The legendary House of Benjamins accommodates Ukrainians
For several months now, the historic House of Benjamins has become home for Ukrainian refugees who need a temporary place of stay in Riga. This has been made possible by the real estate developer Kapitel and the construction company Merks, along with support from the initiative “I Want to Help Refugees”.
The 19th-century architectural monument has so far welcomed more than 145 people from Ukraine. The facilities of the former hotel have been specially adapted to serve as temporary accommodation for Ukrainians. There are 29 hotel rooms available in the annex (the new wing) of the building, accommodating up to 60 persons at a time, offering catering facilities, information about the available services and support in Riga, as well as Latvian language club classes. The initial support investments are in tens of thousands of euros and the monthly expenses of the building are also covered by Kapitel.
Significantly, during the 30 days that the Ukrainian refugees can temporarily stay at the House of Benjamins all adults have found new accommodation and work, as well as schools and kindergartens for the children. This demonstrates the importance or targeted and coordinated support.
“Our project implemented together with Merks and Kapitel helps Ukrainian refugees to sooner start a new life in their temporary home – Latvia. Combining access to wide-ranging information support and safe, homelike environment, this project could serve as a systematic example for receiving other recipients of international help in Latvia,” says Linda Jākobsone, Member of the Board of the association “I Want to Help Refugees”.
Member of the Board and Construction Director of Merks Andris Bišmeistars highlights the importance of creating the feeling of home: “One of the fundamental values of Merks is to build not only physical buildings, but places where people feel at home. Even if it is only for a brief time, we wanted to offer this to people of Ukraine who have come to Riga in search of safe haven. I am honoured to work alongside our partners Kapitel and the initiative “I Want to Help Refugees”. This cooperation has opened up new horizons for us because together we are stronger and capable of providing much wider support.”
Representative of Kapitel Imants Krēsliņš is also pleased to be part of the project: “I am immensely happy that we were able to act quickly and efficiently and find a solution for accommodating refugees. It took quite a bit of time and financial resources to adapt the building to the needs of refugees, however when you see children, young people and families in the building, that is forgotten quickly and a sense of satisfaction takes over. We are also pleased with the professional attitude of the initiative “I Want to Help Refugees” and the great support from the construction company Merks.”
Constructed in late 19th century, the House of Benjamins was one of the first stone high-rise buildings in Riga. It was later acquired by the influential press magnates Antons and Emilija Benjamin, reconstructed and became an epicentre of culture and social life. After the Soviet occupation, the House of Benjamins at 12 Barona Street was nationalised in 1940. Emilija Benjamin herself suffered a tragic fate too – on 13 June 1941 she, along with 15,400 other Latvian people, was deported to Russia and died from starvation in terrible conditions in the Usollag slave labour camp. Kapitel acquired the building in the summer of 2021 to add it to its Baltic hotel portfolio.