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Child care has been nationally pioneered at Beechholme Children's Home in Fir Tree Road, Banstead, for next month study courses started there in 1957, will be adopted throughout the country.

"We pioneered these courses," said Mr. G. A. Banner, superintendent of the L.L.C. children's home, "and they are now being launched on a national scale with a certificate for child care officers who complete the course."

This is a triumph for the home where a quiet revolution in child care has been -going on over the past decade - a change from a closed institution to a very open community. "Humanise the institution!" was the injunction given to Mr, Banner when he came to Beechholme 13 years ago.

One walk round the pleasant, tree-lined avenues of the little village which makes up Beechholme today shows just how successfully this has been done.

For a village is exactly what Beechholme is. If anyone thinks of children's homes as grim Victorian buildings full of long dank corridors, dormitories, communal dining rooms and wardens, they should think again.

A spacious house with parents and a very large family is more the feeling one gets. For the 300 children are divided into groups of 15 boys and girls of different ages living with house parents or a house mother in one of the 19 separate houses that line the "main road" of Beechholme.

I visited one of these houses, Ash House, where the house mother, Miss A. Turner, has been at Beechholme for eight years.

Decorated in gay orange and white floral paper, the hall was welcoming and informal, the living room large and airy with one of the girls listening to gramophone records in the corner; while the kitchen was strewn with grasses and stalks as the children had been arranging exhibits for the wild flower exhibition held that afternoon.

Upstairs, the bedrooms had six or seven beds in each, with wardrobes grouped around the corner beds to give a little privacy for the older children.

The ages of these family groups vary from toddlers to teenagers. Miss Turner is helped by a deputy house mother and an assistant house mother, all resident, and may have additional help recruited from local housewives on a part-time basis.

She also has domestic help. Beechholme must be unique in actually having a waiting list of domestics; mainly because their children can be taken into the Beechholme nursery units.

The chapel at Beechholme steers clear of a rigid denominational form of worship. It looks loved and cared for and is illumined by a magnificent stained glass window fully 15 ft. high, made by children in the home's remedial group.


There is a village shop, a library, a swimming pool and a primary school. Later the children go to about 40 different secondary schools throughout Surrey and Greater London. Only a few are placed at each school so that there is no danger of the children forming a minority group in anyone school.

"Leading from in front, not from behind" is how Mr. Banner describes the new techniques of dealing with children in care.

I could see what he meant when he described the constructive leisure - time activities - pottery, woodwork, printing, social and sports clubs for different age groups, chess, stamps, photography.

But there is a strictly practical slant to these activities, away from the idea of merely filling in time.

For instance, woodwork is taken by Mr. F. Packham, a local cabinet-maker, and the boys tackle man-sized jobs, like their current project of converting an old laundry into a family flat for visiting parents.

The printing club is run as a business. Members do printing for the Banstead Council of Social Services and other organisations, and learn that if it isn't well done the customer doesn't return.

The photography club is not only a hobby but a method of encouraging children with difficult backgrounds to come to terms with that background and not to close their minds to their own childhood memories, however unhappy they might be.

Integration into the community is an important aim at the home, achieved by children joining local competitions and local clubs. One girl is representing Cheam Ladies' Swimming Club this year.

Beechholme is often used for Banstead activities, too - youth events, courses and road safety fixtures.

With greater flexibility in the laws governing children in care and better selection techniques, fewer children come in now for short stays, so that more space and time is left for children from more difficult backgrounds.

Housing problems, marital difficulties and prolonged parental illness are the most usual reasons for a child entering care.

A third of the children are from immigrant families, but Mr. Banner finds that integration between white and coloured presents no difficulty in the home - only outside it.

One problem is finding women entering the "aunts and uncles" scheme who are willing to take on coloured children. This scheme involves visiting a child and taking him home for a day or weekend so that he becomes involved in an ordinary happy home.

Another problem has been the coloured child, brought up in a white community, who himself rejects coloured people. This happened with a coloured lad who had studied at a local school of art.

It was felt he needed a stimulating home background and he was boarded out with a West African family. But he rejected them because of their colour and would not settle down with them.

Like many other children at this time of year, boys and girls at Beechholme go away for two weeks' holiday, mostly at the seaside.

They go off in their household groups, some to guest houses, some to holiday camps, some in tents and some on an adventure holiday that will include sailing. swimming and hiking.

They return in September to a children's home that has seen a revolution in child care over the past decade.