Several years have passed since I sat in the Lee Junior school’s entrance hall waiting to interview the then headteacher, Mary Charlton. This year, despite having been myself headteacher of three different schools, I was once again sitting in the same entrance hall waiting to meet the new head and feeling as nervous when I was a child summoned to the head’s office. Fortunately the wait was short and I was soon at ease sitting with Darren Nickerson who has been in post since the summer of 2017.
Darren, I discovered, was no stranger to the world of headships. His father, mother, grandparents and uncles had all been headteachers in their day and his wife, Sonia whom he met and married in Portsmouth, is also a headteacher. With both of them working full time in such demanding jobs I wondered if they’d have time for anything else and was surprised to learn that they have no fewer than five children. The two oldest children are already on their chosen career paths. Jess (22) is currently an apprentice with Jaguar/Landrover and Sophie (20) is studying drama at Chichester University. The others, Danny (15), Rosie (12 and Charlotte (9) are still at school. How many will eventually become headteachers remains to be seen!
Darren was born in Leicester and has a younger sister, Marie. As soon as Leicester was mentioned I remembered savouring the aroma from the Fox’s Glacier Mint factory on visits there in my student days. Having teachers as parents, Darren’s brief stay in the city was followed by moves to Cumbria, Oxfordshire and Berkshire before he finally enrolled at Brighton University to study for his B.Ed. degree.
His subsequent career involved many more moves. After his first two years at Benfield Primary School in Portslade, Brighton, he joined the VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) and spent the next two years at a teachers’ training college in Tanzania teaching English. After some supply teaching on his return he taught in a number of schools including Wimborne Juniors as leader of Information Technology and Court Lane Juniors in Cosham as Year 6 leader. He was then appointed Deputy Head at Paulsgrove Primary School with responsibility for lesson planning and aspects of behaviour. After two more deputy headships at Stanmore and Berrywood schools he was finally appointed to his present headship.
His aims at Lee are clearly centred on the children and the skills and knowledge they will need for the next stage of their education. He wants the school to be a vibrant and exciting place for children to learn and develop. When I asked what his one priority would be if he were Secretary of State for Education he was quick to mention increased funding comparable with the leading countries on the international table who receive far more than British schools.
From everything I saw the school already looked to be a safe, exciting and vibrant environment for children to learn and grow. Like most heads, Darren, is clearly working hard to achieve his aims. So what does he do to unwind at the end of the day? ‘Walk my cocker spaniel, Hetty’ (named after Hetty Feather in the books by Jacqueline Wilson) ‘and read,’ he told me. He reads widely though he mentioned the in passing the Morse’ books by Colin Dexter and anyone who likes Morse has my vote! I wish him well and feel certain that the school is in more than capable hands.
I’ve long had a soft spot for Joan Titheridge, partly because she always greets me with ‘Hello young man’ whenever she passes me in church. Being quarter of a century older than I am, I imagine that’s how she sees me. Sitting in her top floor flat, talking over a cup of coffee and looking at the cards including one from the Queen, it was hard to believe that WW1 was still in progress when, on May 5th, 1918, Joan was born in Bournemouth where her mother was staying with her sister while her father was on active service. When I asked what he did for a living she thought for a moment and said, ‘Oh he was a Jack of all trades and master of none.’ She remembered the family always being hard up except when he won on the horses. He was, in truth, more than an itinerant gambler and made a success of whatever he worked at as well serving in both World Wars. During her childhood when Joan was a weekly border at a school in Bournemouth, he worked as a fruit and poultry farmer in the New Forest, and afterwards moved to Portsmouth where he ran a fruiterer’s shop.
When I asked Joan about her earliest memory, she told me it was moving from the New Forest and seeing Gosport Creek for the first time. The oldest of three siblings, she spent most of her childhood in the local area and worked as an ENT nurse. She met her husband, Peter, on the beach and during their courtship, remembers him asking, ‘May I kiss you?’ I didn’t think to ask what she replied but I imagine it was yes since, with her father’s permission, they were married in Alverstoke on April 10th, 1939. Peter worked as a Tailor’s Cutter and Joan recalls having no furniture for their first home in Portsmouth. Very much against her mother’s wishes, they bought what they needed on Hire Purchase. She clearly loved him and recalled happy memories of cycling together on the Isle of Wight. During the Second World War Peter served in the Royal Navy and was stationed in various places including Belfast where Joan visited him.
They eventually moved to Manor Way where they lived for 30 years and had three children, Linda, Andrew and Tim. Wanting something to do after bringing them up, Joan found a job in Tudors clothes shop in Lee (now Panache) where she thoroughly enjoyed herself for the next 20 years. She now has 5 grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren. Reluctantly she admits that her latter years haven’t been easy. Peter died in 2010 and, tragically, her daughter Linda died four years later from cancer. Since then Joan has developed macular degeneration and broken more bones than she cares to remember but no one would know it from her cheerful outlook. She still walks every day, socialises with her neighbours, reads with a magnifying machine and enjoys listening to recordings from Talking Books every week.
I should like to have stayed chatting for longer but three of her neighbours had arranged to take her out for lunch as a late birthday present. Before I left, however, I asked what toys she played with as a child and what she regarded as the secret to her longevity. She had some difficulty in remembering her toys but eventually recalled having a cardboard box containing some pull-along dolls attached to strings. As to the secret of longevity, her answer was immediate. ‘Living in a second floor flat,’ she said, ‘and having to descend and climb 40 steps every day. As someone who lives in a ground floor flat, perhaps I should consider moving up to the top floor!
Although Remembrance Sunday is still month’s ahead, I am writing about it early for a particular reason – on Remembrance Sunday at 9.30am there will be a special commemoration service for the whole Lee community at St Faith’s Church. At this service we will be remembering the 100th anniversary of the First World War’s ending, followed by a parade to the two war memorials in Lee-on-the-Solent, with
Acts of Remembrance at both the Town and Fleet Air Arm Memorials at 11 am, the moment when, exactly 100 years earlier, World War One ended.
During the service at St Faith’s we shall be telling the stories of some of the men of Lee who died and we are eager to hear from anyone with a story or information they could share with us about those whose names are recorded on the town war memorial. If you are related to any of these people, please get in touch. You can find out more about them at www.stfaithslee.org.uk/world-war-one or via the church website www.stfaithslee.org.uk. Please contact the church (details below) or our vicar (firstname.lastname@example.org) and, if you can, join us on the day with your family.
When I remember the First Word War I recall my grandfather who was wounded and left in No Man’s Land for three days. He was later honourably discharged with his future as a Master Builder abruptly ended. He spent the rest of his days weaving baskets from withies soaked in a bath tub which stood in the garden. Apart from his baskets, he still found the time to make a child-sized, wickerwork armchair for me.
St. Faith’s church has a special connection with the Great War through three men after whom the original wooden Lowry Hut opposite the Library was named. William and Annie Lowry were living in Lee with their family when war broke out. Their three sons, Alfred (known as Eric), Cyril (known as Patrick) and William (known as Harper) were to serve and give their lives.
Captain/Acting Lieutenant Colonel A.E.E. Lowry D.S.O., M.C. (Eric) was already serving with The West Yorkshire (Prince of Wales Own) Regiment when he was called for active service on the Western Front. He was killed on September 23rd 1918 aged 25 and is buried in Northern France at La Targette cemetery, Neuville-St. Vaast.
Lieutenant/Acting Captain C.J.P. Lowry (Patrick) was in the same regiment as his brother and, after being wounded and hospitalised twice, joined the 2nd Battalion under Eric’s command. He was killed in action reportedly within sight of his brother on March 25th aged 20. His body was never recovered but his name is recorded on the Pozieres Memorial on the road from Albert to Bapaume.
Second Lieutenant W.A.H. Lowry (Harper) was attached to the 14th Battalion, the King George’s Own Ferozepore Sikhs and posted to Gallipoli. He was killed at the Third battle of Krithia on June 4th, 1915 aged 25. Like Patrick his body was never found. His name is recorded on the Helles Memorial, Gallipoli. All three brother’s names are written on the Lee war memorial (see photo).
With so many lives lost and families affected, this years’ Remembrance Sunday gives us the chance to pay our tributes. Please let us know about your own memories of a relative whose name is recorded on the town war memorial and join us on the day with your family if you can. We would love to hear from you. With your help we hope to make this an especially memorable Remembrance Sunday.
As Dilys Targout and the work she does at the Warren Residential Lodge is the subject of this month’s article, I thought it might help if I begin by explaining who is in the photograph. Dilys is wearing the white waistcoat. George Fisher is sitting next to her and the two people standing behind them are Kim Jackson, Registered Manager at the Warren and Natalie Stanbrook, her Personal Assistant.
George, a lively 95-year-old Brummie, was a regular at St. Faith’s until ill-health prevented him from living independently. Being fond of his company, I began visiting him each week at the Warren on the same day that Dilys came to run a physical exercise and quiz session for the residents which George and I would sometimes attend. I soon began to enjoy the sessions as much as the residents and wanted to know more about Dilys and how she became involved with the work. Sensing the opportunity for an article, I asked if she’d be willing to give me some time which, with Kim’s kind permission and Natalie’s enthusiastic support, was granted.
On a snowy day last March I turned up to attend the session along with George and a dozen other residents in the spacious, brightly-lit lounge where the sessions are held. Dilys began as always with the exercises. Arms and legs were stretched, bent, raised, lowered and rotated; fingers and toes opened and clenched and a ball slowly manoeuvred with the hands up and down the upper limbs. All but two joined in and I understood why they didn’t. By the finish I felt more exhausted than the others.
The quiz was equally taxing and consisted of completing proverbs (e.g. Many hands make..? Nothing ventured …?). Most of the residents called out the answers long before I did. These were followed by the ‘Who, Why, What, How and Which’ questions (e.g. Who in invented radio…? Why is a mocking bird so called…?) and, once again, the residents put me to shame.
After the session which lasts for an hour and a half I spent time with Dilys to find out a little more about her and her involvement with the Warren. Having had a father who was a nurse in the R.A.F. and a mother in the W.R.A.F., it was not surprising to learn that Dilys had trained as a nurse and had married a nurse, Sech, a Turkish Cypriot who trained in Britain and stayed after meeting Dilys. It was when Dilys retired after 42 year’s service at the age of 60 that she applied to work in residential homes and, after working in several places at first, carried on the working at the Warren. Her mantra is ‘to value everyone as an individual’ and from all I saw she certainly does.
None of us knows what the future holds but, if I end up needing residential care, I hope there will be someone like Dilys there who not only keeps my body and mind active but also values me as an individual. It’s good to know that, as at the Warren, in residential homes at Lee and elsewhere, people like Dilys exist to keep us going. And should I, in my dotage, have to compete with someone like George, contorting my body and answering questions, I hope I’ll improve on my present woeful performance.
One of my father’s favourite sayings was ‘An ounce of help is worth a pound of pity’ and sometimes help can be given by someone simply prepared to listen. For the church, such practical service might mean getting out into the community and offering help where it’s needed. Last year I wrote about the Reverend Brian Cox who served as a street pastor in Southampton during the midnight hours. For Peter and Elayne Halsey, the need to get the church out on the street led them to setting up Gosport’s Centrepeace hub, part of The Grovelands Trust, a small family charity.
At the suggestion of Gaynam Lock, one of St. Faith’s choir members and a Centrepeace volunteer, I went to meet Peter and Elayne at the charity’s premises in Gosport High Street and asked how they came to set up Centrepeace. In 2011, Peter, I learned, was living in Bristol and Elayne in Surrey. Both had lost their partners with cancer and were attending the Easter Spring Festival, an annual Christian gathering being held in Minehead. Whilst there, Peter asked for prayer to meet a companion and twenty minutes later met Elayne at the first seminar! They wasted no time and were married in the August of the same year. Both had a love of the sea and, choosing a half-way point between Bristol and Surrey, they settled in Gosport.
As a committed Christian, Peter had long felt the need to get the church out into the community. Rents for city centre premises in Bristol had been prohibitively high but in Gosport premises costs were cheaper, thus his dream could be realised. In December, 2013, Peter and Elayne acquired the keys of 30 High Street, Gosport and the Centrepeace hub was established. Advertising itself as ‘A safe place for you to be listened to and to find restoration and hope for the future’, its purpose is summed up in the acronym H.O.P.E (Helping Other Possibilities Emerge). The current opening times are on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10 am – 2 pm or on Saturday mornings by appointment only (telephone 07756 945 660).
During opening times people in what Peter describes as ‘a dark or difficult place’ can drop in to talk to a volunteer in confidence and get things off their chest in a safe, non-judgemental setting. Clients might be suffering from loneliness, bereavement, low self esteem, addictions, depression, despair or anything they would like to talk about to someone prepared to listen. Often just talking is all that’s needed though possible alternative perspectives might be offered based on Christian principles or referrals made to specialist agencies for specific needs. Clients can meet with others like them to share concerns or receive individual help in private. The volunteers mainly come from local churches though some have become volunteers after seeking help themselves. The service is completely free of charge.
I found the atmosphere to be informal, cosy, open and friendly and the volunteers cheerful and welcoming. On the day I visited there were three or four clients enjoying coffee and chocolate biscuits around a small table all clearly pleased to be there. Three volunteers were present, Peter (seen on the right in the photo, Elayne on the left and Sylvie, the Logos church pastor’s wife, in the middle). I was more than impressed by all that I saw and can easily imagine going there for help myself should the need arise. So, if you or anyone you know is bottling something up and needs a friendly, listening ear and the hope or chance of escaping from a dark or difficult situation, Centrepeace might be the place to visit. You can always telephone or simply drop in. You are sure to find a warm welcome and, after all, there’s nothing to lose and, possibly, much to gain.
Desperate to write about a thrilling helicopter ride I’d received as a birthday present from my family, I needed a link with St Faith’s and the Community to justify the indulgence. Recalling the climb heavenwards, ‘Nearer my God to Thee’ came to mind as possible link but I finally decided on justifying both church and community by including a photo of St Faith’s with a brief word about two people who work for Phoenix Helicopters. With the links made I returned to the booking office and asked Alex Strassel, the Student Liaison Officer, if I could interview the pilot. I believed the pilot would remember the journey as the woman flying with us was proposed to mid-flight by her partner! Alex kindly agreed and weeks later I was back at the airfield interviewing the pilot and enjoying an unexpected free flight as a bonus.
With another tenuous link to our vicar Paul Chamberlain, the pilot Toby Chamberlain (no relation) left Northampton University in 2002 and took a few temporary jobs before succumbing to his ‘romantic fascination’ with flying. In 2008, following in the footsteps of his father, a commercial aircraft pilot, Toby learned to fly helicopters. After training for 45 hours to get his private pilot’s licence he went on to qualify as a commercial pilot and, subsequently, as a pilot-trainer. He now spends most of his time training helicopter pilots at Blackbush and flies to Lee once a month for the pleasure flights. A quiet, friendly and totally unassuming man, he clearly loves his work.
Since pictures speak louder than words I shall say no more in the hope of leaving space for as many photos as the editor will allow. Suffice to say I’ve discovered an enterprise in Lee that gives pleasure to many. If you want to get closer to heaven or give someone a special treat, then go to Phoenix Helicopters, meet Alex and you might be lucky enough to fly next to Toby and see St Faith’s church in a new light. As for me, I now want to swap my car for a helicopter. It’s more fun than driving and Toby makes it look easy. All you have to do is play with a joystick!
One can never be sure what will happen in the congregation at a church service. It was during passing the peace at St Peter’s Church, Belsize Park, London, that Mary Kells noticed a handsome young man with ‘piercing blue eyes’. They passed the peace and immediately clicked! The handsome young man, Alastair, clearly equally stricken, invited her back to his house for supper and eventually married her.
The Rev. Dr. Mary Kells is our new curate at St Faith’s. Not wanting to miss an opportunity I collared her over coffee after the 9.30 service on her first day at our church and fixed up a time to meet. On the following Friday I knocked on the door of the house and spent a thoroughly enjoyable hour with her and Alastair learning about their lives together and Mary’s long, winding path to becoming ordained.
Mary grew up with three older sisters in Cookstown, County Tyrone. She attended the primary school where her mother taught which she remembers as a mixed blessing! Her father had served in the RAF maintaining aircraft during WW2. Suffering from ill-health he left the RAF and worked as a postman along with various other jobs. Mary spoke fondly about her memories of listening to his captivating stories. Later, at Cookstown High School she developed a passion for English and Irish literature which has lasted to the present day.
From school Mary went to St. Andrew’s University, gained a degree in Social Anthropology and moved to London. After a year of temping she enrolled at the LSE and began studying for a Ph.D whist working in the voluntary sector with disadvantaged groups. During this time she became Director of the Kensington and Chelsea Advocacy Alliance representing vulnerable people to the authorities. At St. Peter’s Church she met Alastair and married him in 2001.
Alastair had worked as volunteer for people with mental health problems. He later trained for the ministry, a calling Mary had been drawn to earlier but had so far resisted. After his ordination they moved to Enfield and brought up their only son, Aidan. Whilst there Mary developed a new interest in gardening and gained the RHS Certificate and a Diploma in Garden Design. Alastair subsequently joined the navy as a chaplain. On moving to Portsmouth, Mary set up a business in Garden Design and secured various contracts including one designing the gardens at Gunwharf Quays.
After periods in Gibraltar and Cornwall, Mary, ever eager to try new things, wondered what to do next! Alastair, remembering she’d once expressed an interest in becoming a minister, suggested she, too, should be ordained. After a week of prayer it became clear that this was to be her calling. She trained at Ripon College, Cuddeston, was ordained in 2017 and is now studying for a master’s degree in applied theology!
For me it had been a pleasure being in their company and listening to all they had achieved. Before leaving I asked what Mary would take as a castaway on a desert island along with Shakespeare and the Bible. Her choices were the poetry collection, ‘Daddy, Daddy’ by the Irish poet Paul Durkan and a recording of ‘All You Have Is Your Soul’ sung by Tracy Chapman. I made a mental note to find out more about both. Meanwhile I shall look forward to her time at St Faith’s while Alastair sails the seven seas as chaplain to the crew of the new aircraft carrier, Queen Elizabeth. With such a talented and amazing couple, I’m sure St Faith’s will be in for an interesting time. As for passing the peace, I shall never think of it in quite the same way again!
Often one thing leads to another. Last autumn I started talking to a woman outside the Co-op in Lee who was handing out leaflets advertising The Haven Artists’ annual exhibition at St Faith’s. The person in question was Clare Selerie who runs the group. Keen to know more I went to the exhibition and met up again with Clare and the group’s tutor artist, Rachel Baylis. During our conversations I was invited to their next monthly session at Catisfield Memorial Hall.
As soon as I arrived, Clare met me at the door and led me into the spacious, sunlit hall where a dozen or so artists were sitting at tables arranged in a circle. The theme for the day was ‘birds’ and everyone was already busy painting and sketching to a relaxing recording of birdsong playing in the background. During the ‘warm-up’ led by Rachel, the artists moved at intervals from one table to the next in order study pictures of different birds before settling down to concentrate on painting a bird of their choice, some in water colours and others in acrylics. While I stood taking it all in I was offered a cup of tea and invited to walk around and chat to the artists.
Not having met any of them before, I felt slightly nervous wondering where to start but everyone was happy to talk and I quickly felt at ease wishing I had more time to chat with everyone there. As it was I only managed to speak to a few of them. The first was Caroline whom I’d chosen purposely having been told that, like me, she was here for the first time. She had been at the St. Faith’s exhibition organising an unconnected event and, after talking to the artists, had decided to join the group.
From Caroline I moved on to Mike aged 84, the only person there not painting birds. He was composing a water colour from two articles he’d brought from home, a plant in a lovely art nouveau vase and a model warthog – ‘beauty and the beast’ as he described them! Growing in confidence I approached others: Hazel who’d heard about the group from a friend and was now in the process of converting her garage into a studio and Wendy, who enjoyed the structured format and had been with the group for five years. Since joining she’d been inspired to enrol on a course at Fareham College and was hoping, one day, to study art at university. I talked to Carole who’d been coming for three years just because she loved art, Olivia (one of the founder members) and Dorothy who’d joined after an earlier St. Faiths’ exhibition. They all enjoyed the social interaction and the chance to learn from each other.
Finally I talked once more with the leader Clare (in white, far left in the photo) who, after 15 years with the BBC producing Woman’s Hour, had established the group in 2009 with her sister Angela and Rachel, the tutor artist, a graduate in Fine Art from Reading University (wearing a black top, standing to the left of the doorway in the photo). Together they made the perfect team along with Davina, the treasurer, who kindly provided everyone with hot mince pies and drinks mid session!
I’m not surprised that the group is so popular. I felt totally at home almost immediately after arriving. If you would like to know more about them you can visit their website, www.havenartists.co.uk or email email@example.com. The group will be exhibiting from May-July at the Titchfield Haven Visitor Centre and selling their work at very reasonable prices. As for the latest St Faith’s exhibition, not only did they sell over 100 paintings, they also raised £1,200 for their current charity, the Rainbow Centre. That tells you how successful they are. I, for one, shall look forward to their future exhibitions and, who knows, may one day join them.
Dilys and Doug Griffiths are an amazing couple. They met as pupils at school in Ebbw Vale, South Wales, eventually married and have been together for more than 70 years. Over the decades they’ve led Cubs and Brownie groups, learned musical instruments (Doug violin and Dilys guitar – which she also teaches), written science articles for Mature Times and set up the Fareport Talking News which I wrote about in November 2014. More recently Dilys acquired a set of bell plates belonging to HRGB (Handbell Ringers Great Britain) which are on loan for one year provided she arranges a performance within the year. In need of individuals to play the bells, Dilys advertised at St Faith’s for willing participants but without success. She turned to her friends and persuaded three to take part but more people are desperately needed. So I wasn’t surprised when Dilys rang to ask if I’d write an article and plead for help.
I was duly invited to a practise session on the afternoon of my birthday and, in retrospect, I couldn’t have spent a birthday in better company. I arrived as everyone was settling around the table ready to start. In the photograph Dilys is sitting on the right opposite Doug with (clockwise) Virginia, Garnet and Julia sitting between them. None of the three neighbours had any previous knowledge of playing instruments or reading music. If anyone reading this would like to join them, no musical experience is required. Dilys has written the pieces to be learned in an easy-to-follow format and explains what has to be done. Each player takes two of the bell plates and plays their notes on cue.
The bell plate works like a clapper. With a flick of the wrist the striker hits the plate and produces a sound identical to a normal hand bell. The group practise, led by Dilys, began with some simple warm-up exercises such as sounding out the rising and descending scale. After this they clapped the rhythm of the chosen piece and learnt the note values of the crotchets and quavers before attempting a performance. In the first song, We Wish You a Merry Christmas, several mistakes were made (missed entries, wrong rhythms, etc.) but nobody minded and Dilys, with infinite patience, helped anyone in trouble. There was lots of laughter whenever things went awry.
The second song, Hot Cross Buns, was quickly learned and played with great aplomb. At one point an extra hand was needed to play a top G. Being a pianist and having been trained as a music teacher, I offered to help thinking that someone with my vast experience would find it a doddle. How true it is that pride comes before a fall! Everything went swimmingly until it was time for the top G which didn’t arrive! My concentration had woefully lapsed and did more than once as we repeated the piece several times. But in end I got the hang of it and managed to keep up with the rest.
All in all it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience in good company and a great way to spend my birthday afternoon. Everyone helps each other out, there’s plenty of fun to be had and, in the end, there’s the pleasure and satisfaction of learning to perform as a team. The group is desperately in need of others to join them. No musical experience is required, just the willingness to have a go under the ever-patient guidance of Dilys. If you would care to join the group and attempt something new, please contact Dilys Griffiths on 02392 613642 during the daytime or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org I promise that you’ll have a great time and, before the year is out, will be performing at a concert and showing off a new-learned skill. If and when that happens I hope to be invited to hear you play though I might think twice if I’m asked to help out with a top G. I should hate to ruin the performance.
Knowing Peter and Debbie Patterson (All Seasons Fruiterers) had raised more than £26,000 for KIDS and hope to raise £30,000 by the end of this May, I wanted to know more about the charity. So Peter introduced me to Kitty, their enthusiastic fundraiser, and all became clear when she invited me to visit the local centre in Fareham.
KIDS (Kids In Distressed Situations) supports disabled children (from birth to 25 years) and their families, The charity provides a variety of services designed to offer continuing support to parents, siblings and carers and to help children and young people develop the necessary skills to live as independently as possible. Part of a nationwide network, the Fareham and Gosport branch supports around 500 families in the area. On arriving at the Centre I was given a whistle-stop tour which left me reeling with information and filled with amazement at all they do and achieve.
We began the tour in the nursery where carers Kylie and Amy were working on an autumn theme with two toddlers, Jacob and Ola (see photo). Brandon, aged 2, was also present but sleeping peacefully in specially designed pushchair. Initially Jacob and Ola greeted me with suspicious frowns but after admiring their collection of autumn leaves & cones etcetera and enthusing over the apparatus in the room I received smiles, enthusiastic waves and hearty goodbyes as I left (hopefully not because I was leaving!). After the nursery I saw the pre-school area (rated Outstanding by Ofsted) where carers and children were happily engaged eating lunch. Two boys immediately jumped up eager to show me their toy cars.
Next I was shown the garden fitted with astro-turf and play equipment and, after that, a sensory room containing large bubble tubes, a ball pit and other calming fascinations. I then met Carole who runs the Respite Suite comprising a wet room, bathroom, lounge/diner, fully equipped kitchen and common room with a large television and a sensory screen which reacted to sound and touch. There were three colour-coded bedrooms, lilac, blue and green. The green room had an en-suite bathroom and bed-hoist. The suite is designed to accommodate youngsters for short stays, teach them basic skills for independent living and give their families respite. During the day the suite is managed by up to four carers and two on overnight duties.
At the end of the tour I was introduced to the Regional manager, Emma, who described some of the countless services the Centre offers or gives access to including respite for families with children suffering from all kinds of disabilities, residential short breaks for the children, developmental play groups, help for young carers and a host of other services. As well as these, the Centre provides a room where families can share experiences while their children play. There is also a clinic room for families to meet health care professionals and discuss matters in a relaxed and friendly setting that few hospitals are able provide.
Any local parents struggling with disabled children and wanting support can contact the centre by ringing 01329 312312 or visiting www.kids.org.uk/southeast. Having an autistic grandson myself, I can see how much he and his parents could benefit from the centre’s support. Its wide range of services makes it a charity that really deserves to be widely known and used. If you’ve no need to use KIDS they can still be supported in various ways. Contact Kitty for a list of forthcoming fundraising events (marathons, abseiling, parachute humps, etc.) or, if strolling into Lee is more your style, you can always help Peter and Debbie meet their May target of £30,000.