Anger as farm charity decides to sell Suffolk care home

Manson House in Bury St Edmunds which is being sold by RABI

A three-year project to update and develop Manson House in Bury St Edmunds was completed in 2015 - Credit: Gregg Brown

A farm charity’s plan to sell off its two “flagship” care homes has met with a storm of protest.

The Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RABI) has announced a decision to sell Manson House in Bury St Edmunds and Beaufort House in Somerset.

The charity plans to sell the two residential homes as going concerns “to minimise any disruption for both residents and staff teams at the two homes”, it said.

Fewer people from farming backgrounds were now housed in the homes and it wanted to use the money from the sales to cater better for the needs of the farming community, it said.

But critics of the plan are furious — and feel they should have been consulted.

Sir John White, Norfolk county chairman of RABI for 25 years, said the decision to sell the homes — established in the 1980s to support people from farming backgrounds — had come as a shock.

“I’m extremely disappointed and I don’t understand why several millions were put into these care homes only to have them sold off. We are talking about large sums of money,” he said.

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For many years, Sir John, of Salle Farms, near Norwich, would head to Champagne country in France to bring back bottles of bubbly for fundraising events at the Royal Norfolk Show to support the work of Manson House. Over the years, the branch raised tens of thousands of pounds towards it, he estimated.

Sally Mitchell, a RABI trustee for 14 years until 2004 who also served as its deputy chairman and was chairwoman of the Manson House committee, suggested it would have been better if the matter had been raised at a general meeting first.

“I was really sad and sorry actually that they are selling the homes and they have actually got to the stage of selling the homes without having a wider discussion,” she said. She hoped the board had explored all the possibilities first, she added.

“I would suspect that the eastern region committees and farming community generally will be absolutely horrified when they find out and very saddened — it has been their flagship.”

Farmer and columnist David Richardson, of Wymondham, expressed shock at the decision and said some people were deeply upset. His mother-in-law and his wife’s uncle were both past residents who had enjoyed “wonderful service” at the home. “It was a home from home for them,” he said.

He feared the decision would dampen fundraisers’ enthusiasm. He also felt more should have been done to promote the home to prospective farming residents if it was felt there was a lack of them.

A garden party in 2015 at Manson House, Bury St Edmunds

A garden party in 2015 to celebrate a £6m refurbishment and development scheme at Manson House - Credit: Gregg Brown

Manson House underwent a major refurbishment and upgrade which was completed in the mid-2010s. RABI spent £6m on the work, helped by a £4.5m legacy windfall from Margaret Stearn of Hertfordshire, who left her entire fortune to the charity.

The Duke of Gloucester, president of the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RABI), visited the site in 2015 to celebrate the upgrade of the Grade II* listed home, which included 23 self-contained apartments and 31 en suite residential rooms which were refurbished as part of the upgrade.

 Duke of Gloucester cutting first turf at Manson House in Bury St Edmunds in 2015

Duke of Gloucester cutting first turf at Manson House in Bury St Edmunds in 2015 - Credit:

RABI chief executive Alicia Chivers said the charity was adapting to the trend now towards care being provided in a home setting. RABI wanted to use its resources effectively to provide as much support as possible to the farming community. She acknowledged that there was “an element of dealing with the emotional loss” of assets which have provided “incredible support”, but felt the vast majority of charity supporters ultimately backed the decision.

Alicia Chivers, chief executive, Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RABI)

Alicia Chivers, chief executive of the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RABI) - Credit: RABI

RABI said the “difficult” decision was taken after a “robust” 18-month review carried out in consultation with external care sector specialists.

It would be seeking “potential buyers who align with the values of the two homes and continue to maintain the high standards of care to residents”, it added.

“The residential homes were established to provide support to people from farming backgrounds. Where capacity permitted, other members of the wider, generally local, community have also been welcomed as residents,” it said in a statement.

“In recent years, societal shifts to supported care at home and in the local community, coupled with increasing requirements for complex care support, such as dementia care, (which the homes are not able to provide) has resulted in a continuing decline in the number of retired farming people being supported at both homes.”

While the decision had not been taken lightly, the RABI council of trustees “are content it is the most appropriate action to take to ensure RABI can continue to meet the charity’s core commitments to the farming community”, it said.