In the aftermath of the Flying bomb attacks of 1944, the needs of the elderly to be appropriately housed took on new impetus, particularly within WVS. The solution to the problem in many cases was the creation of WVS Residential Clubs, the first of course being Thornbank, in Ipswich which opened in 1946. These were the first ‘modern’ old people’s homes with small numbers of residents looked after in an environment we would recognise today. But these were not for everyone and also not for some councils.
An experiment in Salford spearheaded by Mrs Rothwell (WVS County Borough Organiser, Councillor and JP) lead to WVS acquiring three old Victorian houses and converting them into flatlets for those old people in need of housing. The people lived independent lives and one resident received a free flat in return for undertaking the cleaning and management of the communal areas.
WVS had created a simple system in which ‘neglected old people and neglected old houses came together for mutual benefit’ and helped reduce the council’s waiting lists. Sadly despite gathering quiet momentum for almost a decade in 1954 the relatively newly formed Ministry of Housing and Local Government found out about the scheme and said ‘you can’t do this’.
To cut a long story short, this administrative hiccup led to the formation of the WVS Housing Association in 1955.
The Housing Association assisted with the temporary housing of Hungarian and Anglo-Egyptian refugees, in the late 1950s in similar types of houses adapted for the emergency. In 1959 the WVS Housing Association really got going and pioneered new ideas. WVS moved from merely providing homes for the elderly to young professional women opening houses in Tunbridge Wells and Sheffield.
By 1960 WVS had converted 42 houses for the elderly and three for professional women and in January that year opened a new home in London specifically for former WVS members, at Chagford House, Marylebone, London. Opening it in January 1960 Lady Reading (founder Chairman of WVS) said. “I hope that thus may be known as the happy house of St. Marylebone”.