Alice Cross’s Vision

This is an account of who the Alice Cross Centre came into being as written by Alice herself:

Alice Cross standing with Tom Hocking outside the centre
Alice Cross with Tom Hocking at the opening of the Alice Cross Centre extension in 1986.
Photo: Courtesy of the Wilson Archive

“On 2nd July 1942 Plymouth had one of its heaviest air raids and as Teignmouth was in a direct line, we too suffered a great deal of damage, with many lives and houses lost.  My home was one of the casualties, as a bomb fell into the garden. From this disaster came the desire to give thanks for a life spared.  I thanked God that my Mother had not had to suffer that shock, as she had died a few months before.

My family was a large, happy one – ten boys and four girls, and at that time I was the only single one at home.  Having been a social Worker for over twenty years in the Parish of St James’ I knew what I wanted to do.

By October 1942 I had settled in a bungalow in Coombe Vale Road and there I continued Club evenings with fifteen of my friends from the Girls Friendly Society days.  With some self sacrifice we managed to raise sufficient funds to give our first Christmas party. This was held in St Michael ‘s Church Hall where we entertained one hundred and twenty elderly people to supper.  From this humble start I endeavoured to devote several hours daily to voluntary service for the benefit of old people.

In August 1948, the Chairmen of the Town Council, F.E. Davidson Esq. , approached me to start a branch of the national Federation of OAP.s.  After a great deal of thought and also after spending fifteen weeks in hospital I agreed to take this on.  I started monthly meetings in October 1948 and continued for twelve years.  During that time I arranged holidays, concerts, outings etc., and attended Old People’s Conferences all over England.  In 1950 I formed an Old People’s Choir and organised Choir Festivals to which old people from all parts of Devon came and took part twice a year.

The Teignmouth Old People’s Welfare Committee was formed in 1950 at a meeting convened by the Town Council Chairman, Mr Silverton.  This went from strength to strength and I am pleased to be a Founder Member, The Rotary Club of Teignmouth were our greatest supporters.  A Housing Committee was formed and after much fund raising and hard work Quinnell House was built and named after one of our Doctors.

The Rest Centre was opened in 1953.  For a long time I had been worried at seeing many elderly men out in all weathers sitting in the shelters on the front, eating pasties, buns etc., and I longed for a place where they could find warmth and comfort. A Rest Centre was the answer and great thanks are due to the Rotary Club who provided us with a Nissan Hut.  And so it all began!  The Centre was open daily and provided a day home and meeting place for many lonely people.  With help from a loyal band of members I catered, cooked and served a mid-day meal.

Band with instruments
Old people’s band possibly at the Den Pavilion in the 1960s

To keep people interested it is necessary to organise varied activities and so I arranged handicraft sessions, Devotional meetings, whist drives, bingo sessions, concerts, outings and holidays.  All these activities entailed a great deal of fund raising and one of our main events each year was the Autumn Fayre.  This provided a useful boost to our income and helped towards the provision of Christmas meals and entertainment for many folk who, but for us, would be all alone during the festive season.  We start on Christmas Day and bring our guests to the centre by taxi.  There they enjoy a festive lunch, entertainment and tea.  Usually we continue this for two and three days so that folk who are old and alone need not feel desolate and unwanted. During the spring many OAP’s visit our town from all over England.  For many years I arranged nightly entertainment for them, usually for four weeks.

Unfortunately in 1969, after a long period of pain and discomfort and being forced to use arm crutches, it became necessary for me to have a hip replacement.  Dr and Mrs Quinnell made it possible for me to have this operation, which gave me a new outlook on life, and I thank them sincerely. In 1979 the Surgeons agreed to take a 50/50 chance and so I had a second hip replacement. I have therefore had a great deal of physical disability and so I know how that many elderly people need not pay visits to doctor’s surgeries.  What they often need is someone to talk to and I have always endeavoured to make time to listen to anyone who comes to me to unburden troubles.  A comforting chat and someone to assure you that all is not lost is much better than Surgery visits for pills they never take, or forget to take.  This assurance is what we try to give them at the day centre.  Also each month we have a meeting for the Housebound and Less Active.   Here we endeavour to bring together those who are unable to get out and about.  They can meet old friends, have a chat, a cup of tea and also, under supervision, they can do beneficial arm chair exercises.

Early in 1970’s we began to get excited in the rumours that a certain piece of land might be available for purchase on which we could build a new Centre.  Our numbers and activities were increasing and we needed to expand.  Cllr Arthur Bladon had promised for nine years that if the land should come up for sale, the Council would negotiate with the owners.  We owe much to him, the Teignmouth Council and Teignbridge Council.  Mr Tom Hockin, the chairman of the Teignmouth Old Peoples Welfare Committee, spent months on the work of planning, plus many meetings, and our success in obtaining such a lovely building is largely due to all his efforts, and we are extremely grateful to him for years of work in the early days.  Mrs Marjorie Lyne also gave much support.

It was in 1954 that I accepted the invitation to take over the Nissan Hut and give a free hand to make a Day Centre for the elderly and lonely.  Much has been achieved since then and having become known as ‘the best in the west’, we were delighted when the BBC recognised our efforts by filming our activities in 1971.  This film was called ‘The heart of the Matter’ and was shown Nationwide.  It is said that “tall oaks from little acorns grow”, and so it was with great pride and satisfaction when in 1978 the present Day Centre was opened and named ‘The Alice Cross Day Centre’ and our activities were able to continue in palatial  surroundings.  This was all possible by a caring, sharing the Teignmouth Old Peoples Welfare Committee, and many people who had faith in me and supported my work.  I would like to ask future Welfare Committee’s to continue that which has taken forty years to achieve.

Now that we are firmly established in our new Centre our activities continue as before, but of course, our membership has increased.  It will be appreciated that the running of the Centre is almost a full time voluntary job that gives great satisfaction.

Group standing in front of 2 minibuses
Possible delivery of new minibus in 1980s.
Photo: Courtesy of The-Wilson-Archive.

As well as our daily activities there are many other events to organise.  In January visits to a Pantomime was arranged, usually to Plymouth, Torquay or even Bristol.  Also at this time I start making arrangements for our annual week’s holiday.  This entails making enquiries about places with comfortable hotel with amenities for elderly people. I then book a coach usually  for  about  fifty members, to take us to our destination and back.  I also like to arrange several interesting trips, plus a theatre visit whilst away.  |In February we hold a committee meeting to decide where to go for our outings – one each month from April to September.  In March or April we hold our Easter Fayre with stalls, raffles and refreshments etc.  In May the choir festival usually takes place.  At one time this was almost a County wide event which was held in the Carlton Theatre.

I invited OAP Choirs from many parts of Devon, but unfortunately these days is too costly and so this event is now mainly local.  During the summer months our daily activities continue plus the outings and then in the autumn we have our main fund raising event, the Autumn Fayre.  In November and December we are very busy with all the arrangements for Christmas.  This entails catering and arranging entertainments for all members plus arranging entertainments for all members plus arranging for the lonely elderly people of Teignmouth to be looked after over the Christmas period, which I have mentioned earlier in this booklet.

Once a month we make the centre available to various organisations in the town who wish to hold a coffee morning to boost their funds.  This is one way we can help others, especially those local organisations who have helped us in the past.  Also once a month we have a foot Clinic at the Centre, an amenity that is much appreciated.

Alice Cross seated with group of people
Alice Cross (2nd from right) and supporters in the 1980s.
Photo: Courtesy of the Wilson Archive

In 1974 I was proud to be presented with the British Empire Medal, but I think my greatest reward is the knowledge that no one in Teignmouth area need be lonely, as there is always a welcome and a helping hand at the Centre.

I refrain from names so as not to give offence but I must say ‘Thank You’ to all those who over the forty years have helped me turn an idea into the reality of ‘The Alice Cross Day Centre’.”

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