Swansea’s pioneering disability charity

The Legacy of Longfields Project is a two-year Heritage Lottery Funded research project to examine and share the history of Longfields Association.  The Association was set up in 1952 by a group of parents of children with cerebral palsy to provide them with the opportunity to take part in education.  At the time of its inception, Longfields Association was known as Swansea and District ‘Spastic’ Association.    The 1944 Education Act aimed to give equality of opportunity to all children, providing a framework for free education beginning at nursery level.  However, many children with cerebral palsy and related disabilities were classed as uneducable under this Act.

I was employed at Longfields from 1999 to 2004 and during that time I became more aware of the association’s history.  I knew about Longfields when growing up in Swansea having attended some of their summer fetes.  Working at the Association brought home to me how important it was in the context of disability history and of the history of Swansea.  The founder members were pioneers and disability activists who worked hard to draw public attention to opportunities denied to their children.  The sudden closure of the Association in 2011 prompted me to explore options to tell its story and a successful Heritage Lottery Fund application was made.

Longfields is directly linked to two buildings in Swansea both are now residential with no indication of their role in disability history.

the grove (1)
The Grove

The first was once a Chapel at The Grove, Uplands.  A room in this building once housed the first school in Wales for children with cerebral palsy. This opened in April 1953.  The achievement was a culmination of an intensive campaign by a group of Swansea parents.  Through direct action they challenged common misconceptions of cerebral palsy.  They highlighted the fact that their children had been denied an education by the nature of their disability. 

The school offered up so much opportunity for its new pupils as they were able to mix with their peers, make new friends and enjoy school life.

Children's first day in class at the Grove School
Children’s first day in class at the Grove School (copyright Walsingham Support)

This extract from the first Year Book of the Association records the dogged determination of the parents to highlight the issues they faced.

Through indomitable faith was born a resolve
‘Through indomitable faith was born a resolve’ (from the 1960 Association Year Book) copyright Walsingham Support.

Within a couple of years, the Association needed to move to larger premises but did not have sufficient funds.  Unexpectedly they attracted a ‘Fairy Godmother’ in Mrs Felicie May Philippe, a philanthropist living in London.  She had read about the Association in the News of the World. She purchased a house in Bethany Lane, West Cross which was called ‘Longfields’.  This was to become the permanent home of the Association until it closed in 2011.

with Mrs Philippe
‘With Mrs Philippe’ image copyright to Walsingham Support.

It is not difficult to imagine how the parents must have felt on their first visit to this house. They would have been overjoyed to have the opportunity to continue the work of the Association in such a beautiful setting, being within a walking distance of the seafront the children could sit outside in the grounds and take in the ‘sea air’. The building proved to be another ‘first’ for Swansea as the Association opened the ‘first nursery’ in Wales for children with cerebral palsy.

The house
‘The House’ (from the 1960 Association Year Book) image copyright to Walsingham Support.

The parents had achieved so much…through their tireless efforts they had established a need to provide access to education for their children. This house, which was the home of the Association for over 50 years holds fond memories for so many people, myself included.  It was at the heart of the ‘Longfields community’ where strong friendships were forged. Children grew up there and remained members of the Association as it evolved into a work centre and then a day centre.  Individual memories recall the garden, fruit trees, the fish pond, poly tunnels, garden fetes and just sitting outside taking in the atmosphere with friends.

When the Association closed in 2011 the land was purchased for a housing development.  This is the main house today which has not changed significantly on the outside.  It now houses a number of apartments while the grounds contain ten houses.  There is no reminder that this site was home to the Association that established the first school in Wales for children with cerebral palsy.

House today
The ‘House today’ photograph copyright Teresa Hillier.

The sign to the day centre remains at the bottom of Bethany Lane.  If you look closely you can still see the words ‘Day Centre’ beneath the tape which attempts to erase it.

Day Centre sign
Day Centre sign, photograph copyright Teresa Hillier.

Project research is bringing the history of Longfields to life with a number of people sharing their memories through oral histories.  The project will deliver an exhibition at the National Waterfront Museum in May 2018 and will also create an online accessible archive. The history of Longfields Association will not be forgotten.

References:

Some photographs copyright Teresa Hillier.

Other photographs including ‘Children’s first day in class at The Grove School’, ‘Through indomitable faith was born a resolve’ (from the 1960 Association Year Book), Picture ‘with Mrs Philippe’, ‘The House’ (from the 1960 Association Year Book) copyright as per the text below:

Images reproduced here are the copyright of Walsingham Support and are reproduced here by kind permission of them. We would also like to thank West Glamorgan Archive Service, who hold the images in their archives as part of the Longfields Association collection, for their co-operation and assistance.

 

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