St Albans British Legion facing closure
PUBLISHED: 11:02 14 November 2013 | UPDATED: 11:02 14 November 2013
While the nation paid its respects to the fallen on Remembrance Day, local ex-servicemen were heading into a new battle – to stop the sell-off of their historic St Albans base.
The Royal British Legion (RBL), which boasts of standing “shoulder to shoulder with all who serve”, has shown its long-running St Albans branch the cold shoulder with its decision to sell the local charity’s Verulam Road headquarters.
Don Dell, branch chairman, is “furious” that head office attempted to send in a surveyor to the organisation’s premises last week despite volunteers being busy with the recent annual Poppy Appeal.
He said the branch has been operating from Verulam Road since 1921.
The site has a Nissen Hut – a corrugated iron structure where dances were once held – and Mitchell Hall, which dates back to the 1840s.
Don, 71, said he was upset the RBL head office was pressing ahead with the sale, despite the branch suggesting alternatives to keep the premises as a community asset, and provide additional income.
He added: “The branch is funding itself, with no funding from head office. But the Legion owns the premises.”
In a bid to save the branch’s base, Don has held talks with a developer about the possibility of having three two-bedroom homes built on the site, two of which could be sold and the third rented for income.
The idea includes refurbishing Mitchell Hall, which could continue being used for community events, and renting out one floor for office use.
Don, who served in the Royal Green Jackets, rifles and infantry, said: “We want to keep the premises because it belongs to St Albans. I’m very disappointed. It has been really stressful.”
St Albans MP Anne Main said the move was akin to “selling off the family silver”.
But a spokesman for the RBL said a decision had been made to “dispose of the property at Verulam Road as its current use is not the most efficient use of the asset and does not provide an adequate return.
“The property also represents an administrative and financial burden for the branch.”
He said agents handling the sale would start on preliminary marketing later this month.
The spokesman said the RBL was talking to the branch about possible alternative premises.
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