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Finsbury hostel closure leaves 250 youngsters in search of new home

06:28 02 February 2012

CEO Gillian Bowen

CEO Gillian Bowen

Archant

A desperate struggle to find homes for more than 250 young students and other people in need is under way this week.

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Residents and staff at the City YMCA hostel at the Barbican estate, Fann Street, Finsbury, have been devastated to hear the lease on the building, owned by the City of London Corporation, is not being renewed.

A total of 205 young students – many of whom are aged 16-17 and attend Islington colleges or have scholarships for stage schools such as Italia Conti in Finsbury – need alternative low-cost accommodation by September to continue studying.

The other 50 beds are taken by those who would otherwise be homeless and low-paid City staff.

In addition, City YMCA houses a large subsidised gym with some 2,000 members – including Islington GP referrals – and provides training for young people to get into the fitness industry. The important facility will now be lost.

City YMCA chief executive Gillian Bowen said: “For me, I’m standing in front of the highest mountain I’ve faced. If it was 30 beds we needed, we might have a little more success, but we have got a real challenge ahead. It’s wholly unlikely for us to be able to find another centre of this volume in this vicinity.”

She said the prospect of splitting up what she called a “family” had hit residents hard. “It has caused a lot of anxiety as well as a number of tears. It’s a bit of a grieving process and we are working through that. “We’ve also had to bring in counsellors – some of the young people are very distressed,” said Ms Bowen.

With long-term rent at £159 a week including two meals a day, City YMCA – an independent charity affiliated to YMCA England which leases the building – is far cheaper than any similar accommodation, which starts at £254.

But Ms Bowen said staff were determined to find a solution and appealed for organisations across London to help the charity.

A City of London Corporation spokesman said the facility was “outmoded”, adding: “Large hostels of this kind are difficult to run and increasingly rare.

“In general we feel that the benefit of the YMCA operating model is not cost-effective in this particular property and that the City could better use its resources to meet social needs in a different, targeted, way.”

He insisted that the City was working with City YMCA management to minimise disruption to students and added that it had agreed to forgo outstanding repair bills. A YMCA England spokesman said it was in agreement with City.

n Call City YMCA on 020 7382 5383 to offer help.

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