From Tailoring to Occupational Therapy (2008)

Location : London & Thetford

When I left school at fourteen, I lived in London year 1941, during the war. I became a machinist. At the start I used to make uniforms or part of uniforms for the RAF. Then when was finished in 45, I went in tailoring. Also during the war I was a welder, I had to do war work. Then when war finished I became a tailoress making ladies’ jackets, costumes. Then I got married in 1957 and I had two children, so I never went to work. I moved in Thetford in 1963/4. From there, I went into the National Health Service.

It was my father who always insisted his children learnt a trade. There was seven of us in the family and my sisters were all machinists, so I went into the factory work.We started on tailoring, when you first start you ‘ad to just make the lining and we was under supervision of another girl that was doing the similar job. It was more trial and error I think, in our days during the war. I got training for the welding of course ‘cause most of the men had gone to war, so that’s why they ‘ad young girls. I was about sixteen when I done welding. I thoroughly enjoyed it we was all youngsters doing the work but we did get training. I done steel welding and can’t think of the other one. That’s all I can remember, going back a few years.The factories I worked at didn’t ‘ave no canteens, so we used to go out or I’d take a packed lunch what my mum used to make for me. If I worked, which I did at one time when I was in welding, I worked near where I lived and my mum always cooked a main meal at lunch time.The conditions were alright. We worked long hours, we worked from eight o’clock ‘til about half past five, so we did work long hours. I used to go by bus, which was about tuppence at the time and got back home about six o’clock. But the conditions were alright most of the people were young ladies, most of the men were in war. Men that wasn’t in the war were disabled. I had fun, I enjoyed my youth. I did enjoy it.

Did you get much time off?

No we only was allowed about one week a year. We got the usual holidays the Easter, Whitsun, Christmas. It was only one day Christmas day and Boxing day and then you ‘ad to go back to work.

What did you use to do in your spare time?

During the war when I was young, there was a, we ‘ad to join a club, it was compulsory I don’t know if anybody else remembers this. But it was compulsory so we joined a youth club, which was good. I used to go to dances, locally. Pictures some times. But from being from a big family, I always ‘ad things going on. I mostly used to go with my brothers to football. I was a football fan. When we used to go to the football it was none of this pushing and shoving, it was Leighton Orient I used to go to, with my brothers.

When I first left school, I earnt seven and six which my mum took from my food, I can’t remember how much she took. But my father, when I was fourteen, insisted that I started saving. So he started me a bank book with a pound, which was quite a lot of money then. Me other jobs I’m not sure.

My health was pretty good while I was a youngster. I did ‘ave to wear glasses from a very early age. I used to ‘ave to go to the clinic because I ‘ad a squint and in them days they didn’t straighten them. So I ‘ave a patch over one of the glasses. Other than that, my health was pretty good. Because I was skinny as a child, I was put on cod liver oil and malt, which I loved. My father used to buy me a jar and I used to ‘ave it on my bread as well.

I did make friends at work but no I’ve made other friends since I’ve moved to Thetford. I do art, which we ‘ave in the Kings Court every Wednesday evening. I went to the doll house miniature club that was in Guildhall but that is packed up but I still do miniatures indoors. So I keep pretty busy and I ‘ave got friends. I never kept in touch with any of them, they’re all gone.

I came to Thetford, and my children started school, I started at St. Barnabas in 1967 as an auxiliary nurse, which I really enjoyed. I was part-time afternoon and evening, five hours. I worked with trained staff. The hospital was spotless. We worked under a matron and a firm but fair sister, who kept us on our toes. There was no bed sores. We rubbed backs twice a day, morning and night. I’m not one to go back in time but I wish hospitals today were run like yester year. Unfortunately St. Barnabas closed in 1970. I went to work in the first day hospital for the elderly in Norfolk area at the Thetford Cottage Hospital. It was quite exciting. I became an occupational therapy aid, working alongside the occupational therapist. I did my training in the old St. Mary’s hospital in Bury St. Edmunds and at West Suffolk Hospital. I did day release from Thetford and after a year, did a two and a half hour exam. Occupational therapy is not just about cane weaving, knitting, painting, we all worked as a team. We had a staff nurse, nurse auxiliary technical instructor. We treated the whole person and not just their disability limb. Most patients had had strokes, hip and knee replacements, arthritis etc. There was always an end product to whatever we did. We weaved trays, making stalls, paint and varnish. We also put some patients on tandem cycles, which strengthened their legs. Attached to the cycle was a fret saw and a sander to cut wood and sand. There was also pulleys to strengthen arms. I did cooking and dressing practice with patients. They cooked their lunch for the day, I got a lot of tips from them. They also had baths and hair do’s by the nursing staff. Local GPs came twice a week and a geriatrician came once a month. Afternoons we had quizzes, games etc. It is a shame that there are no day hospitals now because people get well quicker when they are in groups. 1975 they set up care, which means centre for the activities and recreation for the elderly. So when the patients were discharged from day hospitals they went to care for about six weeks, some stayed longer. After a few years there were three centres: St. Cuthberts Church had two days, there was Magdalen Street one day and the youth centre. I retired in 1991 from the day hospital. It was taken over by mental health three days a week Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, which left Monday and Friday empty. I was approached by a local GP and the chair person of care to start a day centre there with a colleague. We got funding from West Suffolk after the finance officer came to see what we do which was sewing, patchwork, rug making, painting, music and movement (passive exercise), discussions on daily matters, games to help mobility. Then we had to leave the cottage hospital, I don’t know why because it remained empty until it closed. So we moved to Kings Court lounge in January 2001. Age Concern took over care, which was funded by West Suffolk Hospital until money run out. Then social services funded it for six months. Then we were told on 21 March 2003, that the service is folding because funding had been cancelled by social services. I think it was because they needed more clients at the day centre at La Burnham. But I would not give up easily; I give up one day Friday and still going strong on Monday and sometimes I get clients from social services. I’m also helped by two members of staff who retired from the Cottage Hospital, so I don’t have to do much.

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