The Meath Epilepsy Charity, Godalming, is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year. That’s quite a remarkable feat in itself; at a time when some of our biggest high street names launched around the same era have bitten the dust, the Meath continues to grow from strength to strength!
The charity was one of many organisations set up by Mary, wife of Reginald Brabazon, the 12th Earl of Meath. Both Victorian philanthropists and members of a group of intellectual upper-class known collectively as ‘The Souls’, they rejected an overindulgent lifestyle, aiming instead to use their influence and wealth to improve the lives of everyday people in England, many of whom were fighting poverty and disease in less than pleasant circumstances.
In the Earl’s case, his focus was the fitness of the general population and maintaining the nation’s patriotism. He developed the London Parks, became heavily involved with the Boy Scout movement and founded ‘Empire Day’. For her part, the Countess founded the ‘Ministering Children’s League’, an organisation that grew around the world caring for destitute children, and with its motto, “No day without a deed to crown it”, said an awful lot about her philosophy regarding keeping industrious and active to overcome personal circumstances.
Extensive travellers, the couple made a visit in 1890 to a small Protestant community that cared for people living with epilepsy near Bielefeld in Germany called Bethel (or ‘House of God’). The Countess was so impressed by all that she saw, she decided to seek a suitable site back in England for her own home for women and girls affected by epilepsy, whose plight in England at that time was to be incarcerated into a workhouse or lunatic asylum.
Westbrook Place in Godalming was identified and purchased in 1891 and the Countess equipped it initially for sixty residents. The resulting ‘Meath Home’ was officially opened by Queen Victoria’s daughter-in-law, HRH The Duchess of Albany, on 4 August 1892. While the grounds may have been crammed with 1500 guests, the very first resident, twelve-year old Jemima Lemon, did not arrive until October that same year. By Christmas, there were eighteen residents and by the following summer, the home was full.
Lady Meath is reported to have wanted “a home, and not a hospital”, and that “it should be a Home of Comfort, all being made as bright and cheerful as possible.” It is considered that the Countess would be thrilled with the development of the Meath over the years, and positively delighted with the contemporary nature of the accommodation and support services now offered.
It is also felt that she would also approve of the Care Quality Commission having recently rated their services as ‘Outstanding’, the first epilepsy service provider to be rated as highly across the country. And she would undoubtedly smile upon ‘Bradbury House’, the Charity’s newest service in Westbrook Road, now into its second year supporting people with exceptionally high needs.
With ARTHOUSE Meath and Changing Perceptions, the Meath’s first two award-winning social enterprises, firm favourites in Godalming High Street, the charity is now looking forward to continuing to assist the people it cares for and supports to live their lives happily and successfully as members of the Godalming community. Welcoming volunteers and supporters across the whole organisation, they celebrated their 125th Anniversary with a weekend of fun at the end of July.
For further details, call the Meath on 01483 415095 or visit the website at www.meath.org.uk.