What do secret nuns’ quarters, “Beaver Bingo” and an antique tennis racket souvenir have in common?Advertisement
Somewhat bizarrely, they all played a part in my recent visit to the former Little Sisters of the Poor care home.
The Victorian building, set on four acres off Garstang Road, is something of a Preston landmark. When the Little Sisters decided they could no longer sustain their work in Preston – after more than 130 years in the area – the building was bought by HBS Healthcare. Spiral Health CIC took over provision of the services.
Read more: Little Sisters of the Poor in Fulwood has been sold
The Little Sisters originally moved into the building in 1897. They changed its name from Springfield House to the Jeanne Jugan Residence. Nowadays there’s no denying it’s rather tired, but there’s a real sense of history and charm to the place. So although renovations are underway, I’m pleased to hear Spiral Health will be retaining many of the original features.
Out will go the mismatched furniture and in will come a physio gym and a new hair salon. Some facilities will be moved around – for example the hall that hosts performances from the likes of Elvis* and George Formby** will be transformed into bedrooms. The finished rooms I see are calming and tastefully decorated. All the renovations are expected to be complete within four months.
Exploring the building – now known as Springfield Manor Gardens in a nod to its original name – takes over an hour. My guide and I tour up and down the lengthy corridors, stopping off in rooms and side areas, some of which feel maze-like. I shiver when an outbuilding is pointed out to me as being the former morgue.
Read more: Fulwood doctors surgery to relocate
The stand-out area in the building is the now deconsecrated chapel. The stained glass windows are made from rough chunks of glass, that look beautiful from both near and far. A balcony is being built as a viewing area, and there are plans afoot for how to use the whole space – apparently film nights could be on the cards.
We exit through a side door, and I discover the confession box is still in situ. I’m left pondering what on Earth the former residents could have done to warrant confessions.
Up on the third floor we go behind the curtain to the nuns’ living quarters. Only a couple of people, including the building handyperson, had permission to enter this area in all the years the Little Sisters were here. It’s a rather stark and bleak part of the building.
Staff who had never previously been allowed to enter have since been in to have a look. I hazard a guess it’s like the weird feeling of going into the staff room when you’re a kid at school, only multiplied by 100.
On the way up the final set of stairs to the attic, my guide warns me that many people find it “spooky” up there. As we pass the dark and dusty sloping spaces where the nuns used to sleep, I realise I would not have wanted to be up here on my own. The 180 degree views over Preston however do make the climb worthwhile.
It’s while in the attic that I acquire my antique tennis racket souvenir. I think my guide feels sorry for the strange woman getting excited about a dusty old bat.
So what about Spiral Health? They seem to be a genuinely caring company, which has to be a good fit for the building and its history. As a social enterprise, they put any profit back into the community, and they’re keen to forge links with local people and organisations.
Already in place is a partnership with the local Beaver Group, who run the popular “Beaver Bingo” once a week. I’ll admit the flyer at reception had me somewhat bemused, until this connection was explained.
Spiral Health have also kept the residents and staff on from the Little Sisters days, and consult them on every change. They don’t want to change the building too much because “you wouldn’t like it if someone moved into your home and started moving things around would you?”
There are currently around 20 residents but this number will be boosted later this month with the transfer of 24 Spiral Health beds from Royal Preston Hospital. The home will be able to look after 63 people when all the work is complete.
Do you have any memories of Little Sisters of the Poor? What do you think of the plans for the building? Let us know in the comments below.
* Not THE Elvis
** Not THE George Formby