The new owners of the former Montessori School in Caistor invited the Citizen to tour the site this week (Thursday, September 7, 2017) as they revealed their plans for its future.
The former school site has been acquired by The Rock Foundation, a charity that provides facilities for adults with learning difficulties.
The tour was arranged by Jacquie and Aiden Wood, of Springs Church, which will be renting a suite in the complex and holding their Sunday services there. The church group formerly held services at Nettleton Village Hall.
Pam Hodge, who set up the Rock Foundation eight years ago, was on hand to discuss her plans in person.
She set up the charity after adopting four children, one of whom had learning difficulties. Her own experiences highlighted the desperate shortage of quality services “not just in the county, but throughout the whole of the country”. She had previously worked in the Information Technology department of a large local company.
The daughter of a pastor who moved to Grimsby at the age of seven, Pam says The Rock Foundation is run on a Christian ethos, but it is not a Christian-based charity.
She described the work over the past three years to transform a building in Heneage Road, Grimsby, “from a shell” to a facility with 24 staff helping to provide activities for more than 100 adults on a regular basis. The activities range from workshops in woodworking and sewing, puppetry, card-making and essential life-skills. Prior to that, the charity had been using space at The Ice House in Grimsby following an offer of help by a local businessman.
“People helped us to pay off what we owed on the Heneage Road site and we used it as collateral to buy the site at Caistor,” said Pam.
She visited Caistor initially out of a sense of frustration. “I am not getting any younger and there is so much more I want to do,” she said. “I told a colleague that I was frustrated that things were not happening quickly enough for me, and she pointed out that the asking price for the Montessori site had recently been reduced.
“I had a look from the outside and it didn’t ‘float my boat’, but when I had a look inside, it seemed to have The Rock written all over it.”
The biggest surprise during the tour was the sheer size of the complex. It is very much bigger than it appears from the roadside.
Asked whether she ever felt daunted by the scale of the project, Pam answered, “I’m too busy to think about things like that. My mind is buzzing with everything I need to get done.”
The plans at Caistor include incorporating into the complex residential accommodation for fourteen adults with mild, moderate and severe learning difficulties. It is hoped that seven men and seven women over the age of 18 will live there. Each resident will have their own bedroom with en-suite bathroom, though the charity does not provide critical or personal care. Some classrooms will also be converted into two flats which will become staff accommodation. Although the conversion work will be substantial, there are no plans to make structural changes to the former school site.
Fundraising is high on the charity’s agenda. “We have a high ratio of staff to service users in Grimsby as some of our people need one-to-one care,” said Pam. “We have never turned anyone away yet, but it costs us fortunes just to keep the doors open. We’ve got to be self sustainable. We’re not quite there yet in Grimsby,”
The charity has bought a laser cutting machine so that it can make and sell laser-cut products. Hand-crafted wooden products, such as bird tables and benches, will be sold from a gift shop at the Caistor Top site. A sweet shop, ice cream parlour and tea-room are also being planned.
Large windows in the tea-room give breathtaking views over local landmark, Waterhills. Outside is parking and play facilities for young children. A cook and waitress will be employed in the tea-room, which will open from Tuesdays-Saturdays, possibly between 8.30am and 4.30pm. Opening day is set to be September 19.
Pam is also hoping to set up a dedicated room where young mums can sit and chat. The room has French doors that open into a courtyard garden. “It would be so lovely to have a place where mums can relax without worrying what their little ones are up to,” she said.
The charity has a large volunteer network, but would welcome more helpers. “We’re hoping the local community will get involved,” said Pam. “We couldn’t do what we do without our volunteers.”
One of her aims is to improve the experience for visitors to Waterhills. “If anyone could give us a hand with gardening at the moment, that would be really great.”
More details on the Rock Foundation’s services for those with learning difficulties are available from its website at http://www.rockfoundation.org.uk/ or the charity can be contacted by telephoning 01472 488026.
Photographs by Stewart Wall