Hostel Closures – One Year On

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

Acomb
Sold Autumn 2006. It will become a private house, despite the objections of the Parish Council.
Alston
Sold to a private buyer in September 2006, but it’s still being operated as a youth hostel under the YHA Enterprise scheme.
Bellingham
A property leased from the Duke of Northumberland, closed and returned to its landlord.
Blackboys
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.
Dartington
Another leasehold hostel that’s been closed and returned to its owner.
Earby
Sold to Pendle Borough Council, who are leasing it back to YHA so they can continue to run it as a Youth Hostel .
Elmscott
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.
Greenhead
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!
Hastings
Sold in September 2006 and closed. YHA is looking for an alternative site in the area.
Keld
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.
Meerbrook
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.
Trefin
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.
Wooler
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

Bakewell
YHA hope to find a better alternative locally.
Brighton
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.
Capel-y-ffin
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.
Dolgoch
The Elenydd Wilderness Hostels Trust are actively campaigning and raising money to buy this hostel from the YHA in order to save it.
Dover
According to a recent press release, a replacement for this hostel is already “on the drawing board”.
Ivinghoe
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.
Langsett
No news.
Lynton
An important link in the South West coastal path, YHA are looking for another property to replace this hostel.
Matlock
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.
Quantock
Confirmed for sale later this year.
Sandown
Another on that YHA are looking to replace with an alternative site.
Stainforth
Despite receiving a £200,000 facelift back in 2000, this hostel is still on the closure list.

To Close October 2008

Llangollen
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!

Conclusion

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.

15 thoughts on “Hostel Closures – One Year On

  1. Chris Hunt Post author

    It’s been madly difficult researching this story, not helped by the fact that what few documents could be found on the old web site often disappeared on the new one.

    Thanks go to colleagues on the Central Regional Council, regulars on uk.rec.youth-hostel and to the YHA press office for their help.

    Reply
  2. Eric Williams

    I was born in the Monastery at Capel-y-ffin and lived there until 1956.
    The Monastery was the first Youth Hostel in Capel-y-ffin and when it closed the present Youth Hostel was opened as a King George VI Memorial Hostel.
    I think Prince Charles should be involved in the fight to keep it open as it is a memorial to his grandfather.
    So lets send him an email to let him know how you feel

    Reply
  3. Sue Allonby

    I’m so disgusted by the closures, and the way in which the YHA is turning away from its roots that I’ve resigned.

    Reply
  4. Elizabeth Hashmi

    Just wanted to thank you for all the info. i have recently returned to hostelling after a break of 20 years and was very puzzled, then upset that the hostels I was trying to book were all closing down.

    Reply
  5. Marie

    Castle Hedingham is currently on the market with a firm of estate agents. YHA is seeking offers in excess of £500,000 (so, a nice little earner for them). The plan is to turn the hostel into a pair of semi-detached houses, and to demolish the annexe and build another pair of semi-detached houses on the site. Here is a link:

    http://www.boydens.co.uk/propertycommindex.htm

    Reply
  6. Marie

    PS: After clicking on the link you need to click on SEARCH at the top of the page. At the time of posting this, the hostel was the first property listed.

    Reply
  7. Sue

    A rather late update to the above story is to say that Trefin hostel has been saved as a hostel and we are now running it as an independent hostel called The Old School Hostel. It now sleeps up to 25 in small rooms with flexible accommodation from single to family rooms, twins and doubles. Sometimes we can even offer en-suite! We run the hostel in as eco-friendly way as possible and have joined the environmental hostelling organisation Friends of Nature. For more information call us on 01348 831 800 or look at our website http://www.theoldschoolhostel.co.uk
    Happy hostelling! Sue & Chris

    Reply
  8. mark w

    congratulations and well done regarding saving trefin hostel. i’ve never stayed there only because i am in the north east and without my own transport. i’ve just checked out your website and i am very impressed. any chance of you taking charge of the yha and running it the same way?

    Reply
  9. steve kay

    The YHA was a brilliant organisation and really catered for simple outdoor types. It is no longer the YHA of old and for all the people like myself who remember the wonderful days of the old organisation it is time to move on and to forget this charity which is no longer an exciting, cheap and adventurous way to visit the countryside. Hopefully a new organisation will fill in a potential market out there of people who find caravans cheaper than YHA for families and for individuals who prefer to camp because the atmosphere in Youth Hostels has become too clinical.

    Reply
  10. Chris Hunt Post author

    Is there any organisation in the country that is still “the whatever-it-is of old”? Times change, and organisations have to change with them – or die.

    We have to look at what today’s hostellers tell us they want, the hostels that they go back to, and the hostels they steer clear of.

    We need to look also at the marketplace: if people can get a better deal at independent hostels – or at Travelodges or caravan sites – they’ll vote with their feet. Finding the right position in that market is a constant challenge, and I wouldn’t claim YHA have got it 100% right yet.

    It’s a lot more complicated than just hearkening back to some (probably non-existent) “golden age”, and assuming all would be well if we operated hostels as we did in the 60′s (or whatever your decade of choice would be). If we did that, the YHA would be out of business in no time.

    Reply
  11. Marie

    Mmm … yes, but the people, including Life Members, who no longer use hostels don’t get asked simply because they’re not using them (and would most likely give answers unpalatable to the YHA), but it is at least something that the YHA acknowledges that people are voting with their feet by using Travelodges, caravan parks and campsites because they are seeking something simple and inexpensive. The ‘Golden Age’ was not non-existent at all, and although times change it doesn’t mean that moving with them means providing hotel-like accommodation and jacking the prices up accordingly. It seems to me that young people of limited means are the last people the YHA want coming through the doors. Until the prices come down (and they won’t) I and goodness knows how many others won’t be using hostels. I know my comments will be shot down in flames because disaffected former hostellers – even enthusiastic ones who hostelled just about every other weekend until a second mortgage started to seem like a necessity – are not much liked by the YHA.

    Reply
  12. Nigel

    @Marie

    What was your Golden Age and why? (other than price). And (again ignoring price) what are the hotel like moves that you disagree with?

    Reply
  13. hostelman

    Alas, outwith the tourist honeypots with a large market of independent travellers and backpackers SYHA hostels are doomed. They are no longer relevant to youth markets, far too expensive, sterile and outdated. Its hard to believe hostelling was once cutting edge, trendy and adventurous. But hey that was 50 years ago and look how much the World has changed since then. Demographic timebomb and terminal decline….Sad but true

    Reply
  14. Tammy Norie

    Ah, honeypots…
    …wonderful historic towns and cities… Shrewsbury, Ludlow, Chester, Salisbury, Winchester, Saffron Walden, Exeter, Lincoln…

    …key tourist hotspots… Lynton, Derwentwater, Scarborough, Llangollen, Yarmouth, Brighton…

    …ho hum… Moira, Cheshunt and the misty boulevards of Rotherhithe.

    Reply

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