A group of heritage activists, who were squatting in the Ocean Hotel fearing an important slice of Sandown’s history could be lost forever, moved out on Wednesday night (March 24) following talks with the liquidator.
‘The Nutters Productions, Historical Preservation Society Branch’, led by Arron Swaffar, started squatting in the building over last weekend, claiming they had a legal right to live there.
The former hotel, which includes the historic King’s Head Hotel, is among a stretch of buildings abandoned by developers Carlauren in 2019, which form a significant part of the Sandown Conservation Area. The company is currently in administration and its owner, Sean Murray, has been declared bankrupt.
Mr Swaffer said: “We’d hoped to highlight and draw a bit of awareness to the Kings Head’s heritage but, after dialogue with consultant Jim Haddow of the liquidators, who in turn has been in talks with the buyer, we are glad to report that the situation has progressed rapidly.
“Previously, via Sandown HUB, I made a few requests for some guarantees for Sandown’s community. I asked for more transparency in regard to a timeline and date, and I also asked if the buyer would be making themselves known and if they understood the history of the property.
“I can now reveal that the buyer is Phoenix Commercial Asset Management Ltd (PCAM). They have confirmed that their plans for development will not include the King’s Head, only the Ocean Hotel, but they would be very keen to engage with the local community and heritage groups to consider how to best preserve that part of the property too.
“I have been told they are ready to start dealing with the state of the site once the sale completes. The sale should be completed in the next two to three weeks and the buyer would be just as disappointed if it could not be achieved.
“Jim also tells us that that PCAM have confirmed they would be keen to talk with those that want to assist with the clearing up. I’m passing the details on from our planned clean-up operation, so if anyone wants to help, this is your chance; email us at email@example.com and we will forward your details to the owners via the liquidators.
“Thank you Jim Haddow, and thank you Sandown, for all your comments and interest. We are happy that the history and the importance of the King’s Head will be saved and its legacy for the town further discussed.”
Mr Haddow, of Quantuma Advisory Ltd, represents the Joint Liquidators of CHF 6 Ltd, the company which owns the freehold of the Ocean Hotel and the King’s Head. During his dialogue with Mr Swaffar he warned that if the squatters stayed they could compromise the sale of the building.
Joint liquidator, Carl Jackson, of Quantuma, yesterday confirmed the sale of the site to PCAM and that the deal should be completed within three weeks. He said: “Our thanks go to Mr Swaffar for his engagement with my team and the awareness he has raised, which has resulted in members of the community stepping forward to volunteer their time and resource to assist in clearing the site. Despite the legacy and significant challenges that this site has faced over the last couple of years, I am optimistic of a burgeoning and collaborative partnership between PCAM and the residents of Sandown and beyond, to achieve their mutual objective of the preservation of the heritage of this important site.”
The Ocean Hotel was a 97-bedroom sea-front property with a heated swimming pool and landscaped gardens. It was the brainchild of West End theatrical impresario Henry Lowenfeld and opened in 1899, swallowing up the town’s previous hotel of choice, the King’s Head, which was one of Sandown’s earliest buildings.
The historic staircase inside the Ocean Hotel is the surviving centrepiece of the King’s Head, where Victorian guests included author, Lewis Carroll, and naturalist, Charles Darwin. The group call this the jewel in the crown of the older section and say they don’t want to see such a rare piece of history torn down for no good reason.
The hotel was acquired by Carlauren, a care home group, more than three years ago, and they promised to transform it into a luxury retirement property comprising of 60 studios and apartments.