Life in the UK is pretty terrible for refugees, so a group of students from Aberdeen have decided to buy a big castle for them to stay in. The “Comrades of the Glen”, as they call themselves – members of Aberdeen University's "Shared Planet Society" – plan to raise £6 million on a crowd funding website to buy an ancient Scottish manor to use as a refuge for asylum seekers, and a base for their activism. “Refugee Castle” appeared on IndieGoGo a couple days ago aiming to, “change the lives of hundreds, hopefully thousands of refugees who are denied basic rights in the current system, as well as [have] lots of fun running around on our castle grounds.”
The castle they’re looking to buy boasts of 38 bedrooms. There are over a dozen separate houses on the land, a golf course, three tennis courts, a swimming pool, a boathouse with access to Loch Rannoch, an assault course and its own hydroelectric substation. According to the brochure the estate dates back to 1347 and Dall House, the castle, "was built in 1855 as the new seat of the Robertson Clan, whose name and extensive lands were gifted to them by King Robert the Bruce, for their service to him in the Scottish Wars of Independence."
Overall it sounds much nicer than the places refugees in the UK tend to find themselves in. Those fortunate not to get taken to an asylum detention removal centre are left in limbo, not being allowed to work under British law and relying on meagre state handouts, whilst all the time facing the prospect of being deported. Many remain in this uncertain situation for years before finding out whether or not they can stay. I called up Darroch from the campaign for more details of the immigrant palace plan.
A bedroom in the castle
VICE: Hi Darroch, so why do you want to set up a refugee castle?
Darroch: There are a couple of reasons why it’s happening. The first is just sort of looking round online at places to live one day and I saw this place and I mentioned it to my friends. We got talking about how one person shouldn’t really be allowed that kind of place to live, you know, and take up that much space and that many resources and that much land. And that particular place has been earmarked before as being a sort of a billionaire’s paradise – a holiday resort for billionaires, and we thought that there’s got to be a better use for it. One of our friends started talking about refugees who aren’t able to work or claim benefits, so we kind of thought that would be a good set up for a cooperative. We run some cooperatives here in Aberdeen and they’ve been really successful so we thought the castle would be a perfect area for the cooperative model to work. So we thought, "let’s give it a go."
Some people might look at this and think it’s a joke. But there are examples of student housing cooperatives in Edinburgh. So this kind of thing is possible, right?
Yeah we’re actually also doing that in Aberdeen at the moment, setting up a student house in the centre of the city. Yeah, it’s more than possible.
So it’s not a joke? You're not just trying to troll the aristocracy?
No, no. I certainly don’t think so. It’s the sort of thing that can happen, or you can at least get lots of people talking about it and so whatever the outcome is, it’s a good outcome. Certainly there’s a very sort of sweet irony in the castle for us. But there are also practical reasons. There are 38 bedrooms so it’s got room to make a big difference to a lot of people.
Comrades of the Glenn
So the castle has 38 bedrooms and some outhouses. What else does it have?
There’s a hydroelectric substation. It certainly could be energy self-sufficient, I think. And if it wasn’t, that would be something we’d look into, using wind or solar. There’s an army assault course, which is strange but I guess a fun thing to do. There are a bunch of outhouses, games keeper’s lodgings and a whole bunch of land.
Is there a moat?
I don’t know.
How much land does it have?
I don’t know. It’s a large estate situated between Abbymore and Perth, so it’s a big chunk of the highlands.
The view over Loch Rannoch from the Estate
How are you going to get people to fund this? As well as crowdsourcing, are you going to anyone in particular asking for money?
Not really. We’re hoping people will see it and pick up on it and it will capture people's imaginations and we hope that they give a bit of money and make it happen.
Is it in response to anything in particular in the short term? The government said two days ago that it would not be funding any of the search and rescue in the Mediterranean for migrant boats. Did you hear about that?
I did hear about that. But to be honest, it wasn’t a direct response to that. There’s actually a detention centre, a big facility that houses refugees and asylum seekers not that far from Firth and it has shocking conditions. It’s really a prison – a holding camp – and it’s something that is on our minds and it’s another bit of social injustice in a Britain that keeps getting more unjust you know.
Does your group have any experience working with refugees or asylum seekers?
Yeah. There are members of our group have various voluntary experience and some personal experience. Also a lot of people in our extended families do.
What’s your opinion on how refugees are treated in this country at the moment?
There’s a lot of xenophobia and a lot of racism and we see that only getting more and more attention and more and more followers with parties like UKIP. As far as asylum seekers and refugees go, not being able to work or claim benefits, it leaves probably the most vulnerable group of people in the world in an even more vulnerable position, really having to resort to things like begging and just not having enough money. That is a scandal and that shouldn’t be happening. And the power to help people in that position lies in communities and not just communities that exist, but communities that can be set up, like the one that we’re imagining.
Do you have any support from other groups?
There’s a very healthy base of campaigners in Aberdeen who are all very excited about this project. We put this out and a lot of people within the university and a lot of people in Aberdeen and Glasgow as well are picking it up and there’s been a really positive reaction.
If you actually raised £6 million and bought the castle, how would you run it?
The object would be to run it as cheaply and sustainably as possible. Because the sustainable is usually the cheapest way. We’d probably have to rely on donations for a long time but we’d also be hoping to make that land work for us, to produced our own food and energy. That’s probably something we’d have to plan more.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Just really something a little bit corny. I get really excited about it and I get really emotional about it. But it’s the sort of thing where if everyone gets excited and everyone trusts a bit and just believes that something good will happen, then actually there is a lot of power in people to make really good things happen for people who don’t necessarily get a lot of luck.
To help Darroch and his mates buy a castle for refugees to live in, click here.
More about refugees on VICE: