Looking back at Ely Hospital: Activities and holidays

January 28th, 2012 by Admin Leave a reply »


Ely Hospital remembered in our series

In the third installment of our Ely Hospital series, Clare Hutchinson takes a look at activities and holidays at the institution, as told by those who were there

Activities formed a central part of daily life for patients with learning disabilities at Ely Hospital.

After the damning 1969 Ely Inquiry, in which the hospital was condemned for – among other things – not giving patients enough stimulation, more emphasis was put on activities like art, crafts, music and flower arranging.

But perhaps one of the more unusual activities was what was known as industrial therapy.

A therapist who worked at the hospital for 33 years shared his memories of his time there with Cardiff People First’s Ely Hospital project.

“Industrial therapy was awful,” he said.

“I think it came from the history of learning disabilities and workhouses as a way to try and give people proper jobs and get them out into the community.

“But that’s not what happened. It was actually just occupying people.

“You would get those little packs of screws and washers and things like that. They would fill those up, put 20 of them in a pack and seal them up and earn money from it.”

At other times, groups of up to 40 patients at a time would tie and re-tie ribbons, or even stamp prescriptions for the health authority.

The therapist added: “All day long you could hear it. When you’ve got 30 to 40 people doing that at a time its quite a loud sound in this big place.”

In the 1990s, before the hospital closed in 1997, patients could get paid up to £7 a day for their work.

One former nurse, who also contributed to the Ely Hospital project at the Cardiff Story museum, said patients could not earn more because it would affect their benefits.

“What we were trying to do was to make lots of different activities and put some routine into the residents’ lives there,” she said.

“First thing in the morning I would go into the wards and I would help people to dress or to feed themselves, and then across on the main department we would have all sorts of different activities going on for different groups that came over.

“We had some industrial therapy there and others would take part in drama, music and craft activities, cookery and then some days we would go out for trips.

“The ones that were more able had little jobs on the ward that they would get paid for, like tidying up or helping to look after somebody else, helping with mealtimes. But in our department we also had what was called an industrial therapy unit – packing screws and hooks and things.”


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