Keeping Us in Mind – Closure

Exhibition panel 8

Echoing with the voices of the past

Care moves to the community

After new drugs were introduced in the 1950s, the number of long-term patients reduced dramatically, and from the 1960s it was government policy to eventually close the big institutions.

In the 1990s the hospitals began to close down as part of a government policy, Care in the Community, that aimed to support people with a mental illness or learning disability in society.

West Park hospital was the last of the Epsom cluster to close, in the early 2000’s. Photo: Mark Davis

West Park hospital was the last of the Epsom cluster to close, in the early 2000’s. Photo: Mark Davis

Tim Cole observed that for many staff at Horton in the 1970s:

the hospital became their village.

To many staff, closure seemed to happen very suddenly. The emotional impact was enormous.

Jacky Oliver was Deputy Director at Long Grove when it closed. She has vivid memories of that time:

The whole hospital was full of grieving, bereaved people. In my mind I sometimes likened it to the closure of the coal mines, and the break-up of a whole community.

I remembers going in [to work] one autumn evening, and the leaves were now being blown around the corridors. Walking down those corridors it felt like it was echoing with the voices of the past, with people who used to walk down the corridors and say “hi” and greet you.

What happened to the patients?

Unfortunately the project team were not able to collect first-hand
accounts of closure from patients. Interviewees had a range of views:

People said, “I don’t mind where they go, as long as they’re nowhere near me”.” Susana Cater

A group of people who were lost to society had their safety nets cut and had to survive on their own.” Dan Jacobson

Perhaps we didn’t hear the voices of people saying “I’m 70, I’ve been living here for 50 years, can’t I just have a few more years?”.” Mark Cardwell, Social Worker

I had some bad times and I had some horrible times [in The Manor] … but in some ways it’s a shame it’s gone because a lot of people moved to lots of places. A lot of people loved The Manor.” Mandy McCann

Both Jacky Oliver and John Lavery recall that a significant number of the elderly long-stay patients at Long Grove unfortunately did not live for very long after they left the hospital.

However, outcomes were much better for some other people:

I asked one man what it had been like to leave and I expected him to say “Oh it was really hard, I really missed it”. But he just smiled and said “it was very pleasurable”.” Sue Bond, former Social Worker

The legacy of the closure of the long-stay hospitals continues to be debated. Listen to some of the interviewees reflect on this.

“There was a good reason why we did the closure” Mark Cardwell

“The idea of community care is heroic, brilliant … but there is a thing called reality.” Jeremy Ross

“It was more security for them.” Beryl and Juan Galan

“Nowadays people with learning disabilities are very isolated and unsupported.” Tracey Taylor

“It’s a story that needs to be told, even more so with the lack of mental health treatment.” Dan Jacobson

Listen to Recordings Here

If you would like to record an interview, please email: [email protected]

Read more about the Epsom Cluster.

Find out more about the project.

Click on the following links to see the exhibition panels created by the project team: