The early 1900s saw the beginning of Occupational Therapy (O.T) for the patients at Exminster Hospital. It was felt to be a necessity for the health of the patient and of immense value in their rehabilitation. This work was seen as unpaid labour and as a form of therapy as opposed to planned industrial work in the appropriate environment suitable for the patient, whereby they were paid a small wage.
A Tour of the Hospital in October 1934 took place to showcase its pioneering Occupational Therapy system, by then an integral part of the hospital environment.
Unfortunately, World War II almost destroyed the Occupational Therapy service in Exminster but by 1948, there had been a great improvement on the men’s side but little was available for the women. For the men, there were, loom weaving, carpentry, basket, brush and coir mat making, bookbinding and printing. For the women, there were rug making, mending, darning, folk dancing, and physical training. Art classes were introduced in 1953.
Also in 1953, there was a need for better premises for Occupational Therapy and more staff were needed, so the Committee put to the Board plans for a new O.T. Centre. It took two years to secure approval and a further year before the building work began. The centre, which was built near to the Belvedere Clinic, was opened in January 1958, having cost £33,000 to build and £2,600 for equipment.
In 1962, the Head Occupational Therapist at Exminster accepted another post, so the opportunity was taken to merge the O.T. services of the group (Exminster, Digby and Wonford House Hospitals) now known as Exe Vale Group.
Patients who attended occupational therapy were not paid, as it was considered as non-productive but all patients in the hospital without means were allowed 13s 6d pocket money a week but the therapy itself played a huge part in the rehabilitation of the patients.
A Committee of officers, the Rehabilitation Committee, with a consultant as Chairman, was set up to co-ordinate all forms of rehabilitation.
It was decided, in 1974, that because so many patients were immobile, to take the facilities to the wards. New centres were provided in the former Ward 12 (later Belvedere 5 and 6) and Ward 23 while Deepway House got a hut for the same purpose. Occupational Therapy now played an important part in a patient’s day. About half of all in-patients attended. Sessions lasted about two hours both mornings and afternoons. These lines of treatments were individually prescribed by the psychiatrists. They covered initial assessment, group activities (including discussions, panel games, musical sessions, and outings) and individual activities such as domestic management, various crafts and hobbies, typing, printing, pottery, carpentry and shopping visits.
The items made by the patients were a huge success and ‘customers’ came from all around the area to purchase these items. They consisted of items made from basket weaving; painting on glass, paintings, tapestry and woodwork – such as, chairs, foot stools, fire screens, children’s chairs and toys, benches and picture framing; knitting and crochet were taught to the patients, so teapot covers, toilet roll covers, dressing table sets, tablecloths, table doilies and even slippers were made and sold. (Some more advanced patients were able to make their own clothes). Pottery was taught and products made – cups, bowls, teapot stands, plates, fruit bowls etc were sold too.
This was pretty much the case until the closure of the Hospital in 1987.
Patient employment or Industrial Therapy as it was known within the hospital, was first considered by the Management Committee at Exminster in 1957, but was not implemented until 1959. The type of work carried out, under nursing direction, was repairing crates for a soft drinks firm.
In 1963, a large training unit and mental health centre (The Nichols Centre) was being developed by the Exeter City Health Department for the use of Industrial Therapy. The Nichols Centre also made its facilities such as hostels, clubs available to mentally ill patients and Exe Vale Hospital sent a number of patients to this centre by hospital transport, on a daily basis, encouraging the idea of going out to worlk.
Being a rural area, industrial work suitable for patients was not easy to come by. A good deal of the output was made for the hospital or other hospitals. At one point there were approximately 80 patients, mainly men, working in purpose built premises.
The items they made were hospital furniture (wardrobes, tables, chairs, geriatric chairs, garden seats), assemble seed boxes, pack nets, make concrete slabs and bricks and pack aircraft cutlery. In 1974 there were 12 full-time staff and a few part-time retired tradesmen from the hospital.
In 1963, incentive payments were paid for those patients that were more 'productive', up to a maximum of £1 19s. 6d a week and in 1974 ranged from 50p to £4 per week.
Some more able patients were offered work within the village, for example, the Stowey Arms took on these patients for tasks such as clearing away glasses, sweeping up and washing up dishes for which they were paid.
Patients were also 'employed' in several departments within the hospital, for example the kitchen, laundry, gardens, farm, works department and some wards. They would also clean the vehicles in the transport department, transport trolleys of dishes to and from the wards to 'The Wash', and help catering assistants to lay and clear tables.
This employment was felt to be immensely important for the patients' rehabilitation and working towards discharge and finding employment outside of the hospital. For those patients that the hospital was their home and they were not likely to be discharged, this employment was equally as important to prevent boredom and monotony and to give them a purpose and a feeling of self-worth and a chance to mix with other people - staff as well as patients - and to earn money for the extras they might like.
OUTINGS AND HOLIDAYS
Social activities within the hospital were an essential element in the treatment of the patient.
Coach trips and picnics were encouraged and enjoyed. Patients who were able were taken out for coach trips, usually driven by one of the hospital transport drivers, to such places as the seaside or places of interest, such as, Buckfast Abbey. These trips were usually funded by the hospital and enjoyed by both patients and staff. A picnic lunch would be provided by the kitchen staff and depending on where the trip was, the patients were treated to an ice cream or a cream tea.
Holidays for long stay patients were provided with a pilot venture in 1963 where a few patients, accompanied by staff, spent a holiday at Sandy Bay. This proved so successful that in 1966 more ambitious plans were made which led to the adaptation of ‘Burseldon’, a large house in Dawlish becoming a holiday home.
Visitors to the Hospital were introduced in the early years of the Hospital being built. On 1st August 1889, The Committee of Visitors made their Quarterly Report to the Devon County Council. They consisted of professionals, such as, architects, doctors, justices, clergymen, and various other members of the community, such as Earls and Lords. These visitors made recommendations to the Hospital Committee on the running of the hospital and changes that needed to be made. Overcrowding was their main priority and the need for new buildings to be built.
As early as 1904, it was recorded that visitors came to the Hospital to entertain the patients and this had been a common practice for many years by this time. This would include a concert party and a band. A Patients’ Library was run by the Chaplain with the British Red Cross Society playing an active part in its running. They also provided pictures ‘on loan’ to various wards.
In 1954, the Board asked the Management Committee to encourage the formation of a ‘Friends of the Hospital’ group. Volunteers were already visiting the hospital with the running of the library and entertainment but to make it on an organised basis. In 1959, this was achieved. The League raised funds for various amenities but also provided contacts such as visits, birthday greetings, Christmas cards etc for patients who were without family and friends. They provided teas for patients and their visitors on Sundays.
In 1965, another group known as the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service (WRVS) took over the running of the hospital shop. They used any profits that were made towards various projects that were to benefit the patients.
Other organisations and people also contributed towards the welfare of the patients. These would include, St. John Ambulance Brigade, Church groups, Women’s Institutes, University students providing entertainment, musical sessions and art classes. Other groups such as school children and other young people would go and help out during school holidays by talking and listening to lonely patients which proved very useful.
In 1972, Mrs H Michaelson, Organiser of Voluntary Services, reported there were 16 voluntary groups with 50 adults and children helping individuals in the wards or helping groups of old people ‘adopted’ by them. The old people liked the young volunteers visiting them but they did need adult supervision and support. A Voluntary Services Liaison Committee comprised of senior professional staff who gave guidance to the service.
Visiting by friends and relatives was encouraged. So daily visiting from 2.30 pm to 7 pm was introduced. This allowed more freedom and proved extremely beneficial to the patients and their visitors.
As early as 1877 the patients’ activities were considered. When the new Chapel was built, the room that was being used as a chapel was converted into a Recreation Hall or Ballroom. Many concerts and other entertainments were performed in this room. This room was of great value and was in use most days of the week.
In 1883, the Recreation Hall (Ballroom) was enlarged and better provision made for exits. This alteration was due to a disastrous fire in the Exeter Theatre which called attention to the safety precautions for similar buildings. A further extension was carried out in 1893. This room would also be used for pantomimes performed and written by the staff of the hospital. There was also a Hospital Orchestra that would entertain patients in the Ballroom or a small selection of musicians would go to the wards and entertain those patients that were unable to leave the ward.
In addition to this, a cricket field, football pitch and a tennis court were introduced. Billiard tables were also provided. In 1894, the Commissioners commented on the these billiard tables. The bed was made of 'inlaid wood' instead of slate which proved its age, for iron was used before slate for billiard tables and wood before iron.
The hospital had their own teams, made up of staff, for cricket, football, and tennis where the patients could go and watch the teams at home and away. In later years, the patients were encouraged to play a greater role within the team, such as, scoring and eventually as players. Patients initially played each other but later teams consisted of both staff and patients. The cricket and football pitches were located close to the Occupational Therapy buildings and the tennis court was near to the Nurses' Home.
There was also a small 'cinema' set up at the end of the WRVS Shop where patients could go every week to watch a film.