Ex-retail king, 92, to help Harrogate homeless
Moved by what he has seen in Harrogate town centre, the 92-year-old former co-owner of one of Britain's biggest menswear chains is hoping to turn the empty premises of what once his family's Harrogate shop into a pop-up hostel for people sleeping rough.
Retired businessman Brian Greenfield’s big-hearted vision has already got to the point of discussions with local authorities and senior figures in the Salvation Army with the aim of setting up the first Greenhaven Hostel in Harrogate to add a new facility to the good work already being carried out in town by the likes of Harrogate Homeless Project.
Mr Greenwood, former co-owner of the famous Greenwoods chain which once boasted 300 shops UK-wide, said the idea came to him one night recently when he was going home.As Mr Greenwood’s car passed the empty unit on Parliament Street where the Harrogate branch of his chain of shops welcomed customers until its closure earlier this year, he noticed something in the doorway.It was two people sleeping rough.
The sight made a deep and instant impression on one of the most respected figures in the retail sector whose life experiences also include beingchairman of a major property development company and being the longest-serving chairman at Woodhouse Grove School near Leeds.
Mr Greenwood said: “It’s a disgrace that in a prosperous town and a fairly prosperous country that some poor devils should be sleeping on the pavement outside a shop.“It’s to the shame of Harrogate and British society that this should be happening. “I knew the problem existed and I knew that there are bodies trying to help homeless people here but I spent a sleepless night after seeing the problem with my own eyes.“I thought something should be done about it and I thought I should be part of that.”
Once a prominent name on the Sunday Times’ Rich List, should this still dynamic man’s vision become a reality, it would mean the creation of both a Greenhaven Hostel and a Greenhaven charity to fundraise for it.
One early supporter is Harrogate Mayor Coun Bateman who himself has been involved in helping the homeless in Ripon in conjunction with the YMCA.
He believes collaboration is key to any success.Coun Bateman said: “I’m fully supportive of the Greenhaven Hostel idea. The best way forward would be to work with other bodies such as Harrogate Homeless Project or Harrogate Housing Assoication. It’s important to get their blessing.”
But Mr Greenwood is nothing if not practical. He says he knows what is required. A crucial part of his plans is the assumption that the local authority will be willing to waive the rates levied on a vacant retail property other commercial property used as a Greenhaven Hostel but only for the duration of the project.
Mr Greenwood said: “The question is “how can we contrive a situation where property owners will give permission for us to use the property for free temporarily?”“You need to be able to offer incentives and that will mean waiving or reducing rate charges and making sure the owner gets good PR from it, such as putting up a large credit on the hostel’s window.“It’s also important to acquire a “licence to use” which would give the property’s owner the right to get his property back quickly.”
Mr Greenwood is a man in a hurry, he is hoping to have his new hostel up-and-running by January.But it isn’t simply because he wants to help people during the worst of winter.
This likable man, who once lived in the splendour of Whittington Hall near Kirkby Lonsdale but who now prefers a bungalow near Ripon, feels a moral imperative to do something for the common good.
Mr Greenwood said: “I’m a bit surprised at the age of 92 to find myself in this situation.“Once you get to my age you find yourself asking “is the world a little better for I being here or a little bit worse?”“It’s wonderful to be able to use the knowledge I’ve accumulated in business and public life to do some good."
Mr Greenwood feels talks with the Salvation Army are going well so far and hopes they may even run the new hostel. If successful his ambition to do good extends beyond Harrogate.
He said: “There’s so much inequality today in Britain in terms of wealth, it’s bad for everyone. "One thing is for certain. I won’t be here in ten years’ time. But, if the first Greenhaven Hostel works, it could go nationwide.”