Celebration marks 50 years of a home helping disabled people across the region

A dream of two parents to support their disabled son into his adult life is marking 50 years of success

A special home inspired by the plight of one disabled boy is today celebrating 50 years of pioneering care.

Chipchase House opened in 1964 to support, and home, those with disabilities from across the region.

Stephen Darke, the schoolboy who inspired the creation of the facility, is now a 72-year-old man still living there.

It was in 1964 that a group of young adults and teenagers with cerebral palsy arrived to make the property, in Benton, Newcastle, their new home.

The home later became the Percy Hedley Foundation, which now helps over 1,000 families every year.

From humble beginnings, the charity now works with more than 700 staff and has a turnover of more than £19m.

It was Stephen’s parents Molly and Stephen Darke, supported by small group of other like-minded parents of disabled children, who fought to create the Percy Hedley School.

It was a time when very little provision was made for young people with disabilities and, worried about their children’s education and future, the parents helped to create what is the Foundation today.

Last year the Percy Hedley School celebrated its 60th anniversary.

But when the original school opened, and the years went by, Stephen and his friends grew older - and their parents more frail.

It soon became apparent a place was needed to care for the teenagers and young adults and Chipchase House was bought across the road from the school.

Work to extend the home and build a workshop in the extensive grounds was completed in 1964 and the official opening, by patron the Duke of Northumberland, took place in 1965.

Later additions of apartments and bungalows make up what is today Chipchase House, home to 51 disabled adults aged between 20 and 74.

Many of the original residents met yesterday to mark the anniversary.

Stephen said: “It has been a nice place to live for the past 50 years. I was a pupil at the school before I came here and, although it was a wrench leaving home, I’ve been happy here.”

Jenny Young, 67, moved into the house as a 17-year-old.

She said: “It was a lot different compared to what it looks like now. Five of us arrived on the first day, and I’m still here 50 years later.

“I’ve made some fantastic friends over the years and the house is lovely, ideally situated right next to a Metro so I can go into town whenever I like.”

Tommy Leighton, 65, has lived at the house for the past 49 years.

He said: “I’d been a pupil at the school before coming here. And when I arrived it was all a bit daunting. It’s our home now though, it has lovely grounds and it has been wonderful to see some of the old staff from years gone by.”

Nowadays the residents have full use of the state-of-the-art Percy Hedley Foundation facilities

Today, an array of opportunities are available for those living at the home. They can learn media skills at the foundation’s Karten Media Unit based in North Shields. While the groundbreaking iMuse art technology - which translates severely disabled people’s movements into stunning works of art - is able to make mini Picassos out of those living at Chipchase House.

Carole Harder, chief executive of the Foundation, said: “The residents and staff of Chipchase House never need an excuse to let their hair down and have a party but this has been a very special occasion for everyone.”

A garden party with a hog roast, cream tea and disco was held yesterday. There was also a photo gallery celebrating the residents’ lives throughout the years.

Ms Harder added: “It was a wonderful day with residents, family and long serving staff joining together to celebrate the fantastic success of the vision that a handful of passionate parents had all those years ago.”


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