The seaside hoteliers who turned down £550,000 to house migrants: SUE REID meets the couple whose stance has made them heroes in Skegness where five other hotels are taking the cash… to the disquiet of locals
- Gary and Dee Allen refused £550,000 to house migrants in their Skegness hotel
- Government asked them to provide housing for young male migrants for a year
- But the couple declined the offer, saying: ‘Neighbours would have hated us for it’
- Five hotels in Skegness have closed in order to house about 250 migrants
- Locals, impacted by the cost-of-living crisis, are upset over the housing initiative
The postbag at Hatters Hotel in the seaside resort of Skegness gets heavier by the day. It is brimming with letters sent by well-wishers from across Britain with messages such as ‘I salute you’; ‘Keep up your brave stance’; and ‘Let’s hope local people support you’.
This is all a surprise for owners Gary and Dee Allen, who this week fielded off film crews, including one from Canada, queuing up to ask why they had turned down — on a ‘point of principle,’ as they put it — nearly £550,000, which would have been a godsend for them and their three daughters, aged from six to 18.
In exchange for that money from taxpayers, the Government had asked the Allens to close their doors to guests and hand over the keys of their 21-bed hotel for the next year to provide housing for young male migrants.
‘We could have shut up shop and gone away. Just banked the money of £10,000-plus a week,’ says Dee, 35, who met 61-year-old Gary a decade ago when she worked for his taxi company in their home town of Nottingham.
Offer rejected: Hatters Hotel owners Gary and Dee Allen are pictured with some of their letters from well-wishers from across Britain who support their decision to decline the Government’s £550,000 offer to house migrants in their establishment
Family resort: The town centre and wide beachfront at Skegness. Five hotels in the area have closed in order to house about 250 migrants
As they sit beside a roaring fire at their hotel, Gary adds: ‘The neighbours would have hated us for it. The agent from the Home Office said all but one of the 15 full and part-time staff would have to be sacked. Where would they get work in a seaside resort out of season? How would we have lived with ourselves?
‘We couldn’t do it. The locals love coming here. We sold everything in Nottingham to buy this hotel. It was like “God’s waiting room” when we came here last year. The old carpets were held together with sticky tape. In the bar and restaurant area, there were only five single electric sockets.
‘Yet the Home Office agent said they would take it like that. We would still get £136,000 every 13 weeks to stop our guest bookings for a year and give over the bedrooms to these foreign men.’
To be honest, Gary and Dee did give the mouth-watering deal some thought.
Who wouldn’t? They bought the hotel last August, moving to Skegness to start work on turning the Crown Hotel into an Alice in Wonderland-themed boutique establishment.
Out of the blue, two months later, the phone rang with the initial offer from the Home Office. Gary and Dee said no.
A few weeks ago, as the number of migrants crossing the Channel climbed and the Government scrambled to put the new arrivals in hotels — now some 419 across the UK, with more picked up every day — the agent rang again to ask them to reconsider the deal.
They said no again and this time the news leaked out. Now they are a cause celebre in Skegness — a gentle resort much loved by visitors, particularly families and pensioners from all over the UK.
Five hotels here have closed in order to house about 250 migrants, most from Middle Eastern nations.
There is talk of the Government taking over more properties in Skegness, including a care home housing elderly dementia patients. Gary and Dee’s Hatter’s Hotel is pictured above
There is talk of the Government taking over more properties, including a care home housing elderly dementia patients, which is permanently shutting its business five days before Christmas. This has made locals twitchy. As Gary says: ‘Skegness is a favourite for children who love the donkey rides, sandcastles and candy floss. It has always been a safe place to come on holiday.’
Near the promenade is an Arnold Palmer putting course, a bowling green well used by locals, and some slightly dishevelled gardens planted with winter pansies overlooking a leaden grey sea.
Even at this time of year, the coaches roll in, bringing pensioners for a cheap out-of-season break, decanting them and their mobility scooters at seafront hotels from as far away as Essex. Yet this scene of tranquillity has recently taken a knock.
Ten days ago, 400 Skegness residents called a high-decibel emergency public meeting in a centre near the seafront. There were screams of protest from some who begged local councillors and the area’s Conservative MP Matt Warman to stop its hotels being turned over to migrants.
Tempers boiled over during the three-hour gathering as residents said the resort could be ‘permanently damaged’ if the trend was to continue. ‘We don’t know where they come from or why they want to be here,’ was a common theme.
Hoteliers claimed bookings are already being cancelled for next year, because Skegness’s image is being tarnished by the influx of young men wandering the seafront and going into the town centre.
At the meeting, there were chants of ‘what a load of rubbish’ as the Mayor Tony Tye tried to defend himself. It ended in disarray, when a woman stood up and said the people of Skegness were racist. This may seem like a bad case of nimbyism. But along Skegness promenade, there is already a strip of four hotels: the Grand, the Sun, the County and the Chatsworth, which have been requisitioned for migrants by the Home Office.
A fifth, The Leisure — beside the Pink Poodle dog-grooming parlour and opposite an Italian restaurant — is in a residential part of the resort, close to suburban semis and detached houses.
When the Mail visited Skegness last week, it was clear that locals suffering a cost-of-living crisis and soaring energy bills feel resentment that migrants are being offered free accommodation and care.
A few weeks ago, as the number of migrants crossing the Channel climbed and the Government scrambled to put the new arrivals in hotels. Migrants are pictured off the coast of Dover in August 2022
Nearly 4,000 migrants made the crossing in November. Pictured: British Border Force officials escort migrants into Dover on December 1
‘Our heating bills are running into hundreds a week and we are wrapping up in blankets,’ said one disgruntled man in his 60s, as he surveyed the County Hotel. ‘At night I have seen the hotel’s windows wide open and the warmth flying out. They don’t have to pay, of course.’
For their part, the Home Office-commandeered hotels are keen to avoid any close scrutiny. When a film crew approached one of them to ask about the asylum seekers, they were told to go away by a severe-looking security guard. A single cameraman, from another media outlet, who tried to take pictures received the same treatment.
Meanwhile, the young men smoking and looking at their mobile phones on the pavement outside were told to ‘come inside’. One stayed out and cheekily put up his thumbs before jeering at the TV crew. He was joined by one of his friends, who was wearing a medical mask and handed him one, too.
When I walked over and asked them if there was an infection in the hotel, they pulled up their face coverings, sniggered, and shouted: ‘Coronavirus.’
Not that they seem to enjoy being here. The evening before, on the promenade opposite, two migrants in their early 20s had walked along towards me.
I asked them if they liked Skegness and if the hotel food was up to scratch. ‘No, thank you,’ they said brusquely as they went on their way towards the Chatsworth, refusing to speak further.
The hotels — like all those housing migrants — are flanked by security staff and run by Home Office ‘hotel officers’ who discourage prying eyes.
We did talk to one local delivery man, who said the supplies of yoghurt, crisps, pasta, pizza and halal chicken were costing the Home Office, or, de facto, the taxpayer, many hundreds of pounds a day. At midday last Tuesday on the seafront, laundry vans from a Lincolnshire firm were taking away sheets for washing. Inside one vehicle were the distinctive blue polystyrene bags, with identity tags, which hold the clothing the migrants wore on their cross-Channel journey before being given a dry set at Dover.
A recent advertisement posted by Home Office recruitment agencies for migrant ‘hotel housing officers’ in Skegness warned: ‘These roles are not for the faint-hearted. Ability needed with difficult situations. You will be based at hotels which the Government is using exclusively for asylum seekers.’
Rumour does fuel rumour. Skegness is fairly isolated — the nearest city, Lincoln, is an hour away, and it takes more time still to get to Peterborough station for direct train lines to major cities in the south and north of England.
At a cocktail bar in the heart of town, a female member of staff in her mid-30s tells me with tears in her eyes that she no longer dares go to the popular nearby nightclub with her friends.
‘It is the Afghans in particular who eye up a woman. They pinch your bottom, get too close to you. They come from a different culture,’ she says.
Verbal abuse is also a problem. One young woman walking past one of the migrant hotels late one evening was allegedly told by a man with a foreign accent standing in the front garden: ‘You are a white kafir (non-Muslim) slag.’
When the woman retorted ‘don’t ever say that to me again’, he promptly disappeared back into the hotel, the guards letting him in without question.
There are other more verifiable stories of migrants trying to escape the boredom. One Facebook video posted by locals shows a migrant asking a passer-by for help to find a taxi to take him to Sheffield. He said he’d come to ‘England’ on a boat and had been in Skegness for three days.
Whatever the febrile mood here, more hotels are needed — and soon — for the large number of new arrivals. Whether migrants come to Britain by boat, lorry or plane, they invariably claim asylum on arrival and have to be housed while their cases are heard.
The number of migrants to have crossed the English Channel in small boats to the UK so far this year has now reached nearly 43,900, according to official government figures
Holiday towns such as Skegness, where the summer season has ended, have seen a huge rise in migrant hotels.
Last weekend, a row broke out in Lancashire resort Morecambe, when the Home Office revealed to town hall officials unpopular plans to move 80 migrants into a hotel at short notice. They will join 221 migrants at two other hotels.
Jo Wilkinson, the area’s housing chief, warned the Government by email that another migrant hotel would risk community cohesion and cause conflict.
A list of previous ‘incidents’ sent to the Home Office by local officials includes anti-migrant protests, alleged racially motivated assaults of asylum seekers, but also unproven sexual offences against women by the newcomers themselves.
Yet who can blame hoteliers for accepting huge sums of taxpayer money as the Home Office demands they help out with the immigration crisis? Last week, the number of Channel boat arrivals touched 2,000. With Border Force and lifeboat rescue boats stretched to the limit, on one day alone the tally was 884.
They were processed through Manston centre, a former RAF camp in Kent, and then sent by coaches to hotels all over Britain because there was simply nowhere else for them to go.
In the centre of Skegness, I talk to a 23-year-old Iraqi Kurd staying at the Chatsworth. He has been here for several weeks and had been to Tesco, half a mile away, to buy a hairdryer.
He is wearing white trainers provided by a charity and I ask if he is happy in Skegness. He replies: ‘For a long time I’ve had nothing to do. I am waiting, always waiting, to get asylum in your country. I came on the boat to you.’
He seems nice enough, but tension is undoubtedly high in this town.
‘If the Home Office takes over another hotel for migrants in Skegness, I am selling up,’ says Gary Allen, while wife Dee nods in agreement.
Of course, the couple might get a good price for The Hatters, with its unusual Alice in Wonderland theme.
There is no shortage of migrants needing beds in Britain. Surely, some wily businessperson will be ready to snap up the establishment for a guaranteed income of nearly £550,000 a year from the Government. It is easy money, after all.
‘It was not for us,’ says Gary, rather bravely. ‘We could never again have looked anyone in the eye in Skegness.’