A woman who cared for more than 200 children at the former Bourne House Hostel in West Street has died at the age of 83.
Mrs Pat Schmid was the matron who ran the home for almost 30 years, giving confidence and hope to boys and girls in care who were orphans, maladjusted or had been emotionally damaged by domestic upheavals and marriage breakdowns. She and her husband, Lou, who was later appointed master, ran the hostel until it closed when they retired to live in Spain.
The hostel was based at No 46 West Street, an imposing stone built mansion dating from 1830 and home to the Bell family of lawyers for almost 100 years. When the last of them, Major Cecil Walker Bell, left in 1940, the house was acquired by Kesteven County Council and used as dormitory accommodation for wartime evacuees from Hull and soon after the Second World War ended in 1945, the building was converted for use as a hostel with places for twenty children.
Pat, a state registered nurse, was appointed matron in 1957 and in retirement, she remembered her early battles for more staff and improved accommodation but most importantly, her relationship with the children. “I was particularly anxious to establish a family atmosphere to give them stability”, she said, “and this was achieved after I persuaded them to regard myself and my husband as a friendly aunt and uncle and this family intimacy proved to be highly successful and continued until we closed.”
The children of both sexes were of varied ages from five years upwards, the girls up to 15-16 years old although boys had to leave when they were 11. “To say why the children were with us would take a book to explain”, said Pat, “and apart from those sent to us by a child psychiatrist, we had others referred by social workers although with the full agreement of their parents. Some parents were openly rejecting, preferring to accept the policy of out of sight out of mind and never contacted us unless they were forced to. Others were quite the opposite, writing letters and visiting regularly.”
Mothering was encouraged among the older girls who took responsibility for their favourite little ones, helping care for them when dressing in the mornings, at meals, at bedtime and whenever there was an outing. It was not only beneficial for the youngsters but it also gave the girls a sense of family responsibility that would be so important in later life when they married and had children of their own.
“The accent was on relationships and this was a perfect example of that policy in action”, said Pat.
The work was hard and time consuming for both Pat and Lou and their small but dedicated band of domestic helpers and cooks. The children attended local schools but they had to be got ready on time and there were a variety of daily activities to be arranged with attendance at the Sunday School held at the nearby Baptist Church in West Street often followed by a visit to Bourne Wood.
There were sports in the summer months, swimming at the outdoor pool, cricket and picnics on the lawn and during the winter there were dancing classes for the girls and a Christmas pantomime when the children were encouraged to perform together and individually.
A major event was the annual Christmas tea party when all of the children could invite two guests each, either fellow pupils or even teachers from school or friends they had made in the town. This usually meant a sit down meal for some 60 people and the kitchen and domestic staff always worked very hard on these occasions to make it a success.
“Life at Bourne House was all about relationships”, said Pat. “It was essential that there should be a cheerful and happy atmosphere generally. This was brought about by the interaction of staff with staff and passed on between staff and children.
“The domestic helpers were very important as the children often formed relationships with them. We even gave one such member of staff the title of Auntie Mary because she was so close to the children. There had to be a relaxed, friendly, and loving atmosphere in the house in order that the children could regard it not just as a place of containment but also as a home with all that this implied.
“We had about 225 children during my time there and to me, the most important thing we tried to do was to show them a better way than so many had been accustomed to before they came to us. This was particularly important in the case of the older girls as we had them long enough to be able to shape their lives and sow the seeds that might make them better mothers.
“I was lucky to be at Bourne House long enough to see the fruits of my labour and feel a certain pride that at least some of my girls, as I called them, have married and had families who have been loved and cared for in the way their mothers had been.”
Pat and Lou remained in charge until the hostel closed in 1985 but the bonds they established with some of the children were never broken and they remained in touch over the years. After the hostel closed, the house stood empty for a time before being bought by property developers who converted it into its present use as a complex of retirement flats and bungalows in the grounds in 1989.
Pat Schmid died after a heart attack on April 15, and her funeral was held the following Saturday. She leaves her husband, Lou, aged 87, who plans to remain in Spain, their daughter, Mrs Pauline Freer, who lives in Surrey, and dozens of children around the country, now all grown up, who still remember Auntie Pat with deep affection.