Story 26

I shall never cease to be grateful

I have been involved with Heatherley in Sussex for almost 60 years and feel so attached to the home. Residents and staff may change but the place remains the same and is very dear to my heart.

Let’s go back to the beginning. In 1957 Leonard Cheshire came to the bank, which my father, John Handscomb, managed, to enquire whether they could lend him money for the start of his next home. Daddy was so impressed with what Leonard told him that he joined the Cheshire Foundation and became its treasurer.

My father was able to bring about contact between Leonard Cheshire and a young doctor that we knew, Ginger Farrell. Ginger had found himself unable to practise because of multiple sclerosis. He had benefited from a holiday in a Cheshire Home and had assisted there with his medical knowledge. His wife, Pam, had set about working for a home locally. At this point my mother Kay was drawn in too. Eventually they found Heatherley which was on the market for £5,000, a large amount of money at that time.

There were years of intense activity, raising both interest and funds, before the first 12 residents moved in. I can remember riding in Donkey Derbies and helping at innumerable fetes. There were also a couple of visits to our home by Leonard Cheshire to see how things were progressing.

Of course, care was all so different back then. When Heatherley opened, there were few paid staff members, as we could not afford them, so many tasks were done by volunteers. My mother did the catering when the home first opened. Residents were referred to as ‘the family’. They slept four to a bedroom and some we carried upstairs. What would the Care Quality Commission make of that now?

After doing my A-levels and before training as a physiotherapist I worked for a few months as a care assistant. I became so fond of our residents that on qualifying it was the one place I wanted to practise. I was in the physio department for a year before my sons started to arrive, but I continued to attend fetes and stayed in touch with the service.

In 1986 I returned as a physiotherapist and since retiring I’ve come back as a volunteer, doing the flowers once a week. Few people actually leave Heatherley; such is its hold on us.

My husband was in and out of hospital for over 12 years and one of the things that kept me going through those times and after his death was the love we share at Heatherley. People care for one another and I shall never cease to be grateful that it has been such a huge part of my life.

Outsiders might think that a home for people with a variety of disabilities must be a depressing place; nothing could be further from the truth. Our residents are a perfect example of living life to the full. There is never a day that I leave there not feeling better than when I arrived.

Find out more about Sue’s experiences of Heatherley.

Our residents are a perfect example of living life to the full. There is never a day that I leave there not feeling better than when I arrived.