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John Lennon’s vision realised in Strawberry Field Centre for young people with learning disabilities

2 November 2017 - 12:00am
| by Joss
|

The Salvation Army today launches a public fundraising campaign to transform Strawberry Field – the former children’s home which inspired John Lennon’s Strawberry Fields Forever – into a training and work placement hub to support young people with learning disabilities. 

The Church and Charity needs £2m funding to make this happen. 

Over a million people in the UK have a learning disability* and only 7% of that number have a job. 31% have no contact with family or friends, according to research uncovered by the Church and Charity. 

To mark the launch of the new campaign, 50 years since the original release of the 1967 classic Beatles song, a choir formed of young people with learning disabilities – all of whom could potentially benefit from the Army’s inspiring plans – gathered at the world-famous Abbey Road studios to create a special version of the iconic song, released online today. The choir was made up from a mix of students from The City of Liverpool College and young people who The Salvation Army work with.

Major Drew McCombe, Divisional Leader for The Salvation Army, North West, said: “Lennon grew up close to Strawberry Field, and gave generously to the home as soon as he got his first pay cheque. He also had a vision for it, expressed in the song, as a place where anybody, whatever their personal background and difficulties, could realise their dreams. 

“Strawberry Field has the potential to bring that vision to life; changing the lives of young people with learning disabilities, who find it difficult to find gainful employment, as well as encourage more projects similar across the UK. I hope our choir will not only raise awareness of these issues, but inspire people to take action to help create a better future for those affected.” 

As a child, Lennon famously used to jump over the wall into the Strawberry Field grounds, where he would play with the children who lived there and listen to The Salvation Army band. He grew up just a stone’s throw away from the site in Woolton, Liverpool, which has lain unused for 12 years. 

He remained a supporter of The Salvation Army, with a particular interest in Strawberry Field throughout his life, donating several thousands of pounds to the charity after the song’s release. 

Paul O’Grady, supporter of The Salvation Army, said: “It is truly shocking to know the disadvantage that young people with learning disabilities face. 

“I’m sure John Lennon would be smiling down on this project. As the song lyrics say, ‘Living is easy with eyes closed’ – hopefully this campaign will open people’s eyes so they see the many individuals living alongside us that aren’t being given the support they need to thrive and flourish.” 

The Salvation Army is now calling on anyone interested in making a difference to the lives of these young people to help revive the iconic location through a £2m public fundraising campaign, which will allow Strawberry Field to open its doors to the public for the first time ever. 

The inspirational choir was joined at Abbey Road by special guest photographer Mike McCartney, former front man of pop band The Scaffold and younger brother of Beatle Paul. He has been involved in the Strawberry Field project from its early days. 

Mike said, “I wanted to capture the choir coming off the bus and walking across the famous zebra crossing, but they were on a mission – I almost missed them! They couldn’t wait to get to the studio and get in there. There was some apprehension in their faces, but it was special watching them grow in confidence throughout the day. In the end, they delivered the goods. It was a joyous day.” 

Funds raised will create a training and work placement hub for young people with learning disabilities; a new, visitor experience on the place, the song and Lennon’s early life around Strawberry Field; and the development of a haven for spiritual exploration. 

A dedicated website, www.strawberryfieldliverpool.com has launched to support the redevelopment and offer information on how donors and volunteers can become involved. The website includes information on how to donate to the project, as well as official and exclusive Strawberry Field merchandise. 

*Source: People with Learning Disabilities in England 2011 

Links to video content to support the campaign: 

Hear from our choir as to why Strawberry Field matters to them 

Follow our choir as they journey to London to rehearse and record Strawberry Fields Forever at Abbey Road Studios 

Listen to the song in its entirety   

Due to his dyspraxia, Jordan left school a shy and isolated teenager with a very unclear future. Since then, not only has he gone on to gain qualifications, he now has two jobs with big ambitions for the future. Beyond that, he’s become a treasured, conscientious member of his community and relishes in the fact that he’s able to give back. Jordan is true inspiration and testament to what young people with learning disabilities can achieve – a real success story of this project 

Hi-res images of the choir at Abbey Road Studios can be found here

About Strawberry Field – its history and future vision 

  • Strawberry Field was gifted to the Salvation Army in 1934. The organisation opened its doors in 1936 and for nearly 70 years the site supported some of Liverpool’s most vulnerable children until it closed in 2005. Central to the site’s new vision is a ‘Steps to Work’ programme which combines two days of education with two days of work placement per week.

 

  • The structured education programme has a strong emphasis on building practical skills and self-esteem; it includes basic elements like literacy, numeracy and IT, plus life skills such as teamwork, communication and taking responsibility. Trainees will also study for recognised vocational qualifications that employers know and value. 

 

  • Students at the hub will train in vocational areas such as catering, retail, visitor experience, and horticulture. Importantly, they will receive opportunities for work placements to build skills and confidence that will lead to meaningful volunteering and sustainable employment opportunities. 

 

  • Strawberry Field’s visitor experience will include an exhibition area, café and shop. The gardens and grounds of Strawberry Field will be redeveloped and offer a magical experience to visitors who can follow in the footsteps of the young John Lennon. 

 

  • The very latest technologies will be adopted to create an exhibition where visitors will enter a space where “nothing is real” as they experience the wondrous, intertwined histories of the house, John Lennon, and the writing and recording of the iconic song. The gardens will be filled with messages of peace and love that will inspire visitors as Lennon himself was inspired. 

 

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