Jennifer's Farewell Blog

This will be my last blog with SAtA, I thought I had been here 9 years but I have realised I have been here for 10 years. I first started at SAtA in August 2010, as Community Connection Worker. In my time at SAtA I have taken on many different roles, with my last role being Advocacy Assistant and working on the Hidden Lives Remembered Project. I am now moving on to take up a new role as Heritage Project Assistant at CASBA on their “Education is Special” project.

I owe a lot to SAtA, I am the person I am today because of SAtA. I left Rathbone College, a special college, and I was not a confident person, very quiet and shy. I was nervous going to meetings with professionals and even nervous talking to my colleagues. But 10 years on my skills and confidence have grown, I can quite happily stand in a room full of people and do a presentation, can plan meetings and can attend meetings on my own, like when I was working on the Peer Visitor Project. I have also gained skills in interviewing people.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my time working on the Hidden Lives Remembered project, enabling people’s stories of Middlefield Hospital and Hampton Manor to be heard and always be remembered. I love history; the history of buildings, areas in Birmingham, transport (mainly steam trains and Heritage railways!) I was quite surprised with myself that I did not know about institutions and the history of institutions, because it is part of our Learning Disability history.

We are coming to the end of the project now and are planning for the final exhibition; this will be in three stages. There will be a Middlefield Hospital focused exhibition at Knowle, a Hampton Manor focused exhibition at Hampton Manor itself, and then both Middlefield and Hampton Manor exhibition together at The Core Library in Solihull. Please see the end of the blog for more details :)

So much has been achieved throughout the project, and it does not seem like 5 minutes since it first started, it has gone so fast. I think I will finish my final blog with highlights from the project, as there are so many achievements and events over the last year and a half I could probably write a book. :)

I remember early on Claire and I had a meeting with the ladies at Dassett Road who lived at Hampton Manor. Afterwards, we decided to do a walk-through of where Middlefield would have been. We walked down to the Cricket Club where the residents of Middlefield often went then down to Downing Close where Middlefield was. This really hit me. I have been to Downing Close many times on Peer Visits but I never registered or associated Downing Close with Middlefield. I reflected on the site, where Middlefield was and how the residents would have felt and I felt sad that somewhere where I was standing was an institution for people with disabilities and our service users that we work with today could possibly have been living there if it still existed. We also went to Dorridge Grove, where Middlefield was first established, it is a small home and I wondered if the residents there were aware of the history of the house.

Jennifer outside Dorridge Grove

We have had various training throughout our time on the project but one that stands out for me is the Oral History training with Jan Walmsley. It was a great day and I learnt so much information and built up my interview skills. When I look at interviews throughout the project, I notice how much my interview skills have developed. It is difficult for me sometimes because I cannot always hear what people are saying. Other skills I have learnt over the course of the project is going to the archives and knowing how to get archive information, writing blogs.

Jan Walmsley’s Oral History Training session

Jan Walmsley’s Oral History Training session

We went to Knowle and had a look at the Middlefield Foundation Stone and I did a video about my feelings seeing the stone and my general reflection on Middlefield. I found it quite upsetting and surprising that you could see that they had changed the name from Middlefield Asylum to Middlefield Hospital. Seeing the word asylum really upsets me because it is not a very nice word and most people with disabilities do have a mental health issue but there is not a need for the word asylum or even institution, as if we have the plague.

We had our launch event in November 2018 and that was a great success and so nice to see everyone that have helped us to get the project set up, especially Joe from CASBA, the social history group but thank you to everyone that supported the Launch. It was a great day Kathy, Claire and I did a speech and Keith did a prayer to remember those that are not with us.

Launch Event November 2018

We took a group of our volunteers to Warwickshire County Record Office. We were shown around the archives and the strongroom. We were had a look at different documents from Middlefield, such as building plans and newspaper cuttings. We have been to the Warwickshire Archives a few times since and have found lots of information that has been useful to the project; we have seen pictures back in the Victorian era with the classrooms and sports in the gardens and seen how the wards looked.

There is a programme on the TV at the moment called The Great Hotel Escape. It follows owners around the country that are refurbishing old manor homes into hotels. There are episodes that feature Hampton Manor, and although their history and information about the hotel is mainly based on Sir Robert Peel, they do show pictures of what Hampton Manor was like before it got turned into the hotel. I think it is important that guests going there should know the full history and not part of the history.

It was lovely taking some of the former residents back to Hampton Manor, I myself was excited to be going to Hampton Manor, I was thinking is this wrong being so excited about a place that was an institution. From the start of the project, I have been able to visualise Middlefield from the pictures, the newsletter cuttings, people’s stories and the plans, but I had never been able to visualise Hampton Manor. Now when people tell their story about Hampton Manor I can visualise what is being talked about.

Jennifer and Pauline having a laugh about the ghosts at Hampton Manor

One of my achievements, if that the right word to use, was when Claire and I went to interview some of the people who used to run Hampton Manor. I felt nervous about meeting them but I remained professional and got a good interview. Their view seemed to be that they wanted to protect the ladies for their own good. My view is that even if you have a Learning Disability and in some cases, other disabilities, if you are not given any independence then you will never know how to look after yourself and how to keep safe when out and about.

Hidden Lives Remembered project has always been about remembering peoples stories from Middlefield and Hampton Manor; during our halfway exhibition, we had a memory tree. This was where staff, residents and anyone else could write or draw on a label their own memories of Middlefield and Hampton Manor, and also remember those that are no longer with us.

The Memory Tree at the mid-project Exhibition

We did art workshops at Forest Oak School, with Craig from Painty. Claire and I did a presentation about our project, and asked the students what their thoughts were. Craig then also explained the art activity that we were going to do that week, it was a really great experience being in the school and in a way teaching the pupils history and art. At the end of the sessions, we did an exhibition at the school, so that they could see their work before they finished for the summer holidays.

Art Workshops at Forest Oak School

Claire, Myself, and our Steering Group members went to Milton Keynes for the Open University Social History of Learning Disability Conference, we got chosen to do a presentation. The theme this year was “Belonging and Not Belonging”. It was so lovely to hear kind words from everyone about our presentation, especially for our volunteers. It gave them so much confidence, on top of what they have already built throughout the project.

Claire, myself, Kathy and Colom at the OU SHLD Conference

There is so much I can say there have been many great achievements and lots of skills that I have learnt, big thank you to Claire for all her support throughout the project it has been lovely working with you.

We will be having a Middlefield based exhibition at Knowle Parish Centre on: Monday 28th October 2019 till Wednesday 30th October 2019 11am-4pm

Hampton Manor Exhibition Tuesday 5th November till Thursday 7th November 2019 11am-4pm

Core Exhibition,Middlefield and Hampton Manor- library opening hours. Saturday 9th November 2019 till Friday 29th November 2019

I would like to thank everyone that we have worked with over the last year and a half and hope to see you all soon at the celebration event.