Toiling daily in the vineyard of news, it is perhaps comforting know that after a lifetime of page leads, door-steps and deadlines, journalists can look forward to spending their dotage in a top-class nursing home.
Pickering House, on the outskirts of Dorking, is due to be opened officially next month by the Countess of Wessex. But the Journalists’ Charity let Press Gazette have a sneak preview behind its doors.
Built at a cost of £4m, Pickering House – named after former Daily Express editor and News International executive Ted Pickering – can justifiably be described as state of the art. Set in three acres (1.20ha), the home has 20 en-suite rooms for residents, a library, gym, hairdressers, games room, chapel and a well-stocked bar (provided courtesy of Sir Ray Tindle).
And of course, no community of journalists would be complete without a newsletter, Risca – it comes out once a month, written by resident Marhita Wearing, a former newspaper reporter with the South East London Mercury and Kentish Times, among others.
The building is light and airy – without any of the atmosphere of an institution – and evidently built to high architectural standards around a glass-domed, three-storey central atrium. So far, seven residents have moved in, and up the road at Harmsworth House there is sheltered housing for up to another 10 people. Pickering House, which provides nursing care rather than being a retirement home, charges fees for those who can afford it, while the Journalists’ Charity tops up local authority funding for those who can’t.
According to deputy director Anne Moxham: ‘We try very hard to accommodate everybody who wants a place. If anyone wants to they can come and have a look around – we then talk to their GP and decide whether it is right for them. Sometimes they may decide that they need to wait a few years before they are ready.”
She adds:’If somebody’s a journalist, or a widow of a journalist, they usually find someone they know in here or find they have friends in common. It’s a bit like the forces – everybody knows everybody else.”
The home’s manager, Helen Tomlinson, says: ‘The good thing about caring for journalists is that they are interesting and they are interested. They are very interested in the staff, which is nice for them because it’s a hard job, and it’s nice when people want to know about them as well.”
So far just £1.5m of the £4m need to pay for the care home has been raised by the Journalists’ Charity. As well as paying for the construction and upkeep of Pickering House, the Journalists’ Charity annually makes hardship grants of £250,000 to former journalists and their dependents.