£50,000 for another 'Le Court'
By ANDREW BOYLE E COURT, the big grey house on a Hampshire that saw the birth and development of a convert V.C.'s pioneering work for the "unwanted sick," is to be pulled down and re-built.
Only at the cost of a small fortune could the original home founded by Group Captain Geoffrey Leonard Cheshire in 1948 be repaired and reconditioned. And there would be no architect's guarantee of soundness even then.
Yet through a zig-zag chain of providential circumstances. the Carnegie Fund has agreed to provide the lump sum necessary to construct a brand new Le Court. It will rise a few yards away from the old and rather ugly house that was once the country seat of a Victorian shipping magnate.
The cost of rebuilding may be in the region of £50,000.
Workmen are already busy laying drains and preparing the ground. The new home may be completed in 12 or 18 months' lime.
Before Group Captain Cheshire went into hospital himself last summer—he is recovering from an operation—and from his sick-bed since, he has kept a keen eye on details of the architect's plan for the future Le Court.
His first inkling that something might be wrong with the foundations and structure of Le Court came about two years ago when he was considering making a Catholic chapel iv the underground "crypt."
"It would happen here," he told me, "We've found a subterranean stream that actually runs uphill. It seems to be making short work of the foundations."
Unperturbed as ever, Leonard went ahead with other plans on the principle that "God will arrange things provided we don't panic and leave nothing to chance."
In due course, by a series of seemingly scrappy coincidences in which I was unwittingly involved, the Carnegie Fund became interested in the survival of Le Court.
CATHOLIC HERALD readers probably recall the unusual beginnings of Leonard Cheshire's dedicated work for the sick which led to his conversion.
After the failure through his illness and absence of an attempt to turn Le Court into a self-contained community of ex-Service men and their famities—all anxious to escape from a world overshadowed by the threat of the atom . bomb—he was wondering what to do with the builaing—wlsether to sell it or turn it into flats to wipe out the remainder of a debt of nearly £20,000.
The problem was unexpectedly solved when a man arrived one day and asked if Leonard would take him in. He was suffering from cancer and had been given only a matter of weeks to live. He could find no one to look after him.
to with no hospital prepared to offer him a bed for an indefinite period, he turned at last to the leader with whom he had been associated in the earlier and abortive land-colony scheme.
Leonard Cheshire, who had never nursed anyone before, tended the man until his death; and though he was not yet a Catholic himself, persuaded his patient to see a priest and make his peace with God before the end, "Arthur's death," he has said more than once since, "was the real turning point"—not only in Le Court's development, but in the life of the man who had acquired it. Soon Leonard was himself received into the Church. and the home pretty well grew of its own volition.
For it was the natural haven for young and old, men and women, of all faiths or none, who were suffering as much from neglect as from illness.
By March, 1949, there were 10 patients. One of them was a former nurse and with her help Leonard managed somehow to run the place himself. Eventually a small staff of trained nurses with a few untrained volunteers joined him to care for the growing number of cases.
Today there are 32 patients at Le Court. The figure has remained fairly steady for the past three years. Leonard shares the responsibility for the home as a member of a Trust be established.
Many of the patients are affected by progressive diseases of the nervous system, but in the unique atmosphere of Le Court not even the bedridden can be prevented from lending a hand and helping each other. The family spirit is so real and deep that it is the outstanding fact about the place which bowls over every new visitor.
The "unwanted sick" are rediscovering self-respect and a sharp interest in life not only in this original foundation but in the second home which is now thriving in Cornwall.
St.. Teresa's Home is infused with the same remarkable spirit: more than a dozen men and women live just as happily and usefully in the two converted Nissen huts, abandoned on the edge of a disused airfield till Leonard Cheshire came along.
1 was told by the Almoner at Le Court the other day that the rebuilding work undertaken through the generosity of the Carnegie trustees will cover "only the shell of the new home." Equipment and furniture, as well as the funds to buy them, will have to come from voluntary contributions.
I have not the slightest doubt that, when the last brick is in place and the time comes to move in, Leonard Cheshire's growing circle of helpers and well-wishers will have helped him over another hurcHe.