Fight is on to save Letchworth Settlement after shock closure announcement

PUBLISHED: 10:37 17 June 2020 | UPDATED: 16:01 17 June 2020

The Letchworth Settlement was celebrating its centenary this year. Picture: Google

The Letchworth Settlement was celebrating its centenary this year. Picture: Google

Archant

Letchworth residents expressed shock and sadness yesterday as one of the town’s historic organisations announced it will be closing, due in part to the coronavirus pandemic.

George Bernard Shaw (back row, second from left) attending a conference entitled Adult Education in the Village on April 29 1932. Picture: Letchworth SettlementGeorge Bernard Shaw (back row, second from left) attending a conference entitled Adult Education in the Village on April 29 1932. Picture: Letchworth Settlement

In an email to supporters and members yesterday afternoon, it was revealed that the 100-year-old Letchworth Settlement “will be shut down with effect on July 31,” and all staff will be made redundant.

Letchworth residents were left stunned by the announcement, and many are now calling on the Heritage Foundation and others to rescue the organisation and its historic Grade II listed building.

The Letchworth Settlement has been an independently run education centre since 1920, and is considered one of the jewels in the crown of the world’s first garden city. Its 113-year-old building continues to be home to a huge number of the town’s best-loved groups and societies.

As it stands, no final decision has been reached on the future of the old Skittles Inn on Nevells Road, though the Settlement is exploring whether the theatre and hall could be used independently as a separate legal entity. Its freehold is owned by the Heritage Foundation.

Settlement chair Pam Burn wrote to supporters and members yesterday, saying: “As you all well know, the world has been a very uncertain place over recent months and whilst, as I write, there are some glimmers of light, sadly they are not enough for the Settlement, as it stands, to survive beyond this summer.

“You will be aware that we receive no grants of any kind from anywhere. A group of Trustees did form a working party to look into options for remaining open but concluded that, despite all our efforts and prudent operations, the financial risks were simply too high.

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“With social distancing, it would be very difficult to run small classes that did not cost a great deal more than people have been used to. And of course, there is no guarantee that students and visitors would wish to return to the Settlement until there is a vaccine or some acceptable form of treatment for coronavirus.”

Pam said it was “ironic” that the organisation is facing closure in the same year as its centenary, adding: “I never in my most savage nightmares expected to be writing to you to tell you this news.”

“Thanks to you all for coming along and joining in with the many different offerings that the Settlement has produced during the course of our history. It is my personal hope that the Settlement will rise again, perhaps within the next year or so if sufficient substantial funding can be raised.

“It will need committed, active Trustees and enthusiastic support and encouragement from the community that I very much hope might be forthcoming, as indeed it was all those years ago.”

A book entitled ‘Letchworth Settlement 1920-2020 – A Century of Creative Learning’ – has been written by Hertfordshire county archivist Kate Thompson, and will be published on October 5.

A spokesperson for the Letchworth Heritage Foundation said: “We are saddened to hear that the Settlement will be closing for the foreseeable future. We have all seen first-hand the destructive impact COVID-19 has had on the Letchworth community, from individuals and families to businesses and charities.

“The Foundation owns the freehold of the building and has a charitable lease in place with the Settlement. We have worked closely with them over the years to help them maintain and care for the building, most recently undertaking a refurbishment programme in 2014.

“The Foundation will continue to support this historic social enterprise at this most challenging time, and now, more than ever, the Settlement needs skilled and committed volunteers from the community to help them find a way forward.”


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