Belfast Telegraph

Praxis Care: eviction row charity had previously agreed to move out of Hillsborough

By Adrian Rutherford

A charity that faces being evicted from the Queen's residence in Northern Ireland had previously agreed to leave the site at a month's notice.

Praxis Care made the pledge to vacate the Hillsborough estate 16 months ago. The charity also said it expected to be gone by the end of 2013.

The details are contained in annual accounts covering the 2012/13 year, prepared by Praxis and obtained by this newspaper.

Praxis has been running the Secret Garden cafe in the grounds of Hillsborough Castle for almost a decade in an initiative set up by former Secretary of State Mo Mowlam. Seven staff and 16 young people with learning disabilities work at the facility.

However, the charity was asked by the current administration to leave to make way for Historic Royal Palace's plans to transform the estate into a major visitor attraction.

Praxis claims it has invested £400,000 in the facilities, and requires relocation costs.

Eleven days ago the Northern Ireland Office went to the High Court in an attempt to remove Praxis from the Hillsborough estate. However, documents show Praxis had promised to vacate the site at a month's notice as far back as March 2013.

Financial accounts for 2012/13, filed with Companies House, refer to the charity's uncertain future at Hillsborough. The document states Praxis was already seeking alternative premises.

It adds: "At a meeting with the Secretary of State in March 2013, it was agreed that the Northern Ireland Office would not require Praxis Care to vacate the premises until a firm proposal for another charity to run the site was in place.

"The Northern Ireland Office noted that the date for the vacation of the site has not yet been agreed but that it was anticipated that Praxis Care would be required to leave the site before the end of (the 2013) calendar year.

"Praxis Care agreed to vacate the property with one month's notice."

The document would appear to strengthen the NIO's case, and raise questions as to why Praxis did not follow through on its commitment to vacate the site.

In response, the charity said the extract represented "the worst case scenario risk" as reported by the NIO.

"Praxis Care is duty bound to report potential risks to its services in the annual audited accounts. This should not be read out of context," it said.

"The minutes of the meeting also reflected that notice to vacate would only be given if it proved impossible to devise plans that included arrangements for the 16 learning disabled individuals.

"There is clearly ample opportunity to involve these people in the plans of Historic Royal Palaces.

"There is no evident reason to exclude the 16 learning disabled individuals by Theresa Villiers, the Secretary of State, or Historic Royal Palaces, and this remains the case."

The charity said it has consistently highlighted that it would need financial assistance if it had to relocate to another site.

The impasse has seen the NIO resort to legal action. The case was lodged in the High Court last Friday with a lawyer for the NIO confirming it would proceed with a 113 order, which is summary proceedings for the possession of land.

A judge relisted the matter for early October.

The NIO has expressed its disappointment at having to take legal action. Praxis said it was determined to challenge any moves to evict it from the Hillsborough estate.

Story so far

Praxis Care, a mental health charity, has been told it must leave the Hillsborough estate, where it runs a cafe and market garden employing people with learning difficulties.

Praxis was first granted the free use of a five-acre site at the royal residence 10 years ago and has spent £400,000 on improvements.

However, it must vacate the premises as the management of the castle estate is being transferred from the Northern Ireland Office to Historic Royal Palaces.

Praxis said it needs financial help from the Government to move to another site.

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