It is with great sadness that we share the news of Mary Edwards’ recent passing at the age of 95. Mary was one of our founders and the very Mary that still features in our name – Mary Frances Trust!
Our CEO Patrick Wolter said: “It is a very sad moment for our charity. Although most of us never had the chance to meet her in person, she is the reason why we’re all here today supporting thousands of people with their mental health and wellbeing. We are extremely proud to be part of her legacy and to keep honouring her memory every day by being there for our clients and saying her name every time we talk about our charity! We thank her (and Frances) for daring to start such a bold and important mission – to ensure that no-one in Surrey struggles with their mental health alone. Our thoughts go to her family and loved ones at this difficult time.”
The funeral service will be held at The Parish Church in Leatherhead at 12.45pm on Wednesday 19 January 2022 which everyone is welcome to attend. Flowers should be sent in advance to the undertakers, W A Truelove 121 High St, Banstead SM7 2NS, telephone: 01737 212160.
As a tribute, we’ve asked our Trustee Heather Ward, who knew her and worked with her, to tell us more about Mary. She shares her impressions and recalls a conversation when they discussed how Mary came to start Mary Frances Trust. A fascinating read showing what an incredibly strong and determined, yet modest, woman she was!
“As a local councillor, I had visited one of my constituents, Maurice, at the Department of Psychiatry in Epsom. He was depressed, and I found that the ward he was in was a truly depressing place. I wanted something better for Maurice. I had heard of the Clubhouse and thought it was a wonderful concept, that people would be members instead of patients and would be involved in decision making and running the house; in other words, treated with the dignity and respect which they deserved. The opportunity arose, for me to join a small group of people who were discussing how a clubhouse could be set up in Leatherhead. This was where I met Mary.
Mary was a quiet person, but very focussed on achieving a result. She combined tenacity with a willingness to take on whatever challenge arose. She was also practical and realistic. I enjoyed working with her and with the rest of the group. One day I asked her how she had become involved with this work, and she invited me to her house so we could talk about it. I met her husband, who was also a journalist, and Mary and I sat down with a coffee while she told me the story and I made rapid notes [see “brief history” section below].
In the next months, as we worked towards our goal, Mary was a great encourager. She continued to write letters to potential funders and well written articles for the national press about the Clubhouse. When I had a tricky situation to deal with, she drafted a tactful letter which magically brought about the desired result. Once we were fully fledged, she stepped back and left us to continue on the path she had begun for us. I count myself fortunate to have had Mary as a colleague.”
A photo of Mary Edwards, shared by her family.
Brief history of Mary Edwards’ Achievements in the field of Mental Health
Mary Edwards has been a journalist all her life. In 1973 Mary’s oldest son was taken ill, and it was as a result of this that she joined the National Schizophrenia Fellowship (N.S.F). One day she was invited to attend a Community Health Council meeting behalf of the N.S.F., in place of someone else.
At the meeting she soon became aware that the Chairman did not understand the difference between mental illness and mental handicap. Since by this time she had both in her family, Mary recalled: “I dare say there was an edge in my voice when I stood up to point out the difference! As a result, I became a member of a steering committee to set up a branch of MIND in Epsom. I have been writing minutes ever since then, for MIND, for the Melrose Trust and for the Clubhouse Board.”
Like many other parents in her position, she was anxious to see supported accommodation for her son, so that his future housing would be secure. This led her to write to all the Mental Health charities for funding for a house. One of them wrote back. Jill Lomas from the Sainsbury Family Trust offered to help her to obtain funding, which would be by applying, in partnership with a housing association, to the Housing Corporation.
Now Mary, with Pat Gumbrell and David Basnett, set up the Melrose Trust, to establish supported housing in the Leatherhead area. The company was registered in 1998. After fruitless work with one housing association, she found another, Stonham, with whom she obtained funding in July 1989. She found a house and it was bought on 24 January 1990. There was a delay of two years, during which Mary was caretaking. She bought curtains in charity shops and looked after the plumbing in freezing weather. Dayme Lodge opened in 1992, with places for five residents.
People at the N.S.F. were saying that housing and day care go together. By this time, Frances Jones, a local Mental Health Social Worker, had become a Trustee of the Melrose Trust. She had heard about the Clubhouse model and had attended the first European Clubhouse Conference at Malmo in Sweden. She arranged a presentation at West Park Hospital, by Colin Maclean, the Director of Hillside House, the first Clubhouse in Britain. Mary was so interested that she visited Copenhagen’s Fountain House, remembering: “I was very impressed. A young fellow, a member, took me round.” She then visited Hillside House in North London.
Mary wrote to charities again, this time to obtain funding for a clubhouse. The Tudor Trust had already given a grant to rescue the Garlands Club, a local, small but valued drop-in, which had been set up by the local MIND branch. The Trust went on to make a grant to the Clubhouse, £27,000, over two years.
Mary said: “Then I discovered that I had about three days to apply for Joint Finance. Social Services helped me to fill in the application form, which was made out on behalf of the Melrose Trust and the N.S.F.”
The Clubhouse received Joint Finance for three years. The interest group became a provisional board, which later applied for charity status under the name of the Mary Frances Trust. Mary set about finding a coordinator for the Leatherhead Clubhouse, Ben Collins, who was appointed in August 1994, and a house, close to the town centre. The Clubhouse first opened its doors to members on 16 January 1995.
At the Clubhouse AGM in October 1995, Mary stood down from the Board, but characteristically, she offered to continue to assist them, writing more letters to secure funding and giving good advice when asked. As a member of the Board, she was a constant source of encouragement and common sense.