THE last five elderly tenants at the centre of a sheltered housing eviction storm could be saved – by a squire’s will.
People living at Blackett Court in the centre of Wylam in the Tyne Valley are being moved out as the Anchor Housing Association prepares to close the cottages down.
But now it has emerged that the 1970s will of Charles Blackett – popularly known as Squire Blackett – could stop the closure and grant the wishes of the remaining tenants who are determined to remain in their beloved homes.
Retired Wylam magistrate Ken John and Parish Council Chairman Brian Japes are ready to investigate covenants in Squire Blackett’s will that are believed to have given Blackett Court – built on the Blacketts’ land – as a gift to the “older and poorer” members of the community.
Mr John, a practising solicitor who lives opposite Blackett Court on Ovingham Road, Wylam, said: “I believe the people are entitled to stay there. By the terms of the lease, I cannot see how they can be ejected.”
Anchor Housing claims the properties have to be closed and evacuated because of necessary repairs. But that is strongly disputed by campaigners who have now slapped a 500-name petition on the desk of London-based Chief Executive Aman Dalvi.
“We have had no reply yet from Anchor,” added Mr John, “and we will wait until we do before going further.
“But we are definitely prepared to go into the terms of Charlie Blackett’s will if necessary. There are still many of the Blackett family in the area – including Sir Hugh at Matfen – and I’m sure they would not want to see the tenants of Blackett Court evicted against the terms of the Squire’s will.”
Anchor say because of repair costs they have “no alternative” but to close the homes, and are offering tenants alternative accommodation in the Newcastle and Gateshead area. Seven have already moved out.
But elderly widow Jill Clark-Leggatt declared defiantly: “They will have to drag me out of here kicking and screaming. I will not leave willingly.”
And another tenant, Margaret Richards, said: “If I have to leave, I will never again live in an Anchor property.
“We have spent a lot of money on our properties and certainly Anchor never told us when we moved in that they were planning closure.”
Mrs Clark-Leggatt added: “It is nonsense to say the properties are irreparable. The only things that need doing are the windows. As far as I’m concerned, it’s in good condition and we are very happy here. Blackett Court was left by Squire Blackett to the people for nothing – and Anchor have no right to make money from what is a terrific, plum position in the centre of the village.
“They have tried to pull the wool over our eyes.
“In 2009, four of us took over rented flats and no mention was ever made of plans to close the place. I have spent a great deal of money having my flat decorated.
“We are very happy and settled here - the village has all necessary amenities within a short distance, and it is a close-knit, friendly and supportive community. It is very wrong that something that was given to the people is now being taken away from them.”
The will of Squire Blackett could yet prove the central focus of the saga and Mr John said many older-generation villagers were aware of the terms of the will.
He said: “A lot of people have said that the land was left by Charlie Blackett for the enduring benefit of the people. That is a very strong perception here, and we are pretty confident it is right.”
An Anchor spokeswoman claimed last night that there were “no conditions attached to the donation of the property, other than the obligation to respect a right of way”.
She added: “The well-being of our customers is our primary concern and we are committed to finding the remaining tenants suitable alternative accommodation that meets their needs.
“We are doing everything we can to support them practically and emotionally as well as compensating them financially.”