The historic Lion Hotel in Shrewsbury has closed its doors to the public in order to accommodate ‘a number’ of asylum seekers - including individuals and family groups.
The closure is said to be temporary - under an arrangement between hotel management and the Home Office. Guests have had to be rebooked in other accommodation - including some of whom were in the middle of their stay.
The three star, Grade I listed Lion Hotel is a 16th century former coaching inn on Shrewsbury’s Wyle Cop - now part of the Jupiter Hotels Ltd which operates 29 UK hotels under the Mercure brand. It boasts 59 bedrooms and stunning original features, including rooms where Charles Dickens stayed during visits to Shrewsbury and a splendid, Adam-style ballroom.
Recent reviews online suggest the glamour of the interior has faded and a spokesperson for the hotel has admitted investment is ‘much-needed’.
The historic interior of Shrewsbury's Lion Hotel on Wyle Cop where up to 60 asylum seekers are to be accommodated
The spokesperson said the hotel has been asked to put up 30 to 60 people who are legally seeking asylum in the UK and has therefore taken the ‘difficult decision’ to cancel all future bookings. The arrangement is expected to last for a period of a few months, although specific numbers of guests have not been confirmed. The hotel will be providing food and laundry services to the new guests.
The spokesperson added: “We are working with the Government to welcome people who desperately need a roof over their head – often people who have escaped war-torn countries, and are seeking a safe place to stay while they wait for a more permanent home.
“This temporary arrangement will provide much-needed investment into the hotel, which we anticipate will stand us in good stead for the future, as well as providing continued employment for our staff…We want to reassure local residents that we are working hard to ensure our guests are well supported.”
The Lion Hotel's splendid ballroom, in the 'Adam' style
Nationally, there is an urgent need to disperse asylum seekers - with ongoing problems at centres including Harmondsworth, near Heathrow, where immigration detainees had to be removed on Sunday after overnight ‘disruption’ following a loss of power. And pressure has also been increasing on the government to take urgent action to relieve the problem of overcrowding at Manston, near Ramsgate. Addressing MPs in the House of Commons last month, Secretary Suella Braverman said that the government had reached deals with 30 hotels since 6 September, creating 4,500 additional hotel bed spaces for migrants.
Councils across the country are being asked to play a role in supporting national efforts to disperse asylum seekers until their claims can be determined.
Locally, it is hoped that Shrewsbury and wider Shropshire will play a welcoming and hospitable role in accommodating asylum seekers. Hotel managers were said to be working closely with partners such as Shropshire Council, Shrewsbury Town Council and Shrewsbury BID, along with the safer neighbourhoods team, to ensure the arrangements are well-managed and supported appropriately. And Shropshire Council is working alongside Shrewsbury BID to ensure that other county businesses can help take on any bookings the Lion cannot now fulfil.
An image of one of the bedrooms at The Lion Hotel in Shrewsbury: Credit Trip Advisor
Council leader Lezley Picton said: “To date Shropshire, compared with many other parts of the country, has received limited numbers of asylum seekers. Shropshire has been very welcoming and accommodating to refugees following the recent crises in Afghanistan and Ukraine and I am sure that that will continue.
“As a council we will be doing what we can in our powers to support the various groups involved. We want to ensure that this is well managed and runs as smoothly as possible and we are looking at ways that we can encourage those in the hotel to make a positive contribution to life in the county.
“This will see a significant investment into a main town centre hotel, and we are supporting Shrewsbury BID to help ensure that other county businesses can help and take on any bookings that the Lion cannot now host.
“During the pandemic another historic Shrewsbury hotel, the Prince Rupert Hotel, stepped up to meet an emergency situation and support homeless people, showing how such opportunities can be the right thing to do, benefiting people and business. I am sure this can become another example, where we can demonstrate how Shropshire plays a positive role, helping with this national issue.”
Emma Hughes, Operations Manager for Shropshire Supports Refugees, said: “"Shropshire Supports Refugees are looking forward to being able to assist these families and individuals who have arrived here in the very hardest way. No one should have to risk their lives to have the opportunity for a better life for them and their loved ones.They have all escaped poverty, persecution or war.
We are positive that Shropshire will welcome them with open arms just like they have for all refugees who have arrived here so far.
Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to offer help, donate goods or assist with funding - which will be an ongoing issue from now on as these people aren't supported by our government in the same way that others are."
The use of hotels to support asylum seekers is managed, and funded, by the Home Office and its contractors. Local councils have no direct input into this process, however will have certain responsibilities - to provide education for those of school age, for example.
A spokesman for Shropshire Council said it had received no information from the Home Office regarding the number of asylum seekers who will accommodated in Shrewsbury, or where the asylum seekers are from. He suggested that financial support for local councils from the government was likely to be ‘limited’.
A Home Offices spokesperson said: "The number of people arriving in the UK who require accommodation has reached record levels and has put our asylum system under incredible strain.
“The use of hotels to house asylum seekers is unacceptable – there are currently more than 37,000 asylum seekers in hotels costing the UK taxpayer £5.6million a day. The use of hotels is a short-term solution and we are working hard with local authorities to find appropriate accommodation.”