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March 26, 2008

Coldingham bid to keep youth hostel open

Scottish Youth Hostel Association is restructuring and has identified seven hostels for closure. The hostel in Coldingham in the Scottish Borders is one of these, but the local community have decided that it has an important contribution to make to the local economy and want to keep it open


COLDINGHAM and St Abbs residents were spurred into action when Scottish Youth Hostel Association announced they were planning to close the local hostel, a local community company has been set up and under Community Right to Buy legislation they have registered their interest with the Scottish Government.

Scottish Ministers will now consider the application by Coldingham Sands Community Company to buy the youth hostel, and as a result of their interest, the ‘For Sale’ signs that had gone up briefly, have now been taken down as the community company informed the SYHA of its wish to attempt a community buy-out prior to the sales process starting which meant they were in time to delay it going onto the open market.

The announcement by the SYHA in September last year was greeted with dismay in Coldingham and St Abbs but the community has come out fighting and they have 21 days to convince the Scottish Government they have a viable case.

At the time SYHA chief executive, Keith Legge, said: “Although in a popular and spectacular location, visitor numbers at Coldingham are low and insufficient to cover the costs of remaining open or commit to the significant investment required to bring the property up to the required standard.”

SYHA figures are that the cost to maintain the building at an acceptable standard would be £170,000 and to refurbish it to provide accommodation of a standard expected by the majority of visitors (private family rooms etc) would require £300,000 of investment.

Ged Hearn who is chair of the community company said: “The level of support for the community purchase of the youth hostel is fantastic. The two communities have less than 800 residents but already nearly 60 have signed up as members of the company and nearly 200 have signed petitions supporting the application. “If Ministers approve the application the community company will have about six months to create a business case for the purchase of the hostel and to raise the funding.

“The Coldingham Sands Youth Hostel is the only hostel on the coastal route from Newcastle to Edinburgh. The hostel is already heavily used in summer and we know that with careful adaptation its use can be extended throughout the year. If the hostel is forced to close it will be a loss not just to the local communities but the whole of East Berwickshire and beyond. That is why we would like to recruit associate members of the company from other communities.”

Success in purchasing the hostel won’t, however, prevent it being closed for the coming season, but if all goes to plan it could re-open for the 2009 season.

“The plan is to run it as a hostel and we hope to affiliate to the YHA and advertise with them,” added Mr Hearn. “In country places like this it’s older people who tend to come and the young seem more interested in the cities which is perhaps why the SYHA are concentrating their funding on their city hostels.”

Similar community buy-outs have been done successfully elsewhere in Scotland and England and the Coldingham company is confident they can make it work, and having looked into the financial possibility they believe there are large scale funds for this purpose.

Visit Scotland figures obtained by the community company show that visitors spend an average £48 every night they stay in a place and it is estimated that closure of the youth hostel will result in 6000 bed nights lost, costing the local economy £300,000.

Coldingham Youth Hostel is the largest accommodation provider in the area and the only youth hostel on the coast between Newcastle and Edinburgh. Its closure has already lost local businesses a major booking this year – the Northumberland and Scottish Borders Kayaking Symposium.

Organisers of the event, which takes place every two years, had planned on returning to Coldingham for this year’s get together following their highly successful visit to the area in 2006, and it would have been the first time they had returned to the same location. However, when told about the closure of the youth hostel they had to make alternative plans because without the hostel there is not enough accommodation in the area for all those attending, resulting in a major loss of revenue, for other hotel owners, B&B proprietors, cafes, restaurants and shops.

“When you get groups like this or surfing events they are looking for accommodation in the area and the hostel is one that they rely on as it is close to the beach,” said Walter Powner of St Veda’s Hotel, Coldingham.

“Here at St Veda’s we worked together with them and we got a lot of people from the hostel coming for meals etc. It has been used by quite a cross section, people from abroad, those coming to kayak, surf and dive. There is a lack of accommodation in the area and I think if it closes it will have quite an economic effect.

“It has been booked up most weekends during the winter by whole families and was booked at Christmas and new year.”

Impressed by the commitment shown by the community, Roxburgh and Berwickshire MSP, John Lamont, said: “This proposals represents a real opportunity to save Coldingham Sands Youth Hostel. It is great to see members of the community taking the initiative and trying to find a solution to this unfortunate situation.

“Tourism is of great importance to the Borders. We have some fantastic unspoilt countryside and there is a great potential for this to be strengthened in the Borders. It was therefore very disappointing when the SYHA decided to sell the facility. Thousands of tourists come to Berwickshire each year, many to enjoy some of the finest deep sea diving in the world. To allow our tourist industry to develop, we must have a range of accommodation available, and the loss of Coldingham Youth Hostel would leave a distinct lack of low cost accommodation in the area.

“I congratulate the community company on their hard work so far in mobilising such a large number of local residents in this worthwhile cause. I will be keeping a close eye on how the situation develops and am fully behind this plan.”