is set to rejoin the YHA network under the Enterprise scheme.
On a still more positive note, YHA opened or re-opened properties at Boscastle, Thurlby, Portreath, All Stretton, Clyffe Pypard, Anglesey, Rhosilli, Swansea, Gower, Llangattock and Fynnon Wen. Thus, overall, the YHA network suffered a net loss of just four properties in 2006.
To Close October 2007
- YHA hope to find a better alternative locally.
- The lease on this property expires in August 2007. YHA won’t renew it (though they’ll probably try to extend it to the end of the season). Instead they’re looking for an alternative site in the area.
- Already under threat since early 2005, resulting in rather graphic criticism from some visitors. Local Liberal Democrat politicians are campaigning to save it.
- Castle Hedingham
- No news.
- The Elenydd Wilderness Hostels Trust are actively campaigning and raising money to buy this hostel from the YHA in order to save it.
- According to a recent press release, a replacement for this hostel is already “on the drawing board”.
- Protests were made at a meeting about the closure in February 2006, and followed up in the local press. According to the Chiltern Society, the strength of feeling expressed has caused YHA to reconsider its decision – conducting a feasibility study into whether the hostel can be saved.
- No news.
- An important link in the South West coastal path, YHA are looking for another property to replace this hostel.
- Even being down the road from head office hasn’t saved this hostel, but they are hoping to open a replacement hostel in the town.
- Confirmed for sale later this year.
- Another on that YHA are looking to replace with an alternative site.
- Despite receiving a £200,000 facelift back in 2000, this hostel is still on the closure list.
To Close October 2008
- The announcement was greeted with anger by a company who had invested £50,000 in the site the previous year. They were quickly joined by members of all parties in the Welsh Assembly, followed by Plaid Cymru President Dafydd Wigley. Sadly, they’ve evoked a dramatically less positive response from YHA than Ivinghoe (allegedly) has!
One year on, things don’t look nearly as black as they appeared last January. Of the sixteen hostels expected to close last year, nine have been saved in some shape or form. In particular the devastation of the network in the North Pennines seems, at least, to have been reduced.
Many of the “saved” hostels are not quite out of the woods yet. Many have gone from struggling small hostels to struggling small businesses (especially so when they’re mentioned neither in the handbook nor the web site!). If they are to survive and thrive in the future they need support, particularly during their early years. If your group wants to see these places stay open, I suggest you make a special effort to use them in the near future.