A ‘cartel’ of elderly women who took over the running of 45 beach huts have been accused of evicting long-standing tenants with ‘no reason or explanation’.
Some of the occupants who have had their cabins in Weymouth, Dorset, for up to 50 years have been left ‘devastated’ after being told their licences were not being renewed.
The directors of the Greenhill Community Trust, Sue Bray, Janis Chalker and Janet Cridland, have been labelled ‘shameful and snooty’ for apparently ignoring pleas to reconsider or discuss the evictions, after being awarded a 30-year lease to manage the chalets by Weymouth and Portland Borough Council in 2019.
So far, six families and a sea swimming club have been kicked out. It is understood the directors, who are all aged in their 70s, have kept hold of their chalets.
One family who have rented a beach hut since the early 1990s said they are being forced to leave next month.
The Weymouth and Portland Borough Council management committee agreed to grant a 30-year lease to the trust to manage the chalets in March 2017.
But the briefholder for community facilities, Cllr Andy Blackwood, issued a warning to chalet users at the time and told them to ‘be careful about what you are letting yourselves in for’.
Some of the occupants who have had their cabins in Weymouth, Dorset, for up to 50 years have been left ‘devastated’ after being told their licences were not being renewed. Pictured: the beach huts at Greenhill Gardens
Sisters Cate Steel (pictured second from left), 55, Caroline Wakeford, 58 and Suzy Compton (third right), 56, and their parents Gill (holding tea) and Colin (right), had rented a chalet at Greenhill Gardens for over 50 years
Sue Bray, one of the directors of the Greenhill Community Trust, which has apparently ignored pleas to reconsider or discuss the evictions. So far, six families and a sea swimming club have been kicked out
According to the Dorset Echo, Cllr Blackwood previously said: ‘I have one or two reservations. The first is a recommendation to the chalet users, which is to be careful about what you are letting yourselves in for.
‘One of the ongoing issues is the cost of maintaining these very old chalets and while there will be a tendency to jump at the opportunity to take over the management because they will believe the council has mismanaged it, I think there are a number of big risks involved.’
Vicky Winslow, 42, an office manager, said her parents, Mike and Gay Huggins, had been model tenants who paid their fees on time and maintained it to a high standard.
She said: ‘We have looked after it, decorated it inside, and just spent so much time there in general – we even hold a party once a year.
‘Yet now we have been told to clear out by the end of March with no reason at all. It is devastating, I have not seen my mum this upset in years.
‘We have had so much joy there and the thought of my children not enjoying it too, like I have, breaks my heart.
‘To have no consultation or engagement totally makes it feel like a personal attack – they won’t even talk to us on the phone.
‘There is no rhyme or reason to it but we have had to accept the decision as we don’t want to prolong the upset.’
Elizabeth and Tony Fisher have been tenants since 1987 and visit their chalet daily between May and October each year because they are keen sea swimmers.
But they received a letter from the trust saying they can no longer lease the chalet and there was no right of appeal.
Ms Fisher, a 69-year-old retired modern languages teacher, said they were told they did not renew their lease in time, which they claim is untrue.
She said: ‘I got my husband to deliver the application by hand when he walked the dog. They got it close to the deadline but I am as certain as I can be that they got it in time because we took it by hand.
The Steel family enjoy the beach hut in 2010 at Greenhill Gardens in Weymouth. Cate Steel said the actions of the trust had ‘tarnished so many happy memories for the family’
‘So we were absolutely staggered when we had a letter from the trust claiming that we had not submitted our application to renew our licence in time and asking us to clear our chalet by the end of March when our current licence expires.
‘We are as certain as we can be that we did not return our application late, but it is only our word against theirs and the trust will not enter into any discussion except via email and then only to say that their decision is irreversible.
‘We have had a good innings in the chalet and I have been trying hard to think that it is time someone from the waiting list had a chance to enjoy what we have had for so many years, but the sour taste in the mouth from the suspicion that one has been unfairly dislodged remains.’
Sisters Suzy Compton (left) and Catherine Steel at the beach hut in Weymouth, Dorset, in the early 1970s
Ms Fisher said the directors carry out several yearly inspections and had previously written her a ‘snooty’ email about her chalet being dirty, which she disputed.
The Weymouth Bay Sea Swimmers started a petition after claiming they were ‘unlawfully evicted’ from their changing facility.
Club founder Jason West said they found themselves locked out of their cabin when they challenged the Greenhill Community Trust over offering them just a six month lease.
He said: ‘We thought the GCT were our friends until they came to a board meeting of ours to discuss our future in the building. They told us they had ‘no plans’ for us. This came as a huge shock.
‘The drastic change in their attitude and offer of just six months caused us to look into if we had any rights. They then padlocked the gate and effectively closed our small volunteer operated community business.
‘We asked them to talk to us many times before they locked us out but they refused. It is all very sad.’
Posting on social media, one local resident said: ‘Sounds like a local cartel for olds. Cartels do what they want when they want – they make their own rules.’
Sisters Cate Steel, 55, Caroline Wakeford, 58 and Suzy Compton, 56, and their parents Gill and Colin, had rented a chalet at Greenhill Gardens for over 50 years.
Ms Steel, a property lettings business owner from Weymouth, said they were told their licence would not be renewed after the family had tried to get the trust to reduce the £1,035 annual fees when they were not allowed to use it due to Covid.
When they did transfer the full amount they said they were told to remove the contents of the chalet before they were refunded the money.
In a statement, the Greenhill Community Trust said they had the ‘autonomy’ to manage the chalets how they saw fit, but would not comment on individual cases (beach huts in Weymouth pictured)
Gill died in July last year and Ms Steel said the actions of the trust had ‘tarnished so many happy memories for the family’.
Ms Steel said: ‘They showed zero empathy towards people’s predicaments. We had to remove all the contents of the chalet and after their inspection they refunded the money.
‘It was a horrible time, and so many happy memories have been tarnished for the whole family.’
In a statement, the Greenhill Community Trust said they had the ‘autonomy’ to manage the chalets how they saw fit, but would not comment on individual cases.
A trust spokesperson said: ‘The Greenhill Community Trust C.I.C were granted a 30-year lease in 2019.
‘We can confirm the trust has the autonomy to manage the whole of their demise, including the chalets, but are unable to comment on the circumstances of individual licence holders.’