A popular animal sanctuary must find £100,000 or face closure after losing out in a long-running legal battle.
Easterleigh Animal Sanctuary in St Annes will close in weeks unless it can find the cash to buy a new home after a dispute about the ownership of its site at Queensway Park Farm.
Around 50 animals, including cats, dogs and horses face having no home while 16 staff look set to lose their jobs.
The founder of the charity, Mandy Leigh, said she has been forced to put her home up for sale in a bid to generate cash to buy a new sanctuary – but estimates she is still £100,000 short.
Mrs Leigh told The Gazette the centre is “finished” unless it can find a reprieve.
She said: “There has been a dispute about who owns the land. I got my solicitor involved and tried a few times to get it resolved and establish a lease agreement.
I can’t spend charity money on litigation - we can’t keep fighting. We will be getting chucked out.Mandy Leigh
“But I can’t spend charity money on litigation – we can’t keep fighting. We will be getting chucked out.
“We are definitely going. It could be a month, it could be three months. At the end of the day that’s us finished.
“We have had to cut down on the number of animals we take. My house is up for sale. I have a site in mind to move to – but it will cost more than £100,000 to buy the place.”
The Gazette understands the land where Easterleigh is based was bought for a five-figure sum at Christmas.
Mrs Leigh said the new owner is refusing to come to terms on a lease agreement and has issued the sanctuary with a notice to quit – effectively terminating its tenancy.
Mrs Leigh added: “I got solicitors involved to find out who owned the place and it has kept going from there. They (the owner) won’t give us the lease or come to any terms. We wanted to establish some sort of lease to stay there. We just wanted to fight to stay there.
“I have spent in the region of £6,000 to £7,000 on legal fees. I am not a rich person, I can’t keep doing it.”
Easterleigh first opened its doors almost 20 years ago, helping to rescue and
re-home unwanted, neglected and stray animals.
In 2012 the site was gutted by arsonists but the charity rallied and opened a new isolation building at a cost of £40,000.
Mrs Leigh added: “We started the sanctuary 19 years ago and became a charity in 1998.
“In a good year we can receive £200,000 in donations, but money quickly goes when you account for vaccinations, getting animals micro-chipped and feeding them. Vets bills come in at £3,000, £4,000 a month.
“I have had to cut down the number of animals I look after. I just do not know what will happen to the animals.
“I have 10 staff and three charity shops with two staff in each. If the centre closes we are all on the dole.”
Fellow animal sanctuary owners today called news of the closure a “terrible shock” and “sad news.”
Martyn Tetchener, manager of the RSPCA Blackpool and North Lancashire Branch, said: “I do sympathise with Mandy. She has done a lot of hard work and good work.
“Its closure would put a lot more pressure on us and other centres.”
Anna Worden, co-owner of Charnwood Kennels in Division Lane, Marton, added: “The disadvantage is Blackpool RSPCA has re-located to Poulton. Easterleigh Animal Sanctuary is the main rescue centre for St Annes, Lytham and this part of Blackpool – now it looks like it will be gone.”
A final legal hearing in an attempt to establish a lease agreement is expected to take place next month at Preston County Court.
But in legal papers seen by The Gazette, Easterleigh has been informed it is unlikely any such lease can be agreed.
The papers read: “We are instructed that there will be no lease. It seems regrettably clear to our clients that they and your client will simply [and sadly] never get along. It is perhaps one of those cases when too much has happened.”
The owner of the land was unavailable for comment.