Norwich women’s legacy for city charity

Members of the Wednesday Club/BUILD charity in Norwich with Elizabeth Marais-Taylor’s daughters Mari

Members of the Wednesday Club/BUILD charity in Norwich with Elizabeth Marais-Taylor’s daughters Marilyn, on the right, and her sister Angela, presenting a cheque to Victor Hall, aged 83, an original member. Elizabeth left them £5000 in her will and a further £620 was given by family and friends at her funeral. Photo: Alan Howard. - Credit: Archant

A woman who dedicated her life to helping people with learning disabilities has left them a special legacy.

The inspirational Elizabeth Marais-Taylor MBE, who continues to make Wednesday a special day for so

The inspirational Elizabeth Marais-Taylor MBE, who continues to make Wednesday a special day for so many people, even after her death. - Credit: Archant

Elizabeth Marais-Taylor, pictured inset, who died at the age of 91, gave £5,000 in her will to the Wednesday Club – which she started in Norwich nearly 50 years ago.

The charity, now called BUILD, will spend the money on updating its disco and helping to improve IT training.

The wartime firefighter, who became a head teacher, founded the club, based at the United Reformed Church in Princes Street, in the 1960s and continued to make Wednesdays a special day for thousands of Norwich people over the years.

The money was handed over to Victor Hall, now aged 83 and an original member of the club, by Elizabeth's daughters, Marilyn and Angela. A further £620 was given by family and friends at a collection following her funeral.

'She was very musical, a talented player of piano and piano accordion, and was passionate about education, being a head teacher,' said Marilyn. BUILD is an independent charity providing social, leisure and learning opportunities to people with sensory, physical or learning disabilities.

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• Elizabeth's legacy of kindness will live on

She was a remarkable woman who made Wednesdays a special day for thousands of Norfolk people over the years... and even after her death she still is.

Her name was Elizabeth Marais-Taylor MBE, who dedicated her life to making the world a better place for those with learning difficulties in a host of different ways.

Elizabeth died at the age of 91 in May and now £5,000 she left in her will has been presented to members of the much-loved Wednesday Club which she started at the Princes Street United Reformed Church in Norwich half a century ago.

The charity is now called BUILD and the money was handed over to Victor Hall, now aged 83 and an original member of the club, by Elizabeth's daughters, Marilyn, on the right, and Angela. A further £620 was given by family and friends at a collection following her funeral.

The money will be spent updating their disco and helping to improve IT training for members. 'She was very musical, a talented player of piano and piano accordion, and was passionate about education, being a headteacher,' said daughter Marilyn.

Elizabeth achieved so much during her eventful life although she nearly lost it during the Second World War but survived... thanks to her 'poor sense of direction.'

Born Elizabeth Farnham, she moved to Norwich in 1930 when her father Frank was appointed manager of the new Thomas Cook branch in London Street. She went to Lonsdale House School leaving in 1940 to join Norwich Union.

'At the time there was a very strict dress code, stockings had to be worn in the very hottest weather, female employees were not permitted to wear make-up, skirts had to be a determined length and sleeves had to cover arms,' she told the WW2 People's War Archive gathered by the BBC in 2004.

'I wasn't happy about this. I rebelled and walked out. On my way home wondering how I would explain my actions to my father I saw a notice outside the fire station in Bethel Street, stating firewomen required. I went in and signed up,' said Elizabeth, who was also an accomplished writer and poet.

Still living at home in The Avenues with her parents, she served with the fire brigade during the 1942 blitz which caused appalling death and destruction across the city. 'It seemed as if the whole of Norwich was on fire,' she recalled.

She became a driver covering the whole region and in 1944 when she was instructed to take an officer to where two Liberators had collided at Henham near Southwold. Her 'poor sense of direction' ended up saving her life. 'We got lost on the way but when almost reaching our destination there was a tremendous explosion ahead. The scene that met us on our arrival will live in my memory forever.'

The bombs on the aircraft had killed not only the airmen but all the civil defence workers who had arrived at the scene.

There is a memorial to all those who died on that fateful March day in 1944. 'Sometimes I remind my daughters that they only exist because I got lost, and ultimately my future career with people with learning difficulties only came about because I lost my way,' wrote Elizabeth.

After the war she moved to Nottingham with her partner Bernard. They had two daughters. She trained as a special needs teacher moving back to Norwich in 1958 getting a job running Little Plumstead Hospital School for children and adults. She married social worker and poet Michael Marais in 1960.

Elizabeth was involved with the planning and building of the purpose-built Kevill-Davies junior and senior school on the Plumstead Hospital site and became its first head.

During the 1960s she founded the Wednesday Club, the forerunner of the charity BUILD, which is still based at the United Reformed Church. It became affiliated to the National Federation of Gateway Clubs and she served on both its executive and training committees.

Her expertise was also sought as an external examiner for the Diploma of Mentally Handicapped Adults at Norwich City College, a lecturer at Norwich Teacher Training College, an instructor for Mencap in music and drama... and an adjudicator for courses set up for play leaders and care assistants.

Elizabeth and Michael combined their expertise in their book Lives Worth Living – the Right of all the Handicapped. Then, in 1980, the year she accepted her MBE, her beloved Michael died at the age of 57.

As a result of a change in national policy the Kevill-Davies School was closed in 1984 and she was asked to develop a new course for adults with learning difficulties at Great Yarmouth College of Further Education.

In 1987 Elizabeth married Leslie Taylor and together they ran The Heartsease Gateway Club and activities at Sprowston Adult Training Centre.

She died at Heron Lodge Nursing Home at Wroxham last May, two weeks before her 92nd birthday, leaving her husband, daughters, a grandchild and two great-grandchildren.