A TRUST which has been attempting to purchase a former village school to create much-needed affordable housing for young people has been left astonished after the buyers of the building revealed themselves.

The Upper Dales Community Land Trust laid out plans to purchase the former Arkengarthdale School and build four homes in a bid to save the deeply rural community from dying out – and stop young families having to move away from the place they grew up.

But despite several attempts to appeal to the Arkengarthdale Parochial Church Council, which resulted in the Bishop of Leeds and MP Rishi Sunak getting involved, the PCC sold the building to a private buyer.

The buyers, Martin and Sue Stephenson, have now announced their intentions to make the former school their forever home.

The couple made national headlines last month by launching winadreamproperty.co.uk, a competition to win their £700,000 luxury home in Snowdonia.

They hope the prize draw, which people can enter for a stake of £3, will raise £100,000 for Alzheimer’s Society, a charity close to their hearts.

Building surveyor Mr Stephenson, 57, said: “We had planned to stay in Wales for another couple of years but have decided to return to our roots to support my parents.

“My father has dementia and whilst my mum is coping at the moment, she’s not indestructible. They’re both 88 and we can see the writing on the wall – they’re going to need our support and we want to be there for them.

“That’s our main reason for moving back to Yorkshire and, also, why we’re determined to raise funds for Alzheimer’s Society. Dementia is a condition that affects so many people but doesn’t get the attention it deserves.”

He added: “We decided not to enter into the debate. It wasn’t our argument and if we’d withdrawn from the purchase there was a queue of other buyers waiting to take our place.

“We are hoping to convert the school into our forever home. We completely transformed Capel Jerusalem, our previous home in Snowdonia national park, which also functioned as a holiday let. We will treat the school with the same attention to detail and respect.”

The couple has an established business, running activity weekends such as yoga and guided walks, and they intend to relocate the business to the Dales.

Mrs Stephenson said: “We’re very excited to think that when we re-start operations it will be in the Yorkshire Dales. The school has the space we need, and we will retain one of the classrooms for navigation training and exercise classes.

“We want to work with local people to create a programme of activities and hope that we can benefit other local businesses, who offer accommodation, food and activities such as mountain biking.”

Mr Stephenson added: "In case anyone is wondering, we won’t be raffling the school. This is definitely our forever home."

Stephen Stubbs, UDCLT chairman, said of the Stephensons: “How lucky they are to be able to move closer to their family when young locals have to move out and move away.

“Putting a property up for raffle is a well-known ploy when people are having trouble selling and adding a charitable aspect makes the motive seem entirely honourable.

“They are prepared to give one person the chance to ‘take a giant leap up the property ladder’, for the cost of a £3 ticket, while denying four hard-working young families here the opportunity to get a foot on the first rung.

“Martin Stephenson asserts that if they’d withdrawn from the purchase there was a queue of other buyers waiting to take their place. I would like to reassure him and the PCC that if they were to do the right thing and back out of buying the school we are now in a position to match their bid.

“As far as I am aware, no other bidder has charitable intentions whereas UDCLT is a not for profit company run by the community with the objective of creating a sustainable future by providing affordable housing.

“How does the local community in Snowdonia, where the average house price is around £100,000, feel about the former chapel being raffled and the money taken out of their community? There’s nothing to stop that happening again in Arkengarthdale.

“In an interview with the Metro last month, Martin Stephenson said they needed to move closer to his 88-year-old parents in Sheffield – 100 miles from Arkengarthdale."