Sometimes when cataloguing an archive collection you come across an item which has no obvious link to the other papers it is with and clues to help you identify the links are few and far between. Such was the case with a small pamphlet with the title ‘Ockenden Venture ‘Westholme’ training and education for refugee boys’ which caught my attention in the records of Bull Street Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. As this week is Refugee Week, when the contributions of refugees to the UK are celebrated and greater understanding about why refugees seek sanctuary is promoted, it seemed fitting that the story of Westholme should be retold.
The Ockenden Venture was established in 1951 by three school teachers in Woking, Surrey. They were concerned about the conditions in which displaced East European teenagers were living and recognised that the educational provision in the camps was insufficient after a group came on holiday from a displaced persons camp in Germany at Ockenden House where Joyce Pearce (1915-1985) ran a sixth form. Pearce, together with Ruth Hicks (1900 – 1986) and Margaret Dixon (1907-2001) housed small numbers of East European teenagers from the camps at Ockenden House and later in houses at Haslemere, Surrey and Donington Hall near Derby and provided for them so that they could complete their secondary education.
The declaration of World Refugee Year in 1959 resulted in the provision of funding from government and increased donations which allowed the charity to open a number of new houses across the country, one of which was in Birmingham. In 1960, the Ockenden Venture leased part of Westholme, the former home of first Edward and Dorothy Cadbury, then Henry and Lucy Cadbury in Oak Tree Lane, Bournville from Bournville Village Trust and opened a hostel for refugee boys of school-leaving age to undertake industrial or commercial training. It was thought that the city would offer plenty of opportunities for the young men to find work once their education was complete. The hostel provided housing for up to ten boys who lived together with resident wardens, and they attended local schools so that they could have contact with the local community. This was seen to be useful in assessing their aptitude and suitability for particular jobs.
One resident of Westholme was a 16 year old Polish boy whose parents had been sent to Germany for slave labour during the Second World War and were then sent to a displaced persons camp, with their four children. They lived in one room for five years and were unable to obtain visas to emigrate due to his mother’s regular ill health. Having left school, the boy was unable to find work but with the help of the Ockenden Venture, travelled to England in 1958. He spent some time at a secondary school in Cheshire before attending the Ockenden Hostel at Donington Hall near Derby. From there he came to Birmingham, seeking an apprenticeship which he was offered in radio and television engineering. He lived at Westholme for a number of months until his parents were eventually given permission to emigrate and the Ockenden Venture found the family a house in Kings Heath, where they were reunited with their son.
So what was the connection with Bull Street Quaker Meeting? I have not yet found any other evidence in the Bull Street records suggesting that the meeting supported the work of the Ockenden Venture, although this is entirely possible. However, among the list of patrons of Westholme, one name in particular jumped out at me: that of E.O. Ransome who was Clerk of Bull Street Meeting at the time the Ockenden Venture was setting up Westholme.
While we don’t hold any other records relating to Westholme’s role in the Ockenden Venture, there are records at Surrey History Centre where the archives of the Ockenden Venture are held. You can read more about the work of the Ockenden Venture, browse the online catalogue and look at photographs on the Surrey History Centre website by clicking here.
In 1999 Ockenden Venture became Ockenden International and is now primarily active overseas. A road named Westholme Croft is the only visible reminder of Westholme which was demolished in the mid 1960s to make way for a housing estate.
Eleanor (Project Archivist, Birmingham & Warwickshire Quakers)
SF (2014/213) 1502s – Miscellaneous printed leaflets
Hampson, Martin (2001) Images of England: Bournville and Weoley Castle, Tempus Publishing Limited, Stroud
Surrey History Centre catalogue ref 7155 Ockenden International, formerly Ockenden Venture, refugee charity of Woking, available http://www.surreyarchives.org.uk/CalmView/Record.aspx?src=CalmView.Catalog&id=7155&pos=2, accessed 14/06/2017
Surrey History Centre Archives and History Research Guide From Vision to Venture: The Story of Ockenden International available at https://www.surreycc.gov.uk/heritage-culture-and-recreation/archives-and-history/surrey-history-centre/surrey-history-centre-help-for-researchers/archives-and-history-research-guides/from-vision-to-venture-the-story-of-ockenden-international accessed 14/06/2017