'I left Thailand as a successful businessman - I came back to London without a family or home but a Camden hostel saved me'

An 81-year-old former business owner has said that he could have died on the streets of London after returning to England after living and working overseas. George Towers ran a construction maintenance company until he was 75, and worked in Saudi Arabia, Dubai and Thailand.

The Camden-born entrepreneur came back to London 'at very short notice' around 10 months ago for 'legal reasons'. He was helped by a charity in Finsbury Park, which was aware he was coming back and put him up in a hotel for four nights. Then he moved into Arlington House, a hostel in Camden for those who do not have a home of their own.

It is managed by One Housing and was opened in 1905. George Orwell stayed there and wrote about the experience in his book Down and Out in Paris and London.

READ MORE: Plan to help 3,302 young Londoners move out of home with 'permanent guaranteed' mortgage

Arlington House in Camden viewed from the street
Arlington House in Camden -Credit:Adam Toms/MyLondon

George told MyLondon: "I wasn't expecting to come back to the UK. But I came back basically homeless, if you like, and was extremely fortunate to be brought into this place. I imagined that I was going to be spending my time on the streets."

"It is an extremely nice place to live, actually," Mr Towers added. He also claimed that it took 'five and a half months' to get his pension reinstated after his return to England.

When asked what he thinks his life would have been like without Arlington House, Mr Towers said: "I don't even know if I'd be alive, actually. Because this is my first winter for many, many years [in the UK] . I've always been in a very hot climate country. I'd have been on the street, obviously, and, I don't know, at my age, it would have seen me off, I think."

'I was extremely worried... I thought I was going to be on the street'

"I was very worried," he added, "I was extremely worried when I arrived here. I really didn't know what was going to happen. I thought I was going to be on the street. That was extremely worrying."

George Towers in a blue jacket pictured in a chair in Arlington House
George Towers is living in Arlington House in Camden -Credit:Adam Toms/MyLondon

Mr Towers' wife, 29-year-old son, who was first diagnosed with cancer when he was 15, and siblings have all died. George said: "I have no family. Unfortunately, all of my family are all dead, including my brothers and my sisters, my son and his mother, everybody has unfortunately died."

"Why I'm still around at 81," he added, "I don't know. I'm certainly the longest-living person in my family. I think laughing a lot and smiling a lot and trying not to look at the negatives, trying to think positively is good medicine."

On life at Arlington House, George said: "It's very good. There's a lot of facilities available. Some of them I don't use. There's a free breakfast and a free dinner. I don't use them because I tend to eat what I want to eat rather than a fixed meal. But the majority of people within the establishment do use that facility."

Black and white photo of George Orwell looking down at a cigarette in his hand
George Orwell stayed in Arlington House and wrote about his experience -Credit:Getty

He added: "It makes life quite comfortable, actually. I don't have to worry about electricity or taxes or anything like that. Everything is done for me." The room Mr Towers has is 'very nice', he said, and he goes out 'every day'.

"In fact, I planned to go walking out in the park today, and you people interrupted it," George added. "It was the first day weather-wise when I was sort of looking forward to go for a walk. But I'll do it tomorrow."

On the housing situation in London more generally, he said: "I know there's a big problem, and of course the pricing of even renting accommodation is extremely high in London. I'm really astounded by the prices that are quoted. They really shock me."

'I went in the coffee shop thinking it was going to be about £1.50 and it was £3.90. I was amazed'

George also described his shock at inflated food and drink prices when he got back to the UK. He added: "But yet again there's the price of everything. There's the price of food. I came back, I went in the coffee shop thinking it was going to be about £1.50 and it was £3.90. I was amazed. And, I'm not a big drinker, but I did go for a beer and I had to pay £6.50 or something in the city centre."

Lee Buss-Blair, director of operations at Riverside, said: “Arlington House supports a diverse range of residents with a wide range of support needs. Over the past ten years Arlington House has helped thousands of people to get back on their feet and find a longer-term home.

Arlington House viewed from a window inside
Over the past ten years Arlington House has helped thousands of people to get back on their feet -Credit:Adam Toms/MyLondon

However, the housing crisis now means that many people struggle to move on, due to the lack of social housing and the unaffordability of the private rented sector. This is particularly important when London Councils have warned they are on course to spend £1 billion temporary accommodation for people affected by homelessness in a year.

“It is heartening to hear Sadiq Khan’s commitment to end rough sleeping by 2030 – but it needs to be stressed that this will require more than the £10m of funding pledged so far and also cannot be achieved by the Mayor of London alone. If the Mayor of London is going to be successful in ending rough sleeping in London then we need national government to commit to building more social housing, as well as boosting and ringfencing funding for supported housing, to protect services like Arlington House."

Mayor says 'urgent' Government investment needed

Mr Khan claims that 'Government investment is not enough, meaning that affordable housebuilding in the capital will be below the level required to house all Londoners who need it for years to come'. The mayor has also repeated his call for £2.2 billion from Westminster in 'urgent investment' in new social and 'genuinely affordable homes', which is backed by private, public and non-profit housebuilders across the capital.

A Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities spokesperson previously told MyLondon: “These claims are misleading. We have allocated £4 billion to the Greater London Authority to deliver affordable housing in London as part of our wider £11.5 billion Affordable Homes Programme, and last year saw the highest year on record for affordable housing delivery across the country, with a 12% increase in starts to the previous year."

Sadiq Khan speaking on a sunny day with his hand to his chest
Sadiq Khan has promised to end rough sleeping in London by 2030 and build more affordable homes -Credit:Adam Toms/MyLondon

The Minister for Housing and Homelessness, Felicity Buchan, said in December: “We are determined to end rough sleeping for good and are working hand-in-hand with the homelessness sector and other partners to make sure people have a roof over their head but also have the support and encouragement to rebuild their lives.

"We have given councils £2 billion – including £188.2 million for London – to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping, and in the capital are supporting 13 projects that provide services and emergency accommodation.

"Through our Rough Sleeping Strategy we will continue to work to not just to reduce rough sleeping but to end it completely.”

Want more from MyLondon? Sign up to our daily newsletters for all the latest and greatest from across London here.