As we live in challenging economic times, it’s likely that a lot of voluntary organisations and Town and Community Councils will have community assets transferred to them. Dyfrig Williams visited Gwesty Seren to hear the lessons learnt from their community asset transfer and how they deliver respite care.
We are often signposted to examples of good practice, but it’s not so often that we hear about a project with good practice to share for a few different reasons.
We went to Gwesty Seren, a hotel based in Gwynedd that offers supported holidays, to learn about how it’s been transferred successfully to the community. But I also had a broader interest in how they’re providing respite care in a very different way.
The charity’s work
Seren is a charity that is based in Blaenau Ffestiniog, which provides care for people with learning difficulties. The charity was founded 20 years ago under Care in the Community, with the aim of supporting people to move out of institutions and into the community. People create craft and art, which is then sold in the shop and market garden. This helped people to be independent so that they didn’t rely on fees from Gwynedd Council or private individuals, and it also gives them a chance to get a taste of work. This mentality has continued at Gwesty Seren, where they provide work experience.
Gwesty Seren decided to go further than standard respite care. They wanted to provide a different kind of care, so they created a 3 star hotel with a focus on supporting disabled people. The toilets and rooms have been developed so that they are accessible to everyone.
The hotel also allows families to stay there. Their research showed that a lot of families have received poor respite care in the past, so they weren’t happy to leave their children’s care entirely in the hands of someone they didn’t know. The hotel allows them to stay with their children if they want, but whilst also giving them the break they need. This unique service means that the hotel also provides spaces for people who receive services from nearby councils, like Conwy and Ceredigion, with families even travelling to stay from across the border in England.
The success of the hotel has led to it working with three companies that specialise in holidays for people with learning difficulties, and recently, two further companies that specialise in holidays for physically disabled people began using the facilities. The people who have stayed there often end up coming back and making a block booking.
The history of the building
The building itself was originally built by Lord Newborough in 1728 as a summer house. It stayed like this until just after the First World War, when the family took in soldiers who had had an accident or shock in the war to have a break or respite.
In the 1930s the building was given to two Franciscan Monks. They invited homeless people to stay, with the youngest monk travelling to London to invite people to stay at Bryn Llywelyn, as it was called at the time. Then the building was sold to Meirionnydd Council as a residential house for children, before being turned into an old people’s home. In 2010 the Council decided to close it.
Seren made a bid for the building to the Welsh Government and the Big Lottery Fund’s Community Asset Transfer Fund. A full application was submitted, before the work began in 2013. The work was completed in April 2014.
Transferring the building
Usually the transfer of assets from the public sector take place free of charge, but in this case, the council decided to sell the building at less than the market price. The council had to go through committees and raise awareness through the media, so it was not a quick process.
The cost of everything, including the purchase, was around £1,000,000, and applying for grants was a laborious process. Because it required a significant amount, the charity went on to borrow from the Charity Bank.
They were aware that questions would be asked about State Aid, so the charity hired a Cardiff law firm that specialised in it. A report was written on minimising the risk and the document showed the rationale for why it did not break the rules. It was a great help when working with European Officers and the Welsh European Funding Office.
So one of the main message from Gwesty Seren is that asset transfer isn’t a quick process. But it’s clear by looking at the comments on their TripAdvisor page that the hard work has been worth it. And from the testimonials of other customers (whether it’s directly to the hotel or in a newsletter), I can see that their respite care that has a big impact on people’s lives, has helped the regeneration of Blaenau Ffestiniog by creating 10 full time jobs and is actively contributing to the area’s tourist industry.