Linton-on-Ouse: Meet the villagers fighting plans for asylum centre in North Yorkshire

“It’s gone from sitting around someone’s kitchen table to effectively being full on campaigners,” says Olga Matthias.

Two months ago, the professor of operations management had never - in her own words “put her head above the parapet.”

But now, along with dozens of others, she’s found a force for campaigning against the Government, after plans were announced to open an asylum centre that could house up to 1500 lone men in the centre of Linton-on-Ouse, a quiet North Yorkshire village with around 650 residents.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The plans, unfurled on the same day Home Secretary Priti Patel announced that many asylum seekers would be flown to Rwanda in a controversial deal with the country, shocked villagers who, for the most part, heard about them through social media.

Campaigners outside Linton-on-Ouse Village HallCampaigners outside Linton-on-Ouse Village Hall
Campaigners outside Linton-on-Ouse Village Hall

And within days, a 15-strong group formed together determined to fight the Home Office against the proposals, with numbers only increasing as the weeks go on.

It’s seen campaigners stage a 100-strong protest as government officials visited the village twice to try to do damage control against a swathe of opposition, including from the area’s Conservative MP, Kevin Hollinrake.

The group have organised mail-drops to Priti Patel and the Prime Minister, and Prof Matthias has engaged in dozens of press opportunities including national news broadcasts.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Between them the campaginers have spent dozens of hours researching legislation and asylum policy as they desparately attempt to put the centre on hold - or force the Government to abandon their plans altogether.

Dr Olga MatthiasDr Olga Matthias
Dr Olga Matthias
Read More
One of Yorkshire's finest Georgian houses is for sale in North Leeds for £6.5m a...

For Sarah Faulkner, a 39-year-old administrator, it’s not the first time she’s been involved in a campaign.

Ten years ago Ms Faulkner was instrumental in the NoMorePage3 protests, which eventually saw The Sun newspaper stop using topless models.

She’s been able to bring some of those skills back into action as one of the social media co-ordinators of the campaigns.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“I don’t think the Home Office was expecting the level of kick-back they’ve got,” she says. “I think they thought ‘oh, they’ll put a few signs up and have a little protest’. And that’s not what’s happened.

“They’ve certainly seemed a bit taken aback. We’ve got so many skills - people from so many different backgrounds and every walk of life. The research skills are amazing.

“We’ve asked people to find examples of previous facilities and legal challenges - and we’ve got a great big chart now of all the things that have happened in the past that we can use.

“Although we’re learning on the job, it’s going pretty well so far.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

There’s a myriad of reasons villagers are against the centre. At one public meeting, a woman spoke through tears as she told Home Office officials that she would no longer feel safe walking her dog around the village, while others have complained that house prices are dropping leaving sales precarious.

But among the group are many who are pro-asylum seeker and refugee rights, one male villager who didn’t want to be named explained.

“I think a centre done properly with vastly fewer people could be something the village could be proud of,” he says. “But I can understand why people don’t want 1500 asylum seekers brought here. That’s not nimbyism, that’s common sense.

“I’ve been seeking ways we can engage with asylum seekers when they come and making their lives as fulfilling as possible. There are people in the village who think anything other that outright hatred for the centre is encouraging it, and I find that very difficult.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“I’m against the centre, but I’m for the people who will be brought here. We’ve a moral obligation. The Home Office have not answered any of our questions in any satisfactory manner.

“They've just said words and basically ignored all of the concerns not addressed. And that is the million-dollar question that the campaigners are grappling with - is any of their work going to enough to stop a Government juggernaut?

“They would save money if they didn’t open it,” says Olga. “They will save the public purse, and they will save a lot of grief. But if they do open it - we’ll still carry on the fight. It’ll just be a different fight. And it will close.”

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.