In a heart-wrenching turn of events, Walter Renwick, a resilient 68-year-old farmer, is facing eviction from the very place he has called home his entire life—a home that has been passed down through three cherished generations.
Plankey Mill Farm, nestled near the enchanting town of Hexham, Northumberland, has not only been Walter’s residence but also the site of a beloved campsite where he has welcomed visitors with open arms. However, his fight to stay on the property has reached a devastating impasse, leaving him with an eviction notice that shatters the very foundations of his family’s legacy.
The landowners responsible for this unfortunate plight are none other than the Jesuits in Britain, who assert their legal right to the land.
They argue that the original lease was held by Walter’s father, and upon his passing, they extended the lease, affording Walter some time to find alternative accommodations. However, the church contends that the last lease extension expired in 2021, leading them to obtain a court order for Walter’s eviction. The bailiffs are scheduled to arrive on the fateful day of July 11, and with their arrival, Walter’s world as he knows it will be upended.
With profound sorrow etched across his face, Walter spoke of the imminent tragedy befalling him and his family home. “I have spent 68 years of my life here, and the ties to this land run even deeper through my father and grandfather. This farm has witnessed three generations of our kin,” he lamented, his voice heavy with emotion.
Counting down the days until his forced departure, Walter shared his anguish. “On July 11, they plan to change all the locks on my house. If I’m inside, they will forcefully remove me. I thought I had done everything right, diligently fulfilling my obligations, but they remain resolute in their determination to sell this property.”
ChronicleLive reports that Walter’s spirit has been shattered by this relentless battle. “It has broken a proud man. There was a time when I feared no one, but now, at the sound of a knock on my door, I find myself escaping out the back like a frightened child, seeking refuge in the safety of a barn. What has become of me? I no longer venture out to the shops. Something within me feels wrong—like a stranger inhabiting my own body.
They have chipped away at my very essence, bit by bit. Some days, I am tempted to remain in bed, a stark departure from the relentless work ethic that has defined me. And it’s not due to my health; I can still navigate life within the confines of my limitations,” he confided.
The deep-rooted attachment Walter feels toward Plankey Mill Farm is undeniable. “I was born here; this land is ingrained in my being. It is akin to a majestic tree with roots that stretch into the very core of my existence. Every aspect of my life has unfolded within these surroundings—the companionship of loyal dogs, the laughter of childhood playing football with friends, and the joyful memories created during those summer days when campers gathered. But now, happiness has faded away, leaving only emptiness in its wake,” he expressed, his voice quivering with sadness.
According to a spokesperson for The Jesuits in Britain, the eviction is a necessary step after years of unsuccessful attempts to persuade Walter, the son of the original leaseholder, to vacate the property. While Walter’s father legally held the initial lease, there were no provisions for the lease to be inherited by his children upon his passing, as is the case with similar properties across the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, the Jesuits granted several lease extensions, totaling thirteen years, until April 2021, allowing Walter ample time to secure a new home.
The Jesuits also offered financial assistance to facilitate his relocation, on the condition that he left the property by November 2022. However, since the last lease extension expired in April 2021, Walter has remained in illegal possession of the premises.
Critics decrying the repossession have focused on the fact that Walter has been operating a paid-for campsite on adjacent fields, an activity that was not permitted under the terms of the lease and lacked the necessary planning permission from local authorities. Surprisingly, the Jesuits never took action against this unauthorized campsite, despite receiving complaints from the local council and the National Trust, who owns a neighboring property. Concerns were raised about the unruly behavior of some campers, particularly during the challenging times of the 2020 pandemic.
Amidst this poignant tale, Northumberland County Council became involved when a complaint was lodged in 2020 regarding an unauthorized campsite on Plankey Mill Farm. The investigation revealed that the campsite had been operating for over a decade, thereby rendering it immune to planning enforcement actions, according to a spokeswoman from the council.
As Walter Renwick faces the impending loss of his ancestral home, the weight of his memories and the profound sense of injustice linger. His story serves as a haunting reminder of the value we attach to the places that shaped our lives and the devastating toll that eviction can exact on individuals and their legacies.