Our work began in 1927 when Miss Julia Sweet, a pioneer in the teaching and training of disabled people, founded the School of Stitchery and Lace in Leicestershire. She wanted to give nurses injured in the First World War a means of earning their living. The charity moved to Bookham in 1938 when our current premises – originally a private house – was bought from the Bird family for £5000.
In the early years, the charity offered a three year training course in needlework after which people went on to work at places such as Liberty’s and Harvey Nichols. Soon the students earned a reputation for exquisite workmanship and royal commissions followed. Queen Mary had nightdresses and a bedspread made and Eleanor Roosevelt had some smocks sent over to the USA – an early example of mail order!
During the Second World War the army took over outbuildings around the main house. Weaving was suspended because materials became unobtainable although tapestry work continued. Students were employed in repairing military equipment and carpet mending was introduced. A number of ex-trainees were employed in direct war work such as mending parachutes.
In the 1970s, the name of the charity was changed to The Grange Centre to reflect our wider range of activities. We became a Registered Care Home in the 1980s with the aid of funding from the Housing Corporation. At the same time, a Housing Association was formed to provide sheltered accommodation in self-contained flats for those able to live independently with some support. In the 1990s, we enlarged our operation by expanding into horticulture, alongside our creative needlework and crafts. We also opened our doors to men as well as women,
Miss Sweet’s original idea was to give adults with disabilities vocational training that would enabled them to be as independent as possible and live fulfilled lives. This remains the basis of our policy and philosophy today.