22 March 1996

POINT IN GOLDEN VALLEY

FOCAL

A day care centre, claimed to be the first of its kind, has become a focal point for the rural

communities of Herefords Golden Valley.

Ann Rogers paid a visit

WHEN the future of redundant court rooms in Peterchurch was to be decided two coach loads of villagers went to Hereford, their county town, to witness Hereford and Worcester County Councils decision-making process.

They could not add to the debate. They could only watch. But maybe their spirit helped win the day for the decision went in their favour with permission for the community to run a day care centre for the elderly folk of Herefords Golden Valley in the Old Magistrates Courtas the 1970s-built property is still known.

The project was inspired by a former local doctor, Dr Dennis Brierly, who realised that most old people were cared for by their families and that such a centre would help the families as much as the members – the name given to those who attend the centre each week.

Preparing and running the Golden Valley Day Centre, which was officially opened on May 4, 1991, is a real community effort and an ongoing one at that. The local authority agreed to let the management committee have the building, and provides a co-ordinator to oversee activities for three days a week as well as a small amount towards the cost of transporting the members.

"After that we are on our own," says Eva Morgan, a local farmers wife, former district councillor and member of the management committee. She and her husband Brian helped get the fundraising underway with a big celebration for their pearl (30th) wedding anniversary when "no presents" was the order of the day but a bowl put out for funds for the centre raised more than £600.

"The parish (Peterchurch) council gave us a donation – that effectively paid our first telephone bill," recalls Eva explaining that there are numerous parishes within the centres 90-sq-mile rural catchment area, several of which make annual contributions.

The local community rallied with practical support and donations.

"A lot of people put in a lot of hard work in the beginning," says Heulwen Herdman, another farmers wife on the management committee. Besides tackling the ongoing task of raising money ("Unless you keep the funds going you are in trouble," she comments) they gave goods and labour too.

Installing a new central heating system was one of the first major tasks. A kitchen was established. A local company donated units, someone gave a cooker and local pubs raised money for a freezer.

Improved access and handrails were provided and an attractive new front window installed. This is also a tribute to district nurse Ruth de Rop who served the area for 36 years. Her family provided the money for it as a memorial. When Farmlife visited the sill was filled with a model railway made in paper and card by the village schoolchildren whose craftwork also decorated the walls.

The toilet area is a constant reminder of the buildings original use. Redesigned throughout to aid people with reduced mobility, it is still commonly referred to as "the prisoners loos."

Sitting and dining areas have been comfortably and cheerfully furnished. Flowerbeds have been established at the front of the building with handrails to encourage members to get out and enjoy them and a wheelchair garden enables one of their number to continue his horticultural interests. Hanging baskets add more colour in summer time.

All the work, apart from the duties carried out by the co-ordinator, is done on a voluntary basis, beginning with the task of transporting to and from the centre the daily quota of 15 members – thats 45 individuals over the course of the week. Drivers use their own vehicles and receive a modest mileage allowance.

Bringing members to the centre brings them into the community too as they take the opportunity to collect their pensions, shop and visit the doctor on the same trip.

They arrive between 9 and 10am and while lunch is available (fetched from a local school in term time and from an old folks home in the school holidays) they may leave whenever wish. They usually begin to leave at 3pm and everyone has gone by 4pm.

Time is spent in social activities, chatting with old and new friends, reading, listening to music, trying a little craftwork. There is even an opportunity to take communion. Those who wish – and rather more wished to than was expected – can attend a service in a side room once a month.

Sometimes eligible residents are reluctant to come along to the centre for a variety of reasons and although there is no pressure put upon them to do so a little encouragement to come and see what its like without future commitment or even the necessity to stay that day, usually results in another regular member.

Time passes and former voluntary helpers move on to become members of the centre that has become a focal point for the community – for those prepared to serve as well as those who need their services.

Help can be a two-way operation at times, as Eva and Heulwen acknowledge, pointing out that many retired people make their homes in Herefordshires beautiful Golden Valley and they benefit as much as the native villagers from the stimulus and companionship that the centre provides.

Helper Mary Green (left) encourages members to knit soft toys. These are sold at the money-raising events which keep the day care centre funded.

The Old Magistrates Court is a cheerful place these days and though alterations have been made many original features remain. Below:(L to R) Chairman Jo Biddle with committee members Heulwen Herdman and

Eva Morgan.

Left: Chairman of the management commitee Jo Biddle (left) and helper Mary Green (right) chat with Mary Watkins, one of the Tuesday members. Below: Member Bob Davis (centre) with drivers Glen Sommers (left) and Frank Simpson who

use their cars to collect

the lunch box.