The following article was written by J.H.G. Sunnucks for Mistral Magazine in 1995
1995 saw the 30th anniversary of the opening by Miss Akhurst of the first "sheltered" accommodation on the Island. There must be many varied memories of how it all began, but this is how the writer remembers it.
In about 1957 our much-loved and dedicated Doctor "Jock" Llewellyn Jones became concerned at the plight of so many elderly patients, living alone or with an equally elderly or infirm spouse, who were not ill, but who needed more modern accommodation and access to a "warden" in an emergency.
The problem was investigated, money was raised (about £6,000 by 1965) and many meetings were held chaired by "Jock".
Eventually a trust was set up and it was decided that although the immediate need was for sheltered accommodation, this was not the ONLY need, and conditions might well change in the future. The objects of the Trust were therefore kept as simple as possible., for the benefit of the elderly and/or infirm of Mersea Island.
The first Trustees were Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, Sir Ralph Metcalfe, Dr. Llewellyn Jones, Dr. Jean Hudson, Mrs. Harrison, Mrs. Knight Hall, Mrs. Scott and the writer. A public meeting was held in the British Legion Hall and a large and enthusiastic committee was formed.
West Mersea Urban District Council provided the site for Akhurst Court and lent us £3,000. The name was given in honour of Miss Akhurst who had had the first idea and she it was who opened in 1965 a building with twelve "Flatlets" for old people, and accommodation for a warden.
Much dedicated work followed and in view of the need and the evident success of the first project it was decided to extend the provision to accommodate two married couples. This enabled us to introduce a "male" element for the first time. At about this time we were lucky to recruit a retired qualified surveyor. Col. Jock Lilley D.L. of East Mersea. He supervised the building of the new extension for which we had to borrow £12,800 from the Urban District Council who helped us in every possible way. The extension was opened in 1970 by the Lord Lieutenant of Essex, Sir John Ruggles-Brise.
Baths and Showers
One of the writer's most vivid memories of the committee at this time was the debate about the relative merits of baths and showers. The committee was equally divided, and the debate was interminable. The subject eventually had to be vetoed!
It is not possible to name all those who have worked hard for the Trust over the years. Mrs. Betty Winch, a former Chairman, described in the 1994 Mistral how the Friends of Mersea Island came to be formed out of our attempt to be more democratic. Committee members have been chosen from among those who have served on sub-committees for Finance, House Committees or Selection, but we have always tried to ensure that there is a member from each of the Church congregations on the Island. This was rightly a great concern of Jock's, who was himself a faithful member of the West Mersea Parish congregation, and at one time Chairman of the local branch of the Church of England Men's Society.
Benjamin Disraeli spoke about "the stimulating enjoyment of a difficulty", and C.S. Lewis once said, "Where we find a difficulty we may always expect that a discovery awaits us. Where there is cover we may hope for game". Such a difficulty confronted us when the last two Trustees of the Coronation Memorial Trust approached us to be "taken over". Many
who read this will know more about the Trust than the writer, but at that time it occupied a large site in High Street North and provided a house for a District Nurse with two adjacent homes for the elderly, but it had become defunct. After many "difficulties" the Trusts of Mersea Island were substituted and it was decided to build more sheltered accommodation on the site. It was not possible to preserve the existing building, but its dedication stone was saved and built into the new premises.
It was decided that more accommodation was needed... that it should be "different", and that our customers should be consulted. Opinions were canvassed and it soon became clear that what people most wanted was "my own front door". This necessitated the
outside staircases which do not provide quite the aesthetic effect we should have liked.....
but it does provide what people asked for!
The Coronation Memorial Trust had provided the land, and the money was borrowed from Colchester Borough under a new system which subjected us to the assiduous bureaucracy of the Housing Corporation. To this has to be added the attempts to comply with the demands of an increasingly virile Charity Commission. These dignitaries are entrusted with the supervision of public money, but their officials are often impervious to the needs of dedicated volunteers, and unmindful of the savings in public money achieved by such dedication. The burdens imposed are too heavy.
Mersea Court was opened in 1980 by the then Lord Lieutenant of Essex, Admiral Lewis. It is smaller than Akhurst Court, but it also has two flatlets for married couples, and we seldom have vacancies for long.
Modernisation of the original building at Akhurst Court has become overdue. A policy is now being pursued of converting the original one-room flatlets into doubles, and modernising the arrangements in the process. In the meanwhile we hope to increase our support for the Crossroads scheme on Mersea. This provides help and support for friends and relations caring for the elderly or infirm in their own homes.. Beyond this, we are deeply concerned to try and help all our "Islanders" when they are ill. We plan to launch an appeal for this in 1995, an anniversary year. In this we shall need the support of every Islander.
From the Editor of Mistral:
Thank you for your interesting account of this little-known Trust I have heard that its success is illustrated by the longevity of its residents - the non-stressful environment is clearly good for their health. All good wishes for the future and for the necessary fund-raising.