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July 20, 2021

What next for land reform?

As we discover more about why some landowners allow their assets to fall into disrepair, what we learn may help to shape what goes into the next round of land reform legislation. DTAS’ Karlene Doherty has been helping a number of communities faced with abandoned sites to consider what the regeneration opportunities for those sites might be and blogs about it here. However, as women’s mental health specialist charity, Saheliya, discovered after they had injected new life into a semi-derelict building owned by Tesco, the landowner still holds all the cards.

Kirsteen Paterson, The National

A SCOTS charity is embroiled in a David-and-Goliath battle with supermarket giant Tesco that threatens to sink its services.

Women’s mental health specialist Saheliya says the property dispute with its supermarket landlord could force its collapse unless a solution is found.

The organisation – unique in Scotland – supports some of the most marginalised women in the country on wellbeing, skills, legal rights and more.

Its multi-lingual staff cater for women from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, including asylum seekers and refugees overcoming trauma, and has bases in Edinburgh and Glasgow, where it rents the historic St Rollox House and surrounding land from Tesco.

The B-listed Springburn building, home to the charity’s nursery, counselling rooms and market garden, dates back to 1887 and was built for the Caledonian Railway.

It has been extensively revamped since Saheliya moved in in 2014 but requires further work to windows and more to combat cold and sky-high power bills.

There’s public money for that, but leaders say they can’t get it unless their 10-year lease is extended for the long-term or they buy the site.

But despite offering to pay more than market value, they’ve been knocked back. A 2019 valuation put a £285,000 price tag on the site. Saheliya offered £305,000 but Tesco said it would only sell for £350,000 and has also declined to offer the extended 75-year lease the charity says it needs to gain support funds

Leaders – who claim they’d understood they’d get the chance to buy, and wouldn’t have invested so heavily in the premises otherwise – fear they may have to forfeit a six-figure sum in dilapidation costs to Tesco if they exit the site without making further changes, but say this sum would sink the whole operation.

Chief executive Alison Davis told The National: “They told us it was worth more to us than market value because we are using it.

“We are in a very difficult position. We have transformed a piece of industrial wasteland into a wee oasis, but we didn’t know the building would be impossible to heat.

“If we wanted to move and Tesco didn’t want us to, they could say they wanted £200,000 in dilapidation costs and that would close the whole organisation. We are completely over a barrel. They could find that amount of money down the back of the sofa.”

Saheliya’s 50-plus staff speak more than 30 languages and many, including Ahlam Al-Bashiri, are former clients. She says there’s “real value” in the work the charity does, commenting: “Saheliya, by their amazing work, transformed one of Springburn’s most historic buildings into a safe place for marginalised women and their children.

“When I came to Saheliya, I didn’t know anyone in Glasgow, but I met women like myself who understood what it was to be an asylum seeker. They gave me a lot of support and taught me about mental health during one of the hardest periods of my life. They are like my family.”

A Tesco spokesperson said: “We recognise that Saheliya provide important services for the community and we have worked with them to lease the property at a reduced rate. We are not in a position to make any long-term decisions on St Rollox House at this time.”