The story behind the charity
Told by Dawn Cox ex Chairperson, Trustee and daughter of Clifford Smith (founder)
My parents were youth club leaders at the Church of the Ascension Hall Green. The Rev Ohillip English, a charismatic man was the curate. In 1966, the Trust was formed by my father - they approached local businessmen for funding, and raised enough to buy a cottage in Shropshire- Langdale Cottage. Later, they subsequently bought a second cottage 100m up the road - English Cottage. The aim was to provide somewhere for people to go for ‘retreat, respite, recuperation’.
They arranged working party weekends every 3rd week, from the youth club, girls in Langdale, boys in English. Us 3 kids ( myself - 6, younger brother, 4, and even younger sister - 18 months) slept together in a small room in Langdale, with the girls. My Mum was in charge of organising the meals and shopping. I hated Sunday lunch - sausages, mashed potatoes, tinned peas, bisto gravy, and pudding - Swiss roll and custard - all yuk! I eat anything and everything - but would never ever eat those combinations, ever again, yuk, yuk, yuk.
During the weekend not only did they do jobs around the cottages and gardens, but would help collect and prepare the firewood for the open fires, prepare the veg for the meals, and communally sing and pray. There were meat hooks in the ceiling beams of Langdale that people used to challenge each other on the number of pull ups they could do. Us 3 kids had a freedom that we wouldn’t have had in B’ham. The cottages were both situated in a very quiet country lane.
When the youth club weren’t there, the cottages were rented out to other church groups.
Bonfire night was always spent together down there. I got burnt by a banger once! One year, the lads were coming back to the cottages with all the fireworks in the boot, they went through a hedge on a nasty bend - it was touch and go when the vehicle then plummeted down a drop. It could have been so nasty!
Over the years, the cottages were rented out to other organisations - Social Services, Dr Barnardos etc. But not everyone was well behaved, and the cottages ended up being closed down by the local council due to trouble caused to the local farming community. English cottage was sold, and the new owners did a nice job of modernising and extending it.
My Dad continued to visit Langdale, and tried to maintain it - with no money coming in from rental any more.
He took various people with him - my brother and sister continued to go, plus some of their friends. A family living up the road from us became very involved. The father had died and the 3 eldest children joined my brother, sister and my Dad. Finally, there was a fire at Langdale, adding to the difficulties of trying to maintain it.
My Dad died from cancer, 25 yrs ago, aged 60 at which point I took over chairmanship of the Trust. The cottage was temporarily used by one of the local farmer’s sons and his wife, but despite best efforts, with no income (and no manpower), it fell into disrepair. The Trust elected to sell it in 2013.
The money raised from the cottage was invested in land more locally - Alexander Stables, Spencer's Lane, Berkswell. The charity hadn’t operated as a charity for about 40-45 yrs by then.
My Dad was a great animal lover - he was forever rescuing creatures from donkeys to flies drowning in a swimming pool. He used to love going to the Children’s farm in Umberslade. In fact his last family outing, before being admitted to hospital for surgery for oesophageal cancer, was to there with Mum, me, and my young kids. He was so frail, but still prepared to spend his time with us, and with the animals, He never came out of hospital.
My Dad would have loved all the animals at Spencer’s Retreat - particularly Reggie, and the Kune Kune pigs!
He would be really pleased to see the Trust once more, up and running supporting people.