New owners of Dales school urged to sell it to community for affordable homes

Arkengarthdale C of E School after its closure.

The new owners of a former Dales school have been urged to sell the property to a community trust wanting to build affordable homes on the site.

Martin and Sue Stephenson plan to move from Snowdonia, where they run a holiday company specialising in trail running, walking and yoga breaks, to the former Arkengarthdale Property School after buying the property for £185,000.

The couple outbid the Upper Dales Community Land Trust (UDCLT) to buy the former school site.

Their offer was accepted on a majority vote by Swaledale with Arkengarthdale Parochial Church Council – a decision which has angered members of the trust and local parish councillors who say the building should have been sold to them for redevelopment into affordable homes.

The trust points out that decision was made four years after the Diocesan Bishop Nick Baines told the House of Lords the local issue repeatedly raised with him was the lack of affordable homes for young people.

It has emerged that the Stephensons previously bought a 150-year-old chapel in Snowdonia national park “on a whim” for £27,500 before converting it as holiday lets.

They are now raffling it off at £3 a ticket, with the couple saying they need to sell 330,000 tickets before parting with the property.

Of the proceeds, £100,000 will go to charity, the couple say.

The Stephensons said in an interview that they are both originally come from the Richmondshire area and wanted to return to support their elderly parents.

The pair said they would run a sustainable business from the premises, which would be their “forever home”, and they would take an active role in the local community.

But Stephen Stubbs, UDCLT chairman, said the couple were lucky they were able to move closer to their family when young locals had to move out and move away.

“Putting a property up for raffle is a well-known ploy when people are having trouble selling and adding a charitable aspect makes the motive seem entirely honourable.

“They are prepared to give one person the chance to ‘take a giant leap up the property ladder’, for the cost of a £3 ticket, while denying four hard-working young families here the opportunity to get a foot on the first rung.

“Martin Stephenson asserts that if they’d withdrawn from the purchase there was a queue of other buyers waiting to take their place.

“I would like to reassure him and the PCC that if they were to do the right thing and back out of buying the school we are now in a position to match their bid.

“As far as I am aware no other bidder has charitable intentions whereas UDCLT is a not for profit company run by the community with the objective of creating a sustainable future by providing affordable housing and setting a blueprint for other Dales.

“How does the local community in that part of Snowdonia, where the average house price is around £100,000, feel about the former chapel being raffled and the money taken out of their community?

“There’s nothing to stop that happening again in Arkengarthdale.”

In response, the couple old Richmondshire Today: “We understand that Mr Stubbs is disappointed with the outcome of the property sale, however we have been overwhelmed by the number of private messages of support we have received.

“We can confirm the following — we are running as we wish to make a large amount of money for charity.

“Our other main motivation, was to give local people, in Snowdonia, the chance to win 2 beautiful homes for just £3, in support of affordable housing.

“We will not be raffling the school. We want to make it our forever home. Thankfully we have been made to feel welcome by the majority of our new neighbours.

“We are not speculative property developers. We have owned our current property for 14 years.”


  1. Surely the Upper Dales Community Land Trust had their chance to buy the school at the auction. The fact they were outbid implies a lack of research into the value of the property, or even a belief that no-one would dare to outbid them.
    Should a buy a cow at an auction, should I then sell it to the under bidder, just because he considers he has a better use for it?
    What should happen is that the relevant authorities release more land for affordable housing, which would stop this unseemly scramble for any properties that do become available

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