A philanthropic gesture and a polio epidemic coincided to bring about the creation of the Wilson Home. To marks its 80th anniversary this year, Channel looks back at how this incredible North Shore project came into being and what its future holds...
In March 1935, Mr and Mrs W. R. Wilson gifted their family home of 28 years, St Leonards, and 13 acres of magnificent coastal gardens to be used for thr benefit of children with disabilities. An endowment fund was also established with Lord Nuffield and the Wilsons, each contributing 10,000 pounds sterling.
On April 15 1937 Mr W R Wilson signed a deed placing the St Leonards home under control of the Auckland Hospital Board, to help provide accommodation for children affected by a polio epidemic. On August 27, 25 children with polio were transferred from Auckland Hospital and the Wilson home was officially opened the following day.
Over the next fifteen or so years, hundreds of children underwent treatment at the Wilson Home, including a young Bruce McLaren in 1948.
After the 1950s, much changed. Fortunately polio epidemics declined with vaccination becoming widespread in 1956 and methods of treatment changing. Rather than spending years in institutions, it was felt that children would benefit more from remaining with their families and having services provided at home.
During this time, and to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Trust, the Chapel St Leonard was built and dedicated in 1966.
Many North Shore families and those further afield have attended weddings at the non-denominational chapel over the past 50 years. Trust Manager Carole White said: "The Chapel continues to hold weddings most weekends. There is seating for 120 guests and underfloor heating, so the Chapel can be used all year round. Ceremonies in the gardens are also popular - most of February and March next year are already booked."
In 1977, the Ronald Caughey Assessment and Treatment Centre opened and 1983 saw the construction of six villas, assisted by a Telethon grant. The villas provide temporary homes for children receiving respite care.
By the 1990s, the Wilson Home had fewer children living in it on a long term basis; the facility was increasingly used for the provision of therapy on an outpatient/day patient basis, and for respite care. The Management Committee at the time commissioned major reports to determine the ongoing strategic direction of the Wilson Home Trust. These reports indicated that increasingly assistance for disabled children involved education of parents and other relatives and caregivers; delivery of social services into the child’s home; and the provision of residential facilities so that disabled children can be looked after for short periods, to provide respite for parents.
As the new century began, a new trust deed was approved and put into effect, enabling the Wilson Home Trust to change direction. It began to offer services designed to meet the current needs of physically disabled children; it's aim for the next 60 years. As part of this change in direction, a new school – the Wilson School was opened in 2008. Other buildings, including the bach and summer house were restored. And a group of long-serving and dedicated gardening volunteers continue to help maintain the gardens, with the group being awarded the Local Hero Medal in 2015 in acknowledgment of their support.
Carol, who joined as full time Trust Manager in mid-June this year, said: "As the Trust enters its 81st year, our commitment to ensuring the sustainability of the Wilson Home Trust and to continue to provide resources and support to meet the needs of physically disabled children is paramount. Not only in Auckland, but in the whole of the upper north island, as decreed in the Wilson Home Trust deed."
This year sees the Trust welcome four new Committee of Management members: Adina Halpern, John Wolk, John Whitehead and Mark Campbell, join incumbent member Fraser Boddy. Trust Administrator Christine Jones started in August, following Carol's arrival as Trust Manager in June. With recruitment well underway for a Resource and Support Co-ordinator, Carol says: "The injection of new personnel and their passion for continuing to shape the direction of the Wilson Home Trust and adapt to the changing needs of physically disabled children and their families, means exciting times ahead.
"The annual Children’s Christmas Party planning is well underway and there are also plans for a belated 80th birthday celebration in early December," she added.
The Trust has also recently reviewed its grant funding support and has changed from four quarterly funding rounds per year, to monthly funding rounds. Other services the Trust currently supports are hydrotherapy swimming sessions in the indoor heated pool onsite and a monthly children's playgroup called Hand to Hand. Carol says more services will be planned and developed next year.
The best way to find out about these is to visit the Wilson Home Trust website www.wilsonhometrust.org.nz or facebook page https://www.facebook.com/wilsonhometrust1.
The Trust also has its own dedicated Wedding Event Co-ordinator Sally Bakalich, who can be contacted at email@example.com or on 09 485 3464. And as a registered charity, all the proceeds from wedding fees go directly towards funding items, activities, or services for children with physical disabilities and their families, that the Wilson Home Trust support.