This record is from an article in an unknown newspaper published circa 1985.
Giving Children New Hope.
Rebuilding all those shattered Lives...
Lacton House, close to Willesborough's motorway interchange cost £500,000 to set up and it houses just six children at present.
There is a staff of 12 – teachers, residential social workers, domestic and kitchen staff – and that is the measure of the investment in striving to give troubled children a hopeful future.
Lacton House, the latest of the rescue operations mounted over 75 years by the Caldecott Community is a homely environment for youngsters who have never, perhaps, enjoyed a home life.
The Community's mansion house at Mersham-le-Hatch, leased from the Brabourne family, looks after 75 boys and girls whose home circumstances led to an undeveloped emotional and social life which affected their educational potential.
Lacton House is a specialised therapeutic unit for children in particular difficult situations.
Social Services policy in recent years has turned away from residential child care to fostering. But some youngsters remain who have such damage to their emotional systems that they cannot be fostered. And it is these grossly disturbed children that Lacton House will take in its arms, with affection and concern.
John Cook, the 33 year old project leader says “This unit should strive to represent the way forward for residential work in the future, given the belief that there will always be a need for residential care. We find ourselves in an environment that is rich and solid where we try to avoid an institutional atmosphere. My brief is to bring about as naturally and normally as possible a homely environment for these children. We live in a group but we strive to meet individual's need. We treat every child with respect as an individual, not a number having to move from A to B to suit the routine of an institution.”
John points out that the building was designed by a committee of people who had been involved with children most of their professional life. Each child has his or (her) own bedroom. There's a warm duvet on the bed, a view out over the lawns and a wall space to fix pictures, paintings, or family photographs. The rooms tend to become untidy!
There are lots of nooks and crannies and space where children can 'lose' themselves to indulge their own interests. Outside, an adventure playground. But there is not a TV.
“We feel it is a distraction for children and staff and it is difficult to determine what viewing is appropriate” he explains.
He is a believer in the open air and strolls in the Deer Park at Mersham-le-Hatch, rambles over the North Downs, or hikes along the beach at Dymchurch.
“We try to take the children out of the building every day for lots of fresh air and walking – and talking.” said John.
One of the focusses of the family group is the sunken area around the wood (burning) stove, glowing with welcome. Parlour games flourish in this ambience of relaxed comfort.
The round-the-clock care of these anguished children also involves the kitchen – a splendidly equipped housewife's dream. What you won't see at Lacton House is a minibus with it's name imprinted on the sides, Variety Club Sunshine Bus – style. That would set their youngsters apart, John and his team believe. So when they set off to the beach, or for a country ride, they travel in ordinary cars...just like any other family.
Lost Years are re-found in easy atmosphere:
The daily routine at Lacton House is designed to give a sense of security. Each child's 24 hours in a day is worked out after an assessment of exactly what his or her needs might be.
John Cook, Project Leader says”These children are discouraged children so encouragement is a big part of our life here. We encourage them to sit at a table for meals but we are flexible. They are encouraged to help clear the table and help around but there are no set tasks at the moment”
There is no barracks-style Reveille here, because getting up in the mornings is a relaxed affair offering smooth transition to a day's endeavours.
As breakfast ends, the children might be joined by their teachers taking a cup of tea before school starts at 9.30 am.
Society might expect a 10-year-old to behave like a young adolescent. But if that child is stuck with the social and educational development of a two-year-old, why not let him play with sand and water?
Lacton House's theory is that these boys and girls have much to catch up on that other kiddies in happier homes will have experienced with their own Mums, Dads, brothers, and sisters. Their learning is a mix of academic and the therapeutic. After a break between 11 and 11.30 the children might help in the kitchen before a sit-down lunch and time to play. Then it's back into the two classrooms or a move out of the building.
They play football or other games, or go for a walk, or go out to see a church or a windmill.
One morning a week there is a dance and movement, bringing rhythm into their lives. They might do some woodwork, or make bread in the kitchen.
Tea can be followed by a summer trip to the beach or games. Winding down to bedtime comes with a bath, and an individual supper. All are in bed by 9pm- and everyone has a story read to them.