It is 60 years since a Calderdale house opened as a Cheshire Home – and six decades on the values and the vision of the man whose inspiration led to its founding are still in abundance.
This special anniversary year is one very good reason to celebrate and the staff, residents, their families and volunteers of White Windows, Sowerby Bridge will be doing just that with a birthday party on Thursday, May 26.
Pat Horrocks-Taylor is one of White Windows’ team of dedicated volunteers with connections to the home that stretch back to her childhood for it was thanks to her late father, Dr Joe Laycock along with other visionaries that the home came into being.
Pat says: “In 1955, a BBC TV programme, ‘Founded on Failure’ about the work of Group Captain Leonard Cheshire VC, really struck a chord with my father. Along with fellow members of the Halifax Circle of the Catenian Association, he watched the broadcast before the group’s meeting. Afterwards he mentioned to the President, Richard Blackburn that a property, White Windows in Sowerby Bridge, that was on the market might make a suitable Leonard Cheshire home.
“The Circle had already sent out an invitation to Leonard Cheshire to be a guest at their annual dinner dance the following year, and by the time the event was held and Leonard Cheshire attended, the seeds for White Windows had been sown. Leonard Cheshire gave it his blessing and a fund was set up.”
Pat was just a 10-year-old schoolgirl at the time but still remembers the work that went on leading up to the home opening and taking its first residents in 1956.
“I don’t think there was ever a time when White Windows wasn’t a part of my life. I can’t remember not being involved. White Windows has always had a special place in my heart because it really is a special place.”
Cheshire was a highly decorated World War II bomber pilot, commander of the legendary 617 “Dambusters” Squadron, winning the Victoria Cross, the Distinguished Service Order and the Distinguished Flying Cross, and after the war, dedicated his life to supporting disabled people, turning his own home, Le Court, in Hampshire into the very first Cheshire Home in 1949.
Today there are over 100 Cheshire homes, and White Windows was one of the first to be established. Pat recalls the many visits Cheshire made to White Windows over the years as well as to her own home, right up until his death from motor neurone disease in 1992.
Carol Davies has just retired as manager of White Windows, a position she held for 15 years. She believes the ethos at the home is just the same today as it was in those early days.
“Leonard Cheshire was passionate about the protection of the dignity and independence of the individual and their right to lead a fulfilling life as possible, and the common aim of all Cheshire homes is to provide care and shelter for their residents in an atmosphere that as closely as possible resembles that of a family home.
“Today the beliefs are exactly that. In fact the charity – Leonard Cheshire Disability – is more pro-active than ever. It believes in encouraging people to look beyond the disability and realise that with the help of Leonard Cheshire homes, they need not be held back by it.”
Carol adds that in her retirement her links with the home will continue. “I could never not be part of it. I shall be returning as a volunteer,” she says,
Today the residents of White Windows range from their mid-30s with a number of disabilities and enjoy a number of modern comforts and adaptations – such as computers and the internet, night-pad technology to control their TVs and lightings, en-suite bathrooms, mini-buses for outings and their own residents’ kitchen. The home has also evolved over the years and there is now a sensory garden and woodland walk, and White Windows also enjoys the generous support from local businesses and the community including the Lloyds banking group, Sowerby Bridge Rotary Club and local schools.
The special birthday party will be an ‘open house’ with everyone invited and it is hoped that anyone with connections to the home will call in to be part of the celebrations.
Just two days after arrangements for the party were being organised something very strange happened.
Carol explains: “We’d decided to try and find people who had connections to White Windows over the years, and then the doorbell rang. There was a chap standing there who went on to explain that he had brought the very first resident to the home all those years ago! We are hoping he will now come along to the party.”
One special guest who will definitely be celebrating will be resident Eric Thomas for whom White Windows has been home from the very beginning.
“I arrived on New Year’s Eve, 1956 and remember a bit of a party going on,” says Eric, who is now the longest-serving resident. He also has another reason to celebrate this year; he will turn 80 on May 20 and the home will throw a second party for him and his family and friends.
“This is a really good home to me and I have many friends over the years,” adds Eric who has also enjoyed exchanged holiday visits to other Cheshire Homes.
“Everyone is so friendly; I couldn’t ask for more.”