As Touchstone’s longest standing service user, Peter (who turns 79 this year) agreed to speak to me about his background and how he first came to access our services in Leeds.
Following a minor offence as a teenager, Peter found himself having to spend three years at an approved school in Todmorden. Life here was tough, and it was during his third year at the school that Peter attempted to take his own life. (Until 1969 approved schools were institutions modelled on boarding schools, where young offenders who were not considered high risk would be sent. More serious offenders would probably be sent to borstal instead).
Following this suicide attempt, Peter was transferred to Storthes Hall secure hospital near Huddersfield – where he then spent the following 20 years, till a review board finally granted his release. Peter recalls that there was no medication available at the hospital until the introduction of the Mental Health Act in 1959 – aside from something known as the ‘powerful green mixture’, which appears to have been a form of sedative.
Although the hospital was not a prison, the staff there wore uniforms and peaked caps liked prison officers. Peter recalls receiving visits from the headmaster and the gardening teacher of the approved school, while he was in the hospital.
The hospital had extensive grounds and buildings and housed around 3,500 patients – people from many different walks of life. Male and female patients were housed in different parts of the hospital. It had its own farm and bakery. There was even a pub on the premises, known as the Toby Jug, though patients would have to be accompanied by staff when they went there.
Peter knew of some cruelty at the hospital, though he said that the situation improved in later years. He recalled an occasion when he broke a window, as a protest and an expression of his frustration at being kept there – all he wanted was his freedom.
He still says he gets angry if people assume that because he was held there for so long that he must have committed some serious and violent offence. The truth is his initial crime only warranted three years in the reform school. Once he was transferred to the hospital, he couldn’t be released until a review board agreed to it.
Peter was born in Dewsbury in 1937. His parents both died when he was very young – his dad was killed during WWII, when Peter was two and his mum died from cancer when he was seven. He’s had little to do with the rest of his family, as he felt that they never stood by him when he was hospitalised.
When Peter was finally released, he first moved to Lockwood and then to Leeds. The doctor at Whitehall Road Reception Centre gave Peter a lifelong sick note, since he said it was pointless to give him a 12 month sick note, that would just have to be renewed.
He was introduced to Touchstone through his community nurse.
Touchstone was able to help Peter secure accommodation and since then has supported him to attend medical consultations, to do his shopping and with many other aspects of life. He recalled having had several different support workers over 21 years and said that Touchstone had always been good to him. For six years, Peter lived in Touchstone accommodation near Tempest Road in Beeston.
Peter’s noticed how the medications available have changed over the years, and says that the latest medication prescribed to him works as he wants it to.
Sometimes people have suggested that Peter should seek compensation for the years that he spent in hospital, but he is clear that he never wanted compensation – “all I wanted was my freedom”.
Touchstone Annual Review 2015-2016