Ex-miners and their loved-ones are enjoying a new lease of life – living on the site of a Washington pit where they worked and socialised more than 40 years ago.
They’ve set up home in an £8million housing scheme where the Washington F Pit and Miners’ Welfare Club once stood – and the residents celebrated the complex’s first birthday yesterday.
The site, which housed a nightclub after the pit and welfare club closed, had become an eyesore and was targeted by arsonists before housing association Riverside redeveloped it.
The modern complex is home to more than 100 residents and is for people aged over-55 with care needs who want to live independently, feeling safe and secure.
Most of the residents are former miners or relatives of miners, so they affectionately refer themselves as the ‘Willow Brook family’.
Ray Middleton, 75, says moving to Willow Brook is the best decision he’s ever made.
“It’s a beautiful place and it’s always lovely and warm! When I lived in a house it was always cold and costly to heat. My wife Pat and I watched Willow Brook being built, and planned to move in together before she passed away two years ago.
“My fellow residents keep me company and my family live nearby. Previously I went days without talking or seeing anyone when I lived on my own. I really enjoy living here and everyone, staff and residents, make time for you. I’m pleased to be here and be part of the Willow Brook family!” says Ray.
The active pensioner remembers the Miners’ Welfare Club well, as he was chairman of the committee. Today, he is chairman of the scheme’s residents’ committee.
Ray, who worked as a miner for 10 years, added: “I was a miner at 15 in the Usworth Colliery.
“The Miners’ Welfare Club was the hub of the community and was used for all sorts of events including collecting baby milk from the NHS, dances and weddings. But everything changed when it became a nightclub in the late 1980s and it went downhill. There was a lot of crime and anti-social behaviour, so I was pleased when plans for Willow Brook came about – I welcomed it.
“We are all pleased this has been built. It is a lovely building and it has improved the area. We are a looking forward to the sandstone arch taking pride of place in the garden.”
A 1960s-themed party was held yesterday (Thursday, August 24) to celebrate the dances held at the social club and residents that went there during that era.
Funding to build the extra care scheme came from Riverside, Sunderland City Council and The Homes and Communities Agency.
The 79 apartments have one or two bedrooms, which are self-contained. However there are communal areas where activities take place and residents regularly socialise. On site facilities include a restaurant, café, hairdressers, well-being suite, lounges and landscaped gardens. There is also a digital Telehealth tablet provided by Sunderland CCG to carry out health checks to reduce emergency hospital admissions.
Councillor for Washington North ward John Kelly is pleased that Willow Brook is there and says it’s a ‘god’s send’!
He said: “The site was derelict for several years, attracting anti-social behaviour and it was starting to become an eyesore. When plans for Willow Brook came about we could see the value a retirement living scheme would bring to the area. It was a god-send – it has cut out anti-social behaviour and cleaned it up.
“Willow Brook has kept the mining heritage with photographs of familiar landmarks to help people suffering with dementia. The original sandstone arch will be returning and placed in the communal garden where it belongs.
“There is a fantastic sense of community spirit at Willow Brook with lots of activities held for residents to get involved, and we regularly get invited to events. From the Community Chest Fund we’ve paid for furniture and equipment for residents to enjoy.
“Willow Brook has a good neighbourly environment and a strong community. It’s a much-needed facility for those who want to live independently.”
Nostalgic ‘reminiscence pods’ are frequently set up to help older residents strike up conversation and reminisce – and to support people with dementia so they feel safe and secure.
Riverside Scheme Manager Caroline Adams, said: “There is a strong community spirit at Willow Brook. Everyone has a really good relationship and it’s a close-knit family. The residents here are former miners or relatives of miners so everyone knows each other.
“There are lots of activities going on for people to get involved, or sit in the lounge and read a newspaper. It’s a lovely atmosphere and we all refer to ourselves as the ‘Willow Brook family’!”
To find out more about Riverside’s Retirement Living services visit: www.riverside.org.uk/find-a-home/retirement-living