Heavy police presence as hundreds attend Wigan asylum seeker hotel demonstration and counter-protest

Hundreds of people – including far right activists – gathered in a Wigan township to protest against plans to turn a second of its hotels into an asylum-seeker hostel.
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There was a heavy police presence in Standish village centre to keep the large crowd and a smaller group of anti-racism protesters apart.

The main demonstration had been organised by Ince and Scholes independent councillor Maureen O’Bern after Wigan Today revealed last month that Macdonald Hotels and Resorts had done a deal with the Home Office and its asylum seeker accommodation contractor Serco to close Kilhey Court at Standish to the public and use it instead for a purpose which the government has recently been saying it is turning away from because of the huge cost to the public purse.

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Large numbers gathered in Standish Market PlaceLarge numbers gathered in Standish Market Place
Large numbers gathered in Standish Market Place
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People from across the political spectrum have united in protest against the plan, although their reasons differ widely.

Both the council and Wigan MP Lisa Nandy have written to the Home Office, calling for it to ditch the plan, saying it is in completely the wrong place, being a long distance from Standish centre with no amenities and little public transport nearby.

There have also been strong objections because Standish already has a hotel accommodating asylum seekers, namely the Britannia and that the township already has overstretched amenities due to a huge increase in house-building locally in recent years.

Coun O’Bern had asked that no far right nor far left representatives attend the midday demonstration but among the protesters were people chanting slogans like “send them back” while baiting the police.

A counter-protest was held by Wigan Stand Up to Racism.A counter-protest was held by Wigan Stand Up to Racism.
A counter-protest was held by Wigan Stand Up to Racism.
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She said that one of her biggest complaints about the whole plan was the number of staff who were losing their jobs at the hotel.

On the other side of Market Place were representatives of Wigan Stand Up To Racism and Wigan Trades Council. Opposing groups both had megaphones for speeches and leading chants.

One onlooker said: “There were a heck of a lot of police there to keep things in check.

"I’m glad, because I think it would have been quite frightening if they hadn’t been there.”

Union flags were much in evidenceUnion flags were much in evidence
Union flags were much in evidence
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In a statement released before the demonstration, Wigan Trades Council wrote: "Shockingly, ministers have openly stated that they are prepared to use racism and transphobia to cling to power with constant anti-refugee and ‘anti-woke’ propaganda.

"This is a classic strategy of trying to divide and rule opponents and divert attention away from economic policies that have blighted the lives of so many.

"On the back of this Tory strategy far right organisations are attempting to get support for more extreme policies, targeting refugees as the culprits, diverting attention away from the government. This can only lead to the type of violence as we have seen in Liverpool recently, and an increase in racist attacks.

"That is why Wigan Trades Council is opposed to the anti-refugee activities being organised by Coun O'Bern: activities based on lies, and intended to polarise the community; sowing bitterness and hatred and attracting members of the far right and neo-fascists."

Coun Maureen O'BernCoun Maureen O'Bern
Coun Maureen O'Bern
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Coun O’Bern replied: “More lies and propaganda from the far left extremists.

"They need to get down to Wigan market and support the real Wigan traders whose plight they have noticeably ignored, instead of posting this nonsense and insinuating the decent people of Wigan are Nazis.”

Kilhey Court is officially due to change functions on September 9.

Macdonald Hotels and Resorts has admitted that this “temporary” measure for the grade II listed building is for commerical reasons as the hospitality industry continues to suffer after the pandemic and during a cost of living crisis.

Ms Nandy told Wigan Today that she had received a reply from the immigration minister on Friday repeating the line that the Government only uses hotels in emergencies.

She added: “This is clearly not the case and they are essentially trying to pin the blame on Serco.

"I’ve written back to the Home Secretary to say this is completely unacceptable. She’s responsible for these contracts, and I want a proper response to the concerns I raised.”