Full of Years!

Full of Years!

Day by day, it seems, the UK media is increasingly bringing to the fore the matter of social care for older people. At various times during the past two or three years this topic has become almost like an old chestnut, especially since it became a major debating item in political circles with various projections of statistics to remind us that we are all getting older! Our regular correspondent, Eric Thorn, takes a brief peek at the history of a major care home operator and somehow manages to condense their seventy-five years into his imaginary nutshell.

Not so long ago I was the lucky recipient of a luxurious package. I hasten to point out that I was not expecting delivery of Pandora’s Box, which was what my wife suggested it might be!

Upon slitting open the mysterious looking package, the words Full of Years were revealed. A string of thoughts flashed through my mind. Was this a reminder of years past in my life? A prediction of years to come? More likely, books to review or literature to file under ‘R’ for recycle. It turned out to be something far more interesting to someone plotting a feature for our favourite churches and schools journal!

Yes, it was sumptuous press literature about the seventy-fifth anniversary of an organisation that seeks to create a better life for older people, namely the MHA Care Group, more commonly known as either MHA Homes or Methodist Homes. This organisation has been endeavouring to bring quality to later life since 1943, despite that fact that some people I have spoken with have mistakenly believed that caring for the elderly is a more recent innovation. Perhaps that is because social care has certainly found its niche as a progressively major political news and Council Tax topic during the past few years.

Full of Years is a phrase that obviously reflects the lovely senior citizens that MHA are actively supporting either through establishments such as residential care homes and nursing homes, or retirement living and Live at Home schemes.


Methodist Homes was founded in Wallington, Surrey, in 1943 by the late Revd Walter Hall, then minister of Wallington Methodist Church. He had a vision of care for the elderly based on Christian principles.

This vision of his amplified when a property, located conveniently close to Walter Hall’s church, became vacant. Thus Ryelands was destined to become the first ever Methodist Home. It had its official opening in 1945.

Such enterprises always seem to attract the need for a committee. Methodist Homes was not exempt. Its founding committee was comprised of Revd Walter Hall (Secretary and Founder), Hilda Bartlett Lang (Treasurer and daughter of the philanthropist Joseph Rank) and Sir George Martin (Chairman).

Social historians concur with me regarding just how amazing it is that Ryelands continues to be an MHA care home to this day. Not so amazing, surely, is the fact that, over the years, the property has been entirely redeveloped and extended.

A superb new building, on the same site, was completed in 2004, having been intentionally planned and completed to go beyond the requirements of the Care Standards Act, 2000. Ryelands today is a prime example of the commitment to the highest possible standards of care that MHA has.

Mustard Seed

Thanks to a number of opportunities, news of the Ryelands initiative hotwired the imaginary grape vine. Churches, especially Methodist, considered the futuristic idea of care homes for the elderly a gift from Heaven. Which it was, because once the thought had been implanted in the minds of many Christians, they acted positively.

Thus, MHA residential care homes started to spring up in places in the South East, the Midlands, Yorkshire and Lancashire. The parable of the Mustard seed came to the fore: the smallest seed can grow into the largest tree. I suspect that if anyone had suggested to the late Revd Walter Hall that the fruition of his dream would escalate nationwide and beyond, he would not have believed it.

As time progresses, a Mustard tree grows new branches. Likewise, as years have passed, so MHA has developed a growing ministry designed around creating a better life for older people. Rather than adhering to residential care homes, the organisation has always been forward looking to ensure that as society changes, their care services reflect the diversity of new requirements that are called for.

Thus, the late 1970s saw the beginning of MHA housing services which, once established, offered rentable sheltered accommodation.

A decade later, in the late 1980s, the MHA Live at Home scheme was brought to birth. This initiative came to fruition in positive response to requests to support older people who preferred to live in their own homes, rather than in care homes. To this day, the scheme is virtually reliant on the incredible support of an army of volunteers. Thanks to the dedication of such volunteers allied to support from local churches MHA Live at Home schemes are on the increase, and are to be found in many areas around the UK.

The MHA Live at Home schemes enable older people to stay living independently in their own homes for as long as possible, with the best possible quality of life. Each local project provides a range of services that individuals might not be able to access or use without the assistance of a volunteer. Such benefits include, for instance, lunch clubs, social clubs, dementia friendly services, assisted shopping, outings, escorts to engagements such as hospital appointments, and so on.

Incidentally, at a later date, special community services were set up to provide MHA Dementia Care to people living in their own homes, not just in MHA projects.

If there is no MHA Live at Home scheme in your area, I encourage you to contact MHA (https://www.mha.org.uk/live-home/) to discuss the viability of starting one. The aim, surely, is to cover the UK with these very positive projects!

Towards the close of that decade, MHA built their first specialist nursing care home in 1989. For some time, it had been recognised that some senior citizens did not only need a framework of care, but also twenty-four seven (24/7) nursing services. This and subsequent MHA nursing care homes are founded on the original MHA principles of privacy, dignity, independence and well being.

Around this time, thoughts about Dementia were beginning to creep across the horizon. For some obscure reason, it was not something one openly discussed or admitted. I can well recall being put in my place for repeating the apparently abominable ‘D’ word. When I was first told my late mother (may she rest in peace) had Dementia, as it was apparently a taboo subject, I wrote about something called De-mens-sure, later to become Demons Sure, then Demons Shore. Fortunately for me, our kindly reader understood and put me right, for which I shall be eternally grateful.

So, Dementia as a serious matter, not to be taken lightly and swept under the proverbial carpet, really came to the fore in the 1990s. Since 1997, MHA has been undertaking specialist Dementia care in purpose built care homes. Their policy is to focus on each individual person in their care. Each one is provided with a purposely written care plan that not only focuses on the person, but on his or her individual needs.

Although I have heard it described as the MHA Millennium Project, my understanding is that it is really just a coincidence that in the year 2000 the MHA Care group family grew with the establishment of Retirement Living with Care Services that combine self contained accommodation with care and support.

Under the Retirement Living scheme, MHA provides quality apartments designed to make life easy by taking away some of the everyday pressures of maintaining a home. Bathrooms, for example, come with level access showers.

Probably as an extension of its Retirement Living scheme, in 2009 MHA acquired its first retirement village, Auchlochan, in Scotland. There are now three such villages; please read more at https://www.mha.org.uk/retirement-living/retirement-villages/.


So much has happened in the first seventy-five years of MHA Care that I would need to write a full length book to relate all. As that is not the object here, I am just going to highlight a few important MHA milestones.

In 2007, MHA introduced reflexology training for their staff. Enabling staff to become qualified professional reflexologists means that, in turn, the care they can provide to the residents in many care homes is enhanced.

A year later, in 2008, MHA employed their first Music Therapist. In a previous feature for our favourite journal, I highlighted the amazing benefits of music therapy for Dementia sufferers (please see: http://www.cwponline.co.uk/a-new-understanding/).

And now, in 2018, Music Therapy is viewed as an essential. Boasting a lively and growing team of music therapists, many MHA care homes around the United Kingdom regularly enjoy a visit from one of the music therapy team. Usually, the therapists cover a local area of MHA homes and visit a different one each day of the week. The therapists undertake a programme of one to one therapy with different residents in turn, following which most, if not all, of the residents join together with the music therapist for a short enjoyable sing along time.

Due credit must be proffered to MHA for never deviating from its original basis of providing high class care for older people, based on Christian concern and bringing quality to later life.

Their consistency of care has been recognised by various professional organisations, including the Laing & Buisson Independent Healthcare Awards who announced that, in 2012, MHA had won their Best Residential Care provider award. Another accolade was presented to MHA just two years ago, when their Chaplaincy Team won the 3rd Sector Care Award for their work on end of life care.

Recognition for their hard work is always appreciated, and it is encouraging to note that staff I have spoken to agree that it is because they are all strongly committed to the MHA statement of five values.

These values are:

  • Respect every person as a unique individual
  • Treat others, especially the most frail and vulnerable, with the dignity we wish for ourselves
  • Be open and fair in all dealings
  • Always seek to improve, to become the best we can be
  • Nurture each person’s body, mind and spirit to promote a fulfilled life

MHA today

It came to my attention that not a few people have mistakenly formed the impression that MHA Care Homes are only for people of a Methodist persuasion. I presume this is probably because the charity was founded by a Methodist minister and it is affectionately known as Methodist Homes.

The truth is that MHA services are available to all. People of any faith, or none, are equally welcome. Indeed, as I write, through its care homes, Live at Home and Retirement Living schemes, MHA is supporting over 18,000 people across the United Kingdom. To do this, the organisation employs over 7,000 staff and has over 5,500 enthusiastic volunteers.

MHA is currently arranging a number of public events under the heading of All our tomorrows. Details from: https://www.mha.org.uk/get-involved/all-our-tomorrows-events/.


An important item in the MHA seventy-fifth year celebrations is a special service of thanksgiving. This will take place at Derby Cathedral, close to the MHA Head Office, on Saturday 13 October 2018, at 3.00 pm.

MHA will celebrate the foresight of its Founder and original committee, as well as remembering those whom MHA has cared for over the years. This will also be an opportunity to celebrate the dedication of the staff, volunteers and supporters.

This event also provides an opportunity to look forward to the future of the caring ministry.

Although there is no charge to attend events such as this, MHA request that persons wishing to go should book online due to the capacity of the cathedral. Please see: https://www.mha.org.uk/news-and-views/latest-news/news_archive/75years/.

Eric A. Thorn
Email: EricAThorn@msn.com