The second you step over the threshold into Mary House, you immediately get a feel for the warm, happy atmosphere which is found in abundance at this very special home.
Visitors are greeted with beaming smiles and boundless enthusiasm from staff and residents alike.
Mary House, owned by Martha Trust, is home to 13 adults with profound physical and multiple learning disabilities.
Tucked away off The Ridge in Hastings, the facility provides residential, respite and day care, combining the highest standards of round-the-clock nursing care with state-of-the-art facilities.
Mary House was opened by the Countess of Wessex in 2006, yet a decade on, many in Hastings and Rother remain unaware of the home’s existence.
But Kerry Rubins, the new fundraising and events officer at Martha Trust, and possibly one of the most enthusiastic people I have ever met, is on a mission to make sure everyone knows about the charity.
Speaking about Mary House, Kerry said: “I cannot tell you how much I love it. Everyone is so friendly.
“I’m really eager to build contacts and raise more awareness.”
Kerry’s enthusiasm for Mary House is echoed by her colleagues.
It is clear that the staff love their jobs, and each glows with pride as they speak about the special relationships they have developed with the residents.
At the start of each day, a board is put up in the corridor, matching up carers and residents and the programme of activities they will be undertaking that day, including trips out, such as bowling, horse riding and visits to the cinema.
Not that there is ever any chance of residents getting bored in Mary House, with regular film screenings in the spacious cinema room, barbecues in the picturesque courtyard and special theme days - such as Chinese New Year and Grand National days - organised by the staff.
Residents are encouraged to hone their green-fingered skills in the Mary House sensory garden, with specialist equipment and wheelchair-height flower beds enabling them to get close to the aromatic mint, basil and curry plants.
Inside the building, residents’ artwork brightens the walls and the arts and crafts cupboard is well-used.
The creative process itself can be somewhat chaotic, as Kerry recalls: “I got covered in flour on my first day here!”
But part of the charm and appeal of Mary House is the residents are involved and feel part of the team.
Owen Nolan, deputy manager at the home, told the Observer: “We try to involve the residents in everything, from the basics, like what they are going to wear and eat, to the bigger things.
“Germaine (a resident) has recently been sitting in while people have been interviewed to see how they interact with her.”
Residents are even involved in decorating their bedrooms, with rooms designed to suit all tastes.
One resident, affectionately nicknamed by Kerry as ‘Queen G’ for her love of glamour and sparkly bangles, has a luxurious pink fluffy throw sprawled out on her bed, and her room is stuffed full with furniture she personally picked during an Ikea trip.
Her outdoor decking area is painted in a rainbow of colours and dotted with more ceramic knick knacks than you would find in your local garden centre.
Another resident has a beautiful wooden image of Marilyn Monore hanging on her wall.
Meanwhile Mary House’s youngest resident, 18-year-old Brett, will shortly be getting a mural of another voluptuous pin-up of the big screen - Jessica Rabbit - to brighten up his living quarters with her ample charms.
With all the personal touches, they look like any other bedrooms, and the presence of hoists and other specialist equipment are the only giveaway as to the level of care required for their inhabitants.
Martha Trust has 175 staff across its three homes, comprising of a mixture of qualified nurses and support workers.
Nicky Kinloch, who was a foster carer for a number of years, joined the team at Mary House earlier this year.
She said: “I have been here three months, but I feel like I have been here forever.
“But I have made my presence felt.
“I love it. It’s absolutely brilliant.”
The role has allowed Nicky to unleash her creative side - with Brett’s Jessica Rabbit mural the latest creative project on her ever-growing list.
She said: “Last night my brain started going ‘tick tick - that will be good, that will be a good one’. There are all these things you think of.”
Nicky also played a big part in decorating one of the most popular rooms in Mary House - the sensory room.
Built by staff and residents, the room includes an MP3 player, vibrating bed, bubbles and colourful lights as well as boxes of sensory items which are available for residents to touch.
Another feast for the senses is the Mary House hydropool.
Although used a lot for physiotherapy, the pool also boasts a top of the range music system and lights, which has made for some very successful Hawaiian pool parties.
And once again the pool provides residents with the chance to get involved, with buttons they can press to change the lights and music from the comfort of the pool.
Owen said: “You cannot really access facilities like this, so we are very lucky to have it here.
“But it does take a lot of funds to pay for the upkeep of it.”
Funding for the basic services comes from the local authorities, who fund places for the residents, but all the extras, the things that help the home stand out, are all paid for using donations from the local community. Every year they have to raise more than £200,000 to pay for the extras that make the difference between giving supportive, holistic care and just minding someone.
One group recently made a very generous donation which allowed Mary House to purchase an outdoor trampoline, which residents can enjoy in their wheelchairs.
And there is always new equipment and technology which the management at Martha Trust would like to buy to help make life better for the residents of Mary House.
One such item on the wish list is a device which will allow the wheelchair users the freedom to travel from place to place in Mary House at the touch of the button.
Kerry said: “All the stuff we enjoy normally, day-to-day, is what we are fundraising for.”
Kerry wants to build links with the Hastings and Rother community in a bid to raise the profile of Mary House and raise further funds for Martha Trust.
She would like to hear from any community groups, schools or organisations who would like her to come and give a talk or would like to raise some funds for Martha House.
For further information, please email Kerry Rubins at KerryRubins@marthatrust.org.uk.
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