Saving—and expanding—Headley Court’s Legacy of Exceptional Rehabilitation

If you know me, you'll know that since I was 21, what I've dreamed of creating is the project I call "Headley Court for Everyone".

 

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As a passionate rehabilitation specialist, I have a long and heartfelt history with Headley Court - the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre just outside Epsom. My first encounter with this remarkable centre for healing happened when I was just 19 years old, an idealistic physiotherapy student on placement.

I learned about its incredible history.

The manor house and grounds were purchased just after WW2 with a public collection: the Royal Air Force Pilots and Crews Fund, set up to thank and pay tribute to the RAF for its heroic efforts in the war, including the Battle of Britain. The original vision for the project, to treat and care for injured pilots, expanded throughout the years to care for wounded heroes from all branches of the military.

I was awed by its magnificent facilities.

Headley is based around an historic mansion house, first built in 1899, which now forms the Officers' Mess, as well as offices, a clinical assessment area, and a cinema for patients. It also has multiple rehab gyms, a hydrotherapy pool and a swimming pool (military charity Help for Heroes was originally set up to provide the injured service personnel with that pool). It has clinical areas for treatment including physiotherapy, occupational therapy, podiatry, psychology and nursing. It has a specialist prosthetics department to support athletic amputees. There are 133 bedrooms for patients, plus a ward for those who need overnight care. There are also 64 houses for staff. It has a tennis court, a football pitch (which doubles as a helipad), a croquet lawn (did I mention that it used to be a stately home?) and extensive grounds, including parking for 400 cars. It also backs onto the rather amazing Tyrrell's Wood golf club.

I was deeply inspired by its devoted, expert staff.

Every member of Headley’s superb, dedicated staff works day in and day out with their (all military) patients on both an inpatient and outpatient basis, achieving great results in a way nowhere else can currently replicate. Working at Headley has always been much more than a job, it's admission to a community built around care and excellence.

Headley’s presence and its staff literally underpinned my whole military career.

From my first day at Headley as a student, I felt an undeniable connection to this place which kept drawing me back. After my work placement, I returned for my first post after graduating. I went back again a few years later to see it from the other side when I tore my rotator cuff and needed rehab and surgery. I finally returned in 2010, just before I left the Army to set up Victory. Every experience I had at Headley Court drove home the fact that it was a unique place, one doing vitally important work with passion, excellence, and empathy.

And now - it's being sold.

Headley Court is on the market. Defence rehabilitation is moving to a new, purpose-built venue in the midlands - more accessible for the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham where severely injured personnel are flown for life saving surgery, and more accessible to service personnel's families across the UK.

Property developers are circling, hoping to build and sell houses on the site for a massive profit.

I don't want that to happen.

As soon as I heard the news, a very deep and very powerful dream rose up from the memories of the idealistic 21-year-old-Nell, and deeply resonated with the passionate and experienced professional I am today. I knew that someday I wanted to help create something like Headley Court for everyone who needed it. Now, suddenly, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity may have opened up.

What if we continued and expanded Headley Court’s mission of healing and rehabilitation to include everyone?

At first it was only a thought, but it quickly began to grow into a solid idea, a possibility, even a goal.

Repurposing Headley Court in order to treat civilians would not mean starting from scratch, but it would mean opening its doors to so many people who would benefit from specialist rehab: people recovering from surgery, people who have had complex trauma such as vehicle accidents, people with chronic pain and post traumatic stress - and people who simply can't afford to take too long to get back to full health, and who need intensive physical therapy.

I want "Headley Court for Everyone" to be more than an idea looking for a venue. The venue exists, and it's fully established - and it's available to buy.

Many of the existing staff - some of whom are military but most of whom are civilians - don't want to move to the midlands. They have roots, lives and families in this leafy corner of Surrey. They - like me - love Headley and don't want the legacy of rehabilitation to be lost. This includes doctors, therapists and administrators.

So - how do we make this happen, how do we keep Headley Court open for business, to help a new generation of patients?

Well, the first hurdle is financial.  Rather than provide a guide price, the agents say they are accepting expressions of interest on 1 November 2017 (and have confirmed that they have had interest from a wide range of potential purchasers in different sectors).  But given that the Help for Heroes gym cost £20m, I think it's safe to say we're looking in the tens of millions - for which investment would definitely be needed!

Then we'd have to convince the Headley Court charity trustees that we would be the best option for the future of Headley.  I can't know who else is interested, or what they plan to do with the place if they get it - but I do know that keeping it as a rehabilitation centre would be good for maintenance of local employment, and would mean not destroying the work that has gone into building the facilities.  It would mean preserving a legacy of service and healing that has endured since it first opened its doors. So I think that if we could raise a competitive amount of investment, then we would have a reasonable chance with the trustees.

The next hurdle is staff.  I understand that around half the current staff would be keen to stay.  But we would need more doctors, more therapists of various types, more nurses, and a whole lot of administration and hospitality leadership and support.  We would need people to actively treat our patients, people to look after their wellbeing when they're not undergoing treatment, people to arrange appointments, people to look after the clinical admin and the marketing and the liaison with hospitals, and looking after the property and gardens, and managing security.

Can you help with any of this?  Let’s make it happen.

We need to register an expression of interest on 1 November 2017, so if you can help with investment (or know anyone who might) or with presenting to the trustees then I'd love to hear from you... and if we get beyond that stage, then I'd love to start talking to people who would like to help me repurpose Headley Court for Everyone.

 

Nell Mead