By September of 1975 I was very disillusioned with the job I had commenced the previous October. I had been taken on as a child care worker at a residential school for children with disabilities, my role was to be looking after the kids in out-of-school time when they were resident during the week. This was at a period of local government changes in attitude of education for children such as these and although the school was only a year old no child had yet been resident. I was taken on in the assumption that residency would commence fairly shortly. In reality this never happened and my role was little more than that of a classroom assistant and I was becoming very dissatisfied and frustrated with this. On return to work after the summer holidays I learned there was still very little prospect of being able to perform the role for which I had been employed so, after discussion with the head of the school and with his understanding, started to look for alternative employment.
One of the positions for which I applied was for a houseparent at a long-stay children’s home at Cobham in the Surrey countryside and which was managed by Wandsworth Borough Council. Catering for just ten youngsters of all ages this sounded an ideal opportunity so looked forward to hearing from them even though I was not very optimistic about being considered. In a week or two I had a reply, would I be interested in coming to London for an informal interview and discussion? This was more than I could have wished for so arranged time off from work to attend.
It was a long drive to London, the motorway network from South Wales wasn’t complete in 1975 so Cardiff had to be driven through which really slowed down the journey but eventually I reached my destination in time for my 1.00pm appointment. I was met by one of the area managers for the children’s services who explained that the post for which I had applied had been filled and . . . but my mind wandered, I had driven all that way to be told I didn’t have the job? Then my thoughts snapped back to what he was saying – but we have other vacancies in the borough and we believe you might fit in to one of our other long stay homes, would I be interested? Oh well, I was there, so might as well agree to consider. I was then introduced to another area manager who proceeded to interview me properly. When he was satisfied I might be suitable, he suggested we drive out to the home he had in mind and meet the staff and children.
It was a short drive of a mile or two nearly as far as Wimbledon Common and I arrived to find the home was in the middle of a housing estate, not the idyllic countryside location I had originally anticipated. However, the manager and staff of the home were very welcoming and I did feel comfortable in their presence. No youngsters to be seen though, of course they were all in school, but not for long, soon the peace and quiet would be broken. The first to arrive was a lad of about eight years of age with a shock of black hair and an impish smile who burst in and came straight up to me and enquired “You going to be our new staff?”. I was a bit taken aback by this, even I didn’t know I was going to be there but the kids had obviously been briefed that a potential new member of staff might be visiting that afternoon. I was then invited to stay for the evening meal where everyone, young and old proceeded to ‘interview’ me and assess my suitability for the vacancy.
And so it was at the age of 26, in November 1975, thirty seven years ago this month, I moved to London to commence employment at a salary of £2,220 per year. That to me was a huge rise on my previous earnings at the residential school which had been about £1,400 per annum. Little did I know when I started that the youngsters and the staff would test my endurance to the limit, not only was the role physically demanding but mentally and emotionally challenging as well, but on reflection, probably the best and most rewarding job I ever had!
Needless to say, during my two and a quarter years stay at the home I took hundreds of photographs. To choose just one to illustrate this tale should be very difficult but one stands out in my memory showing some of the younger ones just having fun. Taken during a picnic which was arranged on an impulse, the picture shows the kids enjoying the simple pleasures of life and pretending to be sailing a boat on a shallow lake in the Surrey countryside. You can read all about the circumstances which led up to the taking of the photograph by clicking on it, this will take you to my flickr photography albums where the picture is displayed. There are more photographs on flickr in my album entitled The London Years.