The cottage homes were set up by the West Darby Association, a group of local philanthropists, in the late nineteenth century. The site has a main central building that looks like a cross between a church and a town hall. On either side of the road through the site are the ‘cottages’. There are 24 of them. In reality, they are large homes that contained between 24 and 30 children. The boys would be housed in cottages on one side of the road and the girls on the other side.
We arrived late morning, just before their Annual General meeting. This was an informal and friendly affair. There were some fascinating bits of information. For example, the FCHA has 301 members. Even though the place held between 500 and 600 children at any one time, that’s still a lot of members for a home that closed in the late 1950s. Fifteen of the members are from overseas and we heard of one member from South Africa who had been in tears because she’d only just heard about the reunion and couldn’t come. The FCHA are currently developing their website and everything seems to be going reasonably well at the moment. There was just one piece of sad news, which was the resignation of Connie, who does the catering for the reunions, from the committee for health and other reasons.
We at the CLA had been invited to come along and were given permission to put up a stall. We also met various members of their committee. We already knew Geoff and Eddie Schliesing from CLA meetings that they have come along to during the past few years. We also met Connie (although I had also met her when I came to the reunion In 2009), Brian and other committee members and members of the association.
The day itself is very informal once the AGM is completed. We set up our stall and then mingled and chatted as people came and went, got some food and drink and caught up with old friends as well as making new ones. People arrive and go at different times during the day, so some periods were busier and more crowded than others. This was helpful as it meant that Sue, Darren and I could move about and chat to everyone very easily.
One of the virtues of having the reunion on the site of the home is that it allows former residents to go and walk around some of the cottages that they used to live in. This year, two cottages were open. Eddie very kindly offered to give the three of us from the CLA a tour and we enjoyed going around and hearing his stories of life in the home during the 1940s and 1950s. A few other former residents and family members joined our little tour and added a few stories of their own.
The three of us then spent the rest of the day chatting to other people about life in the cottages. We told people about the CLA, especially our access to records work, if they were interested. At one point, at Geoff’s invitation, Darren gave a short speech about who we are and what we do. We met a wide range of people, all with fascinating stories to tell about life at Fakerley in the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s. Near the end, two women approached us who we thought were former residents but it turned out they were the daughters of a former resident who had arrived there in 1899. They were able to tell us a few things about their mother’s experience that long ago. I think we were all a bit shocked to have contact with living history that goes so far back. Another one of the interesting stories we heard was from Jim Howard. Jim was the first – and for a long time the only – black golfer in the British PGA. He learned his golf in the grounds of the Fazakerley Cottage Homes, continued developing it while in the armed services as a young man and then went on to have a long professional golf career.
Everyone we spoke to had stories well worth hearing about their time in the cottages. Some said they’d had a good time, others that it has been strict but OK and others had suffered abuse whilst there and had some very bad memories of the place. However, no matter what their experience had been, everyone got along well together. This warm, safe, welcoming atmosphere was a tribute to the approach of the committee, who clearly set the tone in that regard.
One other notable feature of the FCHA and the day itself is that on both the committee and in the membership it is clear that relatives – wives, husbands, children and others – play a big part in the association. Many former residents came with members of their family. Also, the association would clearly have to do a lot more work if it wasn’t for the input of family members who obviously feel very much a part of this community and help out with the raffle, selling things for the association and generally contributing in whatever way they can.
One of the highlights of the day is the group photo, which takes place outside in the yard near the old workshops late in the afternoon. Given that quite a few people have already gone by this time, it is only some of those who attended who are in the photo. During the time we were there, I’d say there were about 100 people who came and went during the course of the day.
The homes have been used for various purposes since the late 1950s. A few are still used by the local authority in some way. Most are simply empty and some are becoming derelict. Fortunately, the buildings are listed and negotiations for refurbishment and possible use as flats are underway. The recession seems likely to prevent much happening for a while.
Two great things that the Association has going for it are that it’s run solely by former residents and their families and that they can have their reunion on site and even have access to some of the former cottages. However, the day is great in many other ways too. If anyone else wants to organise a reunion for former children in care, they could clearly learn a lot from how the FCHA run theirs.
The Fazakerley Cottage Homes is entered on the ‘Careleavers Reunited’ section of our website. If you were a former resident or a relative and would like to get in touch with the Fazakerley Cottage Home Association, you can look up the home on that section of the site. Once on there, you will see that it has 58 members who have joined the site. If you contact either Brian Lawrenson or Eddie Schliesing (both FCHA committee members) via the site I am sure they will be able to give you more details about the association.
Jim Goddard (Co-Chair)