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New Thoughts on Beechholme - 1964

New thoughts on child care the reason for run-down of Beechholme

The lack of "village" activities and abundance of "house parties" at Beechholme Residential School, Banstead, at Christmas is typical of the Family Unit approach to children in care at the home.

As many children as possible returned to their own homes over the festive season, and this seems to be the tangible beginning of a new theory in child care being implemented by Beechholme's governing authority, Wandsworth Borough Council.

Superintendent, Mr R. Banner, told the Herald this week: "Although Beechholme is as effective as it , has ever been for the problems of the day, we could do the job much better if we were nearer to the children's own homes."

And that is one of many reasons why the residential school, in Fir Tree-road, Banstead, is to run down over the next ten years and close.

When this was learned in August, Mr E. Higgins, Children's Officer at Wandsworth, pointed out: "This borough has been drawing up a blueprint for the future concerning all their children's homes."

"The concept behind the plan to have the children s homes as close to the community they serve as possible," he said.

Beechholme was built in 1880 from two parcels of farm land, purchased by St Mary Abbott, Kensington, and St Luke Chelsea acting as the School District Boards, It then accommodated 676 children on an entirely new idea of separate small groups of children in individual houses.

Since those days it has changed hands many times, and as more emphasis has been placed on smaller groups. Beechholme now has 250 pupils.

Mr Banner commented: "We think this number is still far too many." He added that there was a new mode in childcare today - "prevention rather than cure."

As for rehabilitation and integration of pupils back into the society, Mr Banner explained that they use many local facilities for this. Apart from those children of primary school age most pupils attend state schools in Epsom, Ewell, Ashtead, Sutton and Banstead.

St Paul's Church, Nork, All Saints' Banstead. and St John's Belmont. together with nonconformist churches. present another road back to society. Not forgetting the local youth organisations and sports club, which all pupils are encouraged to attend.

"We do try to bring the community to us" Mr Banner commented. "We provide the facilities for the cycle training and for Banstead Road Safety Committee's RAC/ ACU Training scheme. Of course, our playing fields are available to a large number of people."

Community service work is also undertaken by pupils. "Care is something which is not only for the children. but something they can do for others, too," Mr Banner added.

Closure of the residential school is due to several reasons. Geographically, it is set at the north tip of the Urban District and cut off by a "race track called Fir Tree-road."

Mr Banner continued: "Banstead is a high class residential dormitory suburb. It is on a high social and economic level. Our children come from poorer social and economic levels and it is difficult for them to integrate."

"There is nothing snobbish. It is just a fact of life. It is difficult for the children to get full integration," he added.

But what of success? How do the house parents and staff-who work up to 60 or 70 hours per week - measure their achievement?

Mr Banner went on: "It is always difficult to evaluate success, because our goal is not just that a child leaves us. Our aim is that he or she goes as a satisfactory and satisfied adult."

He went on: "The end comes when we know that pupils have married, have regular employment, that they are responsible citizens, good husbands or wives. and above all, will become good parents so that their children will not have to suffer a broken childhood as they themselves did."

PHILIP ROBINSON - 1964