Leonard Cheshire home in East Carleton celebrates 50 years

A care home which helped revolutionise the way people with disabilities were treated in Norfolk is about to celebrate its 50th birthday.

Before the Leonard Cheshire Disability home opened its doors in September 1961 in the rural village of East Carleton, near Wymondham, many disabled people were housed in geriatric hospital wards or placed in mental health institutions.

But at the new facility, called The Grove, they were finally able to enjoy the dignity of their own space surrounded by a strong band of volunteers willing to provide the specialist and individual care the NHS had yet to address.

From housing a mere six residents, The Grove now provides rooms for 31 people and continues to campaign for improved living standards for all people with disabilities - most recently standing-up against proposed changes to the Disability Living Allowance.

To mark its golden jubilee, the home will be throwing open its doors to the public, as well as past and present staff and volunteers, for a special fete on September 4 when visitors can tour its facilities which have only been able to grow over the decades thanks to the continued generosity of the people of Norfolk.

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Robert Clifton, whose father Frederick was on The Grove's original management committee and went on to become chairman himself in 1969, said: 'For Leonard Cheshire it was the individual who mattered and the individual, however disabled, still has a contribution to make. This home is about bringing that quality out so whatever people can do they are given the encouragement to do it.'

Late Group Captain Lord Leonard Cheshire of Woodhall was the most decorated bomber pilot of the Second World War having flown 100 bombing missions and commanded the famous 617 Squadron, the Dambusters.

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The ace, who was presented with the Victoria Cross and later went on to marry fellow charity founder Sue Ryder, was living alone in an isolated mansion in Hampshire in 1948 when he offered to care for a local man who was terminally ill and had nowhere to go.

He soon found others in need of help which led to a chain of homes being opened across the country and the beginnings of a worldwide organisation with the aim of developing services for disabled people.

David Barrett, volunteer co-ordinator at The Grove, said: 'There was a chap called Walter Allman and he went and saw Leonard Cheshire give a speech at Hopton holiday camp and was so moved by what he had said that he decided to try and do something for the disabled in Norfolk.

'Back then in 1958, the NHS had only been running for 10 years and no-one knew what to do with disabled people. He went around some Norfolk hospitals and was horrified to see young disabled people dumped in corridors and rooms in geriatric wards. He got in touch with Group Captain Cheshire and formed a committee to raise funds for a home in Norfolk.'

In April 1961, it was announced that The Grove, which had been used as a rest centre by Laurence Scott and Electromotors Ltd of Norwich, would be added to the expanding number of Leonard Cheshire homes after a two year search which had included the inspection of more than 30 potential sites.

The committee bought the building, constructed in 1938, for �10,000 and immediately launched a campaign to find the additional �7,000 needed to equip it and �5,000 to cover its initial running costs, plus �3,000 for a lift.

It opened on September 7, 1961, and Norfolk residents were eager to put their hands in their pockets for the new facility.

Audrey Holland, a former chairman of the management committee who continues to volunteer at the home, said: 'In the early days it was tremendous - it really was a big thing. The opening of this house hit Norfolk like a storm. It was the 'in' charity during those days.'

Early contributors included the Seven Society, from Watton, who raised �110 from jumble sales and carol singing for an extension in 1965. Diss Support Group gave �480 in 1968 for a 120ft ramp and the home's first mini bus was also bought in 1968 for �850 thanks to the proceeds of a donkey derby organised by the Yarmouth Round Table.

Staff have not only worked tirelessly to expand the facilities over the years, which has included two extensions - the latter was opened by Prince Charles in 2001 - and more recently a �25,000 walkway around a large lake in its picturesque grounds, but they have also successfully campaigned to change attitudes towards disabled people.

Today's campaign is focused on battling government cuts to the Disabled Living Allowance which will see the mobility component scrapped for those living in residential care.

Mr Barrett said: 'The government thinks we can absorb the cost or the council can fund it. The council has not got the money and we cannot afford it. Some of our residents have electrically propelled wheelchairs and it could affect the funding of those too.'

Today running costs at the home are approaching �1,000 a week. Most places at The Grove are funded by the state but money and volunteer efforts are still needed to maintain the facilities and provide activities for residents.

But staff say the future for the home looks bright thanks to the continued support from charitable trusts and dogged fundraisers across the county.

The Grove's Golden Jubilee Fete will take place on September 4, between 2pm and 4.30pm. As well as games and children's activities, the East Norfolk Militia will be putting on a display and a collection of classic vehicles will also be on show.

Entrance is free, but car parking will cost �3.

For more information on Leonard Cheshire Disability, visit www.lcdisability.org

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