The Lord Lieutenant Of Merseyside Dame Lorna Muirhead signs the visitors book at The Willows watched by Robin Bush the Chief executive of the Wirral Autistic Society and the Mayor and Mayoress of Wirral Cnll, Steve Foulkes and Ms. Elaine Nolan.
The Willows, a state-of-the-art home for people with severe autism has been officially opened by HM Lord-Lieutenant of Merseyside, Dame Lorna Muirhead DBE, on World Autism Awareness Day, 2 April 2015.
The million pound development, on Wirral Autistic Society’s (WAS) Raby Hall site in Bromborough, has been funded by a two-year long Lifetime Appeal.
WAS is a multi-award-winning charity employing 800 staff across Merseyside and supporting more than 300 people with autism and complex needs. In 2011 the charity opened the UK’s first purpose built respite centre for adults with autism at Raby Hall. The new developments are part of a ten-year strategy to completely modernise the site.
Dame Lorna commented that opening the unit was a real treat and that a great deal of thought had gone into its design. She said, “When I was a young nurse autism wasn’t even identified. Parents then had to just soldier on. We know so much more now but it’s still a constant challenge today.”
Former Everton footballers Ian Snodin (left) and Graeme Sharp, now ambassadors for Everton FC at the WAS Balloon launch
To mark World Autism Awareness Day, with its official colour of blue, hundreds of blue balloons were released after the official opening, with the help of Everton FC Club Ambassadors Graeme Sharp and Ian Snodin.
Ian Snodin said, “I’ve had a fantastic day. I didn’t really know what autism meant but I know a lot more now. I’ve had a tour of the unit and met the carers and staff. It’s really broadened my horizons.”
The Willows will be a home for life for eight people. It incorporates many features designed to create a calm, nurturing environment.
‘Mood’ lighting can be used to ‘paint’ rooms different colours and help calm or stimulate a resident. Pink and purple have been found to be positive colours and grey to be calming, although all people respond differently. Curved, wide corridors reduce claustrophobia and crowding. And to prevent echoing in the main corridor, the ceiling height has been reduced at one end.
Under-floor heating and integrated window blinds will help prevent damage by residents and also mean that light and temperature can be minutely adjusted. This is important as autistic people can be extremely sensitive to light and heat. Easy access is offered to open air and the grounds, which are in a rural setting. This will help residents control anxiety levels.
Carers will help residents learn to use the modern laundry and kitchen facilities, encouraging them to develop a sense of independence.
Robin Bush talks with the BBC about World Autism Day and the opening of The Willows
Mary Morgan’s son Daniel Blackmore, 30, will be one of the first new residents. Mary said, “Dan has been passed from pillar to post since he was 11. He’s lived in Wales, Preston, Dundee, Coventry and then Wales again. And I live in Chester and had fought and fought with local authorities to have him close to me in Wirral. My son is a gentle giant who I love very dearly but because he sometimes has temper tantrums many places have found it hard to cope with him. A year ago, the team at Raby took on my fight and told me Dan was coming to Wirral. They have real empathy with him and nothing fazes them. Now that Dan has a place in The Willows, I feel as if we’ve finally found him a real home where he can be understood and have the opportunity to thrive.”
Chief Executive of WAS, Robin Bush, said, “It’s been tremendously satisfying to see The Willows take shape. So many people have put their hearts and souls into this project and we’re deeply grateful for the enthusiasm the community has shown fundraising for us. There’s a desperate need for this type of accommodation, so that people with autism can be placed close to their loved ones. However, there’s also a need for highly skilled staff who understand how to support people with these very complex needs. The team at The Willows have had world class training delivered by our in-house team and will be able to help the new residents flourish.”
Thousands of people across Merseyside contributed to the Lifetime Appeal which raised funds for The Willows. Events included a celebrity Antiques Roadshow, miniature and full-scale golf tournaments, a Santa pub crawl, a Big Quiz, cake sales, bike rides and celebrity lunches. A personal donation of £50,000 was made by a local business woman. Former Liverpool FC manager Rafa Bonitez and his wife Montse arranged several fundraising events through their Montse Benitez Foundation.