In 1932 the world was in the grip of a crippling depression, the Olympic Games were held in Los Angeles, and Iraq gained independence from Britain. That same year, on 27 June, Alf Pearson was born. In 1944 he began working as a telegram boy. “I was good at that job,” says Alf, “I enjoyed it”. At 14, he joined the Unstone choir and made a lot of friends.
But then in 1947 he was involved in an accident with a lorry – and this greatly affected his nerves. His parents decided to move him into an institution, then called the Great Barr Park Colony. The hospital on the site, built between 1910 and 1930, later became St Margaret’s Hospital, which closed in the 1990s.
Alf says: “My mother and dad took me to court and they wanted to know what I had been doing – but I had been doing nothing. I didn’t do anything wrong. It was all about my nerves – somebody upset my nerves.”
Alf was admitted to Great Barr as a voluntary patient, although he says he was not allowed to leave. His memories are not happy ones. “I went in 29 December 1947,” he says. “It was terrible. Never again would I like to go back there. It was like prison. The place we used to sleep was like a dormitory – a big place with lots of beds in it. I was the youngest one there – they were all old men. Sometimes it was warm and sometimes cold. Some of the staff were terrible, they’d push people around.”
A place of his own
He continues: “We used to get locked in. We couldn’t ever go outside. They would sometimes take us out to football matches and dances. You couldn’t walk out on your own. Staff had to go everywhere with you.”
In June 1949, Alf finally came out of Great Barr. “I went to see a doctor when I came out and he said I shouldn’t have been sent there,” Alf recalls. He went through several establishments and care homes before arriving at the registered service run by United Response where he still lives today.
“I’ve been here for 18 years, and I still like it. I don’t want to leave here. I recommend people to stay here – it’s a lot better.”
Alf’s life is now full and busy. “I’ve got a cooking job here. And you better believe me, I can cook. I make meat and potato pie, we make pastry and all sorts of things. We can go out whenever we want to as long as we’re back in time for anything that’s going on. I’ve got a TV in my room. I like Coronation Street and The Bill. I play the organ – The Salvation Army taught me when I was 44. On Wednesday I go to the tea dance – we have a good time there.
“It’s far better living in your own home. I like it here and I wouldn’t like to go back there to the Great Barr. My mum and dad shouldn’t have put me there.”
Alf’s life story, as told to Jaime Gill
This article appeared in the 13 September issue under the headline “At last, Alf is busy”