Wigan's plushest hotel - Kilhey Court - is to house asylum-seekers

Wigan’s grandest hotel is axing staff and will be converted to accommodate asylum-seekers within weeks, Wigan Today can exclusively reveal.
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Kilhey Court at Worthington in Standish is to welcome its new residents as soon as September 9 and stop receiving guests, whether for overnight stays, gym and spa use, meals or functions from then on.

The owner Macdonald Hotels has confirmed that it is closing the complete operation “temporarily” and handing its running to SERCO – which is contracted by the Government to run such facilities – citing post-pandemic and cost-of-living crisis challenges for the commercial decision.

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Alternative arrangements are now trying to be sorted with any people or groups who have bookings at the venue after the handover date. That could well include trying to move long-planned weddings to other locations at short notice.

Kilhey Court Hotel is a grade two listed building and former residenceKilhey Court Hotel is a grade two listed building and former residence
Kilhey Court Hotel is a grade two listed building and former residence
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A large fence is to be erected around the Victorian building within days as work begins.

There is already anger at the loss of such a special amenity – set in 10 acres of land and overlooking Worthington Lakes - and the fact that Standish is already “doing its bit” for asylum-seekers by housing up to 200 at the Britannia, Almond Brook, less than three miles away.

Concerns have also been raised that the premises are in the wrong place for such a purpose because it is not close to any amenities.

Kilhey Court has long been used for functions including weddings and school-leavers' promsKilhey Court has long been used for functions including weddings and school-leavers' proms
Kilhey Court has long been used for functions including weddings and school-leavers' proms
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And questions are also being asked as to why it is happening when the Government is supposedly turning its back on using costly hotels for asylum-seekers in favour of cheaper accommodation such as the Bibby Stockholm giant barge in Dorset.

Wigan Council has no say in what happens, but leaders have nonetheless written to the Home Office voicing their objections only to be told the programme will be pressing ahead regardless.

Wigan MP Lisa Nandy has also written to Home Secretary Suella Braverman calling on her to cancel the arrangement - calling it “completely unacceptable” – and urging her instead to liaise with Wigan Council about alternative arrangements.

A spokesperson for local residents’ forum Standish Voice said: “We are shocked and disappointed that a historic hotel in our community is being requisitioned by the Government to provide this type of accommodation.

MP Lisa Nandy has written a strongly-worded letter to the Home Secretary Suella Braverman demanding that Kilhey Court not be turned into asylum-seeker accommodationMP Lisa Nandy has written a strongly-worded letter to the Home Secretary Suella Braverman demanding that Kilhey Court not be turned into asylum-seeker accommodation
MP Lisa Nandy has written a strongly-worded letter to the Home Secretary Suella Braverman demanding that Kilhey Court not be turned into asylum-seeker accommodation
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“The hotel has been part of Standish life for decades and we are concerned about its future if this goes ahead. The hotel is totally unsuited to becoming a hostel for asylum-seekers and refugees.

“Standish has already been shouldering the responsibility of housing asylum-seekers and refugees for several years through accommodation at the Britannia Hotel and many Standish residents have shown generosity towards the people who have been staying there – but it is not right that our village should have to accommodate a second facility of this nature.”

A Standish resident who doesn’t wish to be named but has used the gym at Kilhey Court for 10 years, said: “I turned up as usual this morning to be told that the very upset receptionist had just been called into a meeting to be told her she was being made unemployed. They said the spa and the gym were closing down too.

"I’ve heard that a lot of staff are going and that weddings are having to be adapted because guests can no longer stay in the accommodation next door.

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"This is completely the wrong place for asylum-seeker accommodation. There is no public transport, no shops or a post office. What are these people going to do and how are they going to integrate? They’ll just be wandering the streets.

"And Standish has already accommodated 200 asylum-seekers at the Britannia. And of course Kilhey is a beautiful, historical building. It looks like all that is going to be wrecked.”

In her letter Ms Nandy wrote that despite SERCO admitting seven years ago that the Britannia Hotel is wholly unsuitable for such a purpose it is still being used as such.

She points out that the Britannia has become a focal point for far right groups, further heightening local anxieties.

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And she adds: “Standish is already a densely populated ward in my constituency which already doesn’t have sufficient infrastructures to meet the needs of the local community.

"Kilhey Court is less than three miles from the Britannia Hotel. The utter disregard for the community, asylum-seekers or community representatives by both SERCO and the Home Office is completely unacceptable.”

The MP added that the council has worked constructively and successfully to accommodate Ukrainian and Afghan refugees, telling Ms Braverman “the contrast with the actions of your department and your contractor SERCO could not be greater.”

Wigan Council leader David Molyneux said: “Wigan borough has a strong track record of supporting non-UK residents who are vulnerable and in need and has demonstrated this commitment particularly in recent years.

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“Having been recently notified of the intended use of a privately owned hotel within the borough for the purpose of supporting additional asylum seekers, we have written to the Home Office outlining significant concerns about its suitability.

“Our stance regarding hotels being used for these purposes has been voiced consistently over a number of years.

“We have highlighted in this most recent letter numerous reasons why this particular hotel is not suitable, due to its location and limited local amenities, along with several other factors, including the added strain placed on limited public services.

“The proximity to another borough hotel which is currently in use as a contingency accommodation for asylum seekers, and has been for a number of years, is another factor.

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“We have made strong representations to Home Office officials and their contractor Serco previously, and we have urged them to reconsider this latest decision as a matter of urgency.

“Wigan borough remains committed to supporting those in need who are seeking a safe haven and we have a responsibility to ensure this is done as responsibly and safely as possible. We would also like to thank our communities for working alongside us to provide this support.

“In the meantime, we will continue to work proactively with our community partners and organisations.”

A spokesperson for Macdonald Hotels and Resorts, said: “Hospitality businesses continue to face well-publicised challenges caused by the pandemic and cost of living crisis and, as a result, we have taken the decision to temporarily close our Kilhey Court Hotel and Spa to the public on September 9. The building will then be fully handed over to SERCO, which provides much-needed housing and support for asylum seekers in communities across the UK.

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“This has been a carefully planned decision and we will continue to liaise with our team and guests over the coming weeks.”

While the Home Office says it does not comment on the commercial arrangements for individual sites, a spokesperson said: “We have been clear that the use of hotels to house asylum-seekers is unacceptable – there are currently more than 51,000 asylum seekers in hotels costing the UK taxpayer £6m a day.

“We engage with local authorities as early as possible whenever sites are used for asylum accommodation and work to ensure arrangements are safe for hotel residents and local people.

“We are working closely to listen to the local communities’ views and reduce the impact of sites, including through providing onsite security and financial support.”

The original Kilhey Court was built in 1884 by well-known Wigan brewer, Thomas Fairhurst, as a wedding gift for his wife Elizabeth.

Thomas died just before the outbreak of the First World War and his widow sold Kilhey and the Warrington Lane Brewery plus its tie of 11 public houses shortly after the Armistice, for £66 13s.

Kilhey itself was then purchased by the owner of Trencherfield Mill, Alexander Young, who owned the house between 1920 and 1955.

Surprisingly, it still had no electricity up to his death and was said to be so run down internally that the undertaker was reputed to have fallen through the floorboards.

Young gifted the historic painting Going North to the council and it hangs in the town hall’s council chamber to this day.

The final family occupants to move into Kilhey Court arrived in 1960 when Leonard Sidebotham and his wife Mildred joined his aunt in a house that still didn’t have an electric lights.

Leonard died in 1981 and his widow and his their son Michael would carry on living there until 1983.

It was purchased by the former owner of the The Bellingham Hotel on Wigan Lane, Roy Thomas, for conversion into a hotel.

The work was completed by Rodstock Leisure who also added extensions.

It passed onto Principal Hotels after the former went into receivership, then Virgin Hotels and then Macdonald Hotels in the summer of 1996. Four years ago Macdonald sold Kilhey Court when it had debt troubles but later bought it back.