Plans have been made public by the Youth Hostels Association (YHA) in England and Wales for the closure of eight English hostels at the end of the 2011 season.
Properties in the firing line include Newcastle, Arundel, Totland and Salisbury. Of more interest to hill walkers will be the announced closure of Helvellyn, Hawkshead and Derwentwater in the Lake District, and Osmotherley in the North York Moors. The move may upset hostelling traditionalists and walkers with a soft spot for a particular hostel on the list, but the YHA sees the closures as part of an ongoing and wider investment programme across the organisation.
'People are now looking for different things from hostels' explains Duncan Simpson, Head of Corporate Affairs and Policy. 'Long term we are looking to phase out the traditional shared dorm in favour of smaller private rooms, and to upgrade bathroom facilities in all our properties. There are few ways we can fund this investment, and selling some of our assets is the least bad option.'
He is happy to admit that the properties earmarked for closure all currently run at a modest profit.
'These are successful hostels, with fantastic staff. But bringing these particular properties up to the standard that modern visitors are increasingly expecting would prove expensive. In the case of the Lake District hostels we have recently invested in nearby properties such as Keswick and Borrowdale, and we have to think in terms of the whole network.'
The sale of the closed hostels will release funds for investment in upgrading others in the YHA network, including the remote hostel at Black Sail in the Lake District. Duncan Simpson hopes that at least some of the eight properties will remain as hostels, albeit owned by independent operators.
'Although decisions will have to be made on a case by case basis the simplest way to sell them is as hostels; that's what they currently have planning permission for. About 50 YHA hostels already operate privately, under our banner.'
Will closures inevitably mean staff redundancies?
'These decisions are always difficult' says Duncan Simpson 'Committed staff make a good hostel, and we have an obligation to them. Since all eight properties will continue in operation until late 2011 at the earliest no one is at immediate risk. Longer term we hope to find a place elsewhere in the YHA for all those who want to stay on. Our charitable object as an organisation isn't about owning buildings, it is about people.'
- For details of Youth Hostels in England and Wales see: YHA website