Guy Cholerton, 58, served for more than 20 years in the Coldstream Guards
January 22, 2024
More than 40 veterans living in purpose-built accommodation next door to Chelsea FC ’s Stamford Bridge stadium are facing eviction from their homes, due to plans for the site to be majority sold to the football club. Hammersmith and Fulham Council is calling on both Chelsea and Stoll, the charity which owns the complex, to pause the sale while a viable solution is found for the veterans.
One of those at risk of being moved told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) they are concerned they will return to a ‘dark mental health place’ if the deal proceeds, with veterans to suffer from not only the stress of moving home, but the loss of the community at Sir Oswald Stoll Mansions.
Stoll’s Chief Executive, Will Campbell-Wroe, said the charity is ‘fully committed’ to helping each resident find suitable accommodation, and that they have been in regular communication with officials from Hammersmith and Fulham Council throughout the process.
Currently home to 157 flats, Sir Oswald Stoll Mansions was established in 1915 to provide respite for those returning home from the front. Various facilities feature on-site, including a communal space and medical centre, the latter of which also serves 6,500 patients across the wider community.
Sir Oswald Stoll Mansions was established in 1915, to provide homes for soldiers returning from the front
In October last year, Stoll’s Board of Trustees agreed to sell the 1.2 acre site to Chelsea for a reported £80 million, having received a total of 13 bids. The Premier League team’s stadium, Stamford Bridge, is right next door to the veterans’ homes, and can easily be seen from the site’s courtyard. It is understood the sale is expected to be finalised early this year.
Mr Campbell-Wroe, who became Chief Executive of Stoll around six months ago, said the deal was necessary due to the cost of refurbishing the properties.
He has since told the LDRS many of the flats are beyond such repairs, and that demolishing and rebuilding new properties would cost a minimum of £25m. “These are funds which the charity simply does not currently have and would have had no realistic prospect of raising,” he said.
Veterans living at Stoll Mansions, which includes people who have served in countries from Northern Ireland to Afghanistan as well as widows and other family members, have however raised serious concerns about plans to evict those on assured shorthand tenancies if the sale is to be finalised.
The top of Stamford Bridge is clearly visible from inside the complex
While this would not happen immediately, with one resident saying Stoll has committed to hold off any enforcement for two years after the potential deal is done, veterans have sounded the alarm about where they will be re-housed, and what support they will receive.
Of the 157 flats at Sir Oswald Stoll Mansions, around 20 will be retained under Chelsea’s plans. Those who are on secured tenancies will be re-housed elsewhere, with support from Stoll. However, those who have lived in the complex for less than five years, equating to around 40 flats, will have to make their own arrangements.
Guy Cholerton, 58, who served for more than 20 years in the Coldstream Guards and is one of those liable to be evicted, said a primary issue throughout the whole saga has been the lack of ‘clarity and communication’ from Stoll.
He said, “That could make this whole process a lot easier, just by being upfront and honest. There’s a lot of us in here. Not everyone, but probably 80% of the people here are veterans. They really don’t like being treated like children. We can take bad news as well as good news.”
One veteran the LDRS spoke to said that as well as the loss of their homes, with some of the residents having lived at Sir Oswald Stoll Mansions for many years, the dispersal of the community will have a significant impact.
Mr Cholerton similarly spoke favourably of the camaraderie built up with other tenants since he moved into his flat in 2019, and the likely effects if residents are to be relocated. He added, “If you haven’t seen somebody in a couple of days, you actually in here sort of think, ‘I’d better go tap on the door and make sure they’re all right’. Because I think possibly in the civilian world outside, is anybody concerned if they don’t see you for two or three days? I don’t know. I mean, maybe I’m being a bit judgmental. That’s what we get here. You know, you build some good friends here.”
Under previous plans presented in 2018 during the tenure of Chelsea’s former owner Roman Abramovich, prior to his sanctioning by the UK Government, a block was to be built on-site which would house the residents. However, veterans, and the council, say under the new deal there is currently no provision for them if the sale is to go ahead, leaving a big question mark over their future.
Mr Cholerton said some of the complex’s residents would struggle to settle elsewhere. Not just those who are elderly, with several tenants above 90, but also people with children, or who have particular needs met by the community.
For himself, he said the potential move is one of several current disruptions in his life, and having only recovered from treatment for a form of blood cancer in the last year, is piling on the stress.
“At the moment, I’m going through the fact I’m dealing with ill health, just completed cancer treatment,” he said. “So I’m dealing with mental health issues. Am I going to lose my home? Am I going to lose my job? I’m surprised I’m having a compos mentis conversation with you. I should be banging my head on that wall over there. But it goes back to the old army saying; how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. There’s no point overthinking everything. I would probably slip back into my dark mental health place but I can only do so much. And I refuse, I refuse to make myself ill over this.”
Mr Campbell-Wroe told the LDRS it is too early to provide details on the rehousing strategy for the tenants at Sir Oswald Stoll Mansions, but that the charity has made clear it is ‘fully committed’ to supporting them to find suitable, alternative accommodation.
Cllr Ben Coleman, Deputy Leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Council, has hosted meetings with veterans, Stoll and Chelsea, in a bid to secure some certainty about the residents’ futures. He is calling for the sale to be paused, and for a solution to be found that deals with veterans’ fears ‘and meets their full satisfaction’.
He said, “People who have fought for our country should not have to face such a stressful predicament. The Stoll residents include men and women – and the families of these – who served in World War II, Korea, the Falklands, Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Many of those I have met have suffered the consequences of war, ranging from physical challenges to psychological ones. The veterans tell me how the sale of their homes has been almost unanimously against their wishes and how they lack any reassuring detail about where they might live if it goes through.
“It is well documented how terrible consequences can befall elderly people and people already suffering psychological stress when they move from their familiar neighbourhood to a new and unfamiliar one. I have asked Stoll and Chelsea FC to halt the sale until they meet with their tenant veterans to find a solution that deals with their fears and meets with their full satisfaction.”
Mr Campbell-Wroe said Stoll has ‘consistently’ engaged with residents, including one-to-one meetings, home visits and drop-in sessions.
“I personally have met regularly with residents and fully intend to continue this. We have also been in regular and ongoing contact with officials from the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham Council throughout, and are working hard to ensure this continues and that they are an active part of this process.”
For Mr Cholerton, he said he is hoping the original plan put forward during Mr Abramovich’s time can be contemplated once again, or at a minimum to have some sort of housing delivered locally for the veterans before the evictions begin.
“Ultimately, what we’re fighting for is our community.”
Chelsea FC was also approached for comment.
Ben Lynch - Local Democracy Reporter
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