Woman, 97, sleeps on friend’s sofa months after fire

Victoria Stephens
Victoria Stephens

A 97-YEAR-OLD woman has been sleeping on the sofa at her friend’s house for almost five months after losing her home in a fire.

Victoria Stephens lived at Marlborough House in Warrior Square, St Leonards until the devastating blaze on July 28 left her and more than 30 other residents displaced.

Since then she has slept on the sofa at her friend’s address in Cloudesley Road, St Leonards.

Mrs Stephens, who can hardly walk unaided, fears she has lost a lot of her treasured possessions, including antiques she has collected for more than 60 years, as well as jewellery.

She said: “I was allowed to go to Marlborough House for one hour in September to see what belongings I could get. I managed to get some of my coats and other possessions. But there were a lot of antique clocks, furniture and jewellery which I still haven’t got.

“Some of the jewellery was very old and I get really upset not knowing when I can next go back to Marlborough House and not knowing what’s happened to the rest of my belongings.”

Since the fire the pensioner, who is 98 next month, has also received several letters from Hyde Housing, owners of Marlborough House, asking her for rent on her flat, which was on the fourth floor. She currently receives housing benefit towards rent.

Mrs Stephens vividly remembers the day the fire broke out. “I was in my bed clothes and two men (firefighters) carried me down the stairs.

“You can imagine the terror I felt as they tried to hold me going down all of those steps,” she said.

Carol Jones, spokeswoman for Hyde Housing, said: “The welfare of Marlborough House residents is our priority.

“Since the fire we have been working with individual residents, adult social services, friends and family to find the best temporary alternative accommodation option for each person, and help them ensure that their belongings are safe.

“Many residents have moved into residential care in the local area as the best option to ensure they are comfortable and cared for. Mrs Stephens, however, has turned down offers of help to find suitable alternative accommodation, including residential care and a new tenancy with another housing association.

“We apologise for continuing to charge Mrs Stephens rent. We asked residents to continue to pay their rent as we are paying for their alternative accommodation.

“Obviously this is not applicable in her case and this is the first time that this situation has been brought to our attention. This oversight will be rectified immediately.

“If Mrs Stephens is still concerned about her belongings, she can arrange for her representatives to review her items.

“This week we are writing again to remind residents of the need to collect their belongings or make arrangements for storage.

“Where residents do not have contents insurance Hyde is taking on this responsibility and making arrangements for storage of salvageable items. This is essential to allow the building work to start.”