Monday, 04 July 2022

Jeremy Irons starts campaign to turn empty building into home for refugee family

Jeremy Irons starts campaign to turn empty building into home for refugee family

AN actor has called for a building which has been empty for 13 years to be used to house refugees.

Jeremy Irons says he would be prepared to help raise enough money to pay to make the property in Watlington habitable for a family of four and to underwrite some of the cost himself.

The 73-year-old Academy Award winner, who lives in the town, said the community could be proud of such an achievement.

The property at number 33 and the library next door are overseen by the Charlotte Coxe Trust.

Both properties were left to Oxfordshire County Council in 1949 by Charlotte Coxe, who founded the library for the benefit of the people of Watlington.

Number 33 has not been occupied since Age Concern moved out in 2009 and needs significant work to make it habitable again.

Since 2017, Watlington Parish Council has been negotiating the transfer of the ownership of No 33, which it wants to use to fulfil Mrs Coxe’s wishes.

Some residents have demanded the county council takes responsibility for the delay in the transfer and pays compensation for the loss of rent and the damage caused by poor maintenance of the building.

Irons, who is married to fellow actor Sinéad Cusack, has approached the parish council with the proposal to make it habitable and use as emergency housing accommodation.

He said: “As a country, we have a duty to house refugees. As a community, Watlington wants to be part of that process.

“Housing is in short supply but 33 High Street, generously donated to the people of Watlington, has been empty for too many years.

“I would ask those with the responsibility for running our community to do all in their power to free up this accommodation, to allow us to help with this humanitarian need.

“I am prepared to spearhead the necessary fundraising to supply a refugee family of four with a roof over their heads and living expenses for 12 months to find their feet in their new country.

“I am prepared to underwrite the costs of providing the necessary services to the house and all other expenses until such time as the fundraising can catch up.

“I ask those of you in the relevant councils and other organisations to do all in your power to unravel the problems preventing this positive outcome.

“I know that with our best endeavours it will be possible and that our community can succeed in an action of which it may be proud.”

Matt Reid, who chairs the parish council, said: “We are thinking this could be the shot in the arm that this issue needs.

“We propose a bold first step in asking the county council as the current trustees to allow us to bring this building back to a state of habitability as emergency housing within the next 13 weeks.

“Our intention is to sponsor a refugee family to live in Watlington in order to extend the charity of our community for one year.

“Jeremy wants it to be a proper fundraising effort — we can raise the money ourselves and we should be able to make it a community effort. The county council has to think in the interest of the community and we are the voice of the community.”

Councillor Ian Hill said: “I think this will put the county council under pressure to do something.”

Councillor Andrew McAuley said: “It would be a very good scheme but we need to think about how we would help the family to integrate into the community and, if we can overcome that, how it would work.”

Councillor Margaret Noon said: “There are a lot of services to help us do that.

“This would help us in a bigger project and help the family and we could also become a model for other communities. I think we will get the support we need.”

Councillor Steve Bolingbroke said: “We are not experts in housing refugees and we should really rely on people who are experts but I think we should make the offer and go ahead.”

Councillor Alex Basden said: “I think it’s a great idea and I hope the concerns we have can be overcome.”

The parish council agreed to write to the county council detailing the proposal.

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