Elderly care charity set to close due to pandemic pressures

Grace Muriel House in St Albans.

Grace Muriel House in St Albans is likely to close in June. - Credit: Abbeyfield St Albans Society

A 60-year-old residential care charity serving the elderly and vulnerable of St Albans faces the axe due to financial pressures brought on by the pandemic.

The Abbeyfield St Albans Society, which marked its diamond anniversary in 2020, operates out of Grace Muriel House in Tavistock Avenue, where it provides both long stay and respite care .

But the board of trustees has this week announced the proposed closure of Grace Muriel House at the end of June.

Chairman George Ashworth said the decision was made with profound sadness and regret.

"We are sensitive to both the legal and moral obligations we have to our residents, staff and other stakeholders. In particular, the impact that this decision will have on our residents, whose wellbeing remains our top priority.

"We will now work with residents, their loved ones, and the relevant authorities to find suitable new homes which meet their individual needs. The board is unanimous in its desire to oversee a professional, orderly and above all compassionate process. Something which would not be possible if this decision were to be delayed.”

He revealed that the team at Grace Muriel House has been challenged considerably and consistently over the last 12 months.

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The charity, which enjoys an “Outstanding” rating from the Care Quality Commission, has been operating at well below economic levels of capacity for almost a year, following the deaths of several residents and a trustee in April.

As a result, it has been using its limited cash reserves to not only maintain day-to-day care operations, but also maintaining the infrastructure of a building which is demanding increasing and more frequent expenditure.

Mr Ashworth explained: “The financial straw which broke the camel’s back came recently in the form of a fire safety inspection report. This pointed out serious deficiencies in the area of the roof void.

"The cost of the work is considerable and this, combined with the aggregate financial impact of the pandemic, far exceeds the financial wherewithal of the charity to remain financially viable in the short term.”

Mr Ashworth said he had no doubt the closure of Grace Muriel House will be a sad day for many in St Albans and beyond connected with the charity. “I am incredibly proud of and grateful to all the team at Grace Muriel House for all they have accomplished, particularly over the last 12 months.

"The next few weeks will be incredibly difficult and so to all involved with the charity and to all our stakeholders who have supported us so well in the past, I wish to offer a heartfelt thank you.”

Staff at the home are hoping for an 11th hour reprieve to keep it open.

Grace Muriel team leader Louise Giles said: "The home has been hit hard by Covid and due to low numbers of residents it’s losing a lot of money every month.

"The residents range up to 103 years old and many of the staff have devoted their lives to the home, many having been here for over 20 years. It is an outstanding home and we are all devastated by the news of its closure.

"Unfortunately at this stage we think it’s too late for any fundraising but if the local community knew about it you never know what might happen!"

The origins of the house date back to 1960, when a group of individuals came together for a sherry party in the Mayor’s parlour, with Sir Victor Goodhew, the then-MP for St Albans, leading the discussion of the establishment of a home for older people in the city.

Two serving aldermen, Frank Lavery and Harold Child, joined Sir Victor in forming the Abbeyfield St Albans Society.

The current board of trustees is drawn from the local community and provide their professional expertise and experience on a voluntary basis to support to help guide the dedicated, caring and professional team of some 60 staff to operate Grace Muriel House.