February2000_Site.jpgThis week sees the end of clinical services at our site in the Ribble Valley. The buildings will continue in use as another trust takes them on, but after more than a century, we are leaving this really special location.

For many who hadn’t heard about the learning disability hospital there, the area will be familiar for walking, camping, climbing the nearby Pendle Hill or simply the welcome of Ribble Valley communities.

However, the areas have been the centre of a revolution in care for people with complex needs, starting with forms of inpatient services with standards we sometimes struggle to look back at, but which, over time, lead to our Whalley site being officially described by regulators as ‘outstanding’.

OpenDay_CraftDisplay.jpgAt the start of the 20th century, 100,000 people were housed in organisations across England under provisions such as the 1808 County Asylums Act which had empowered magistrates to build rate supported asylums in every county. In Lancashire, the Ribble Valley was the heart of the county’s institutional care system and in November 1902 at Preston County Hall it was resolved that Whalley, then a village of 1422 people, would see a new location, as it had excellent railway and other links.  Despite much local concern and opposition, work began on the Clay Fields in 1907.

The Great War saw the nearly-complete site diverted for its first turn as a military hospital. After the soldiers left, Calderstones Hospital opened on 25 June 1921, with 11 admissions and 978 vacancies. By the end of that year, there were 714 patients. In 1971 there were 1631 resident patients.

Over the course of the century, the attitudes and diagnosis of mental health changed dramatically, with some of the research done in Whalley helping to affect that change. Calderstones led work in moving people on and into forever homes, creating a dedicated service just for this which is now a standalone community interest company.


The village became noted by a national newspaper as one of the top 101 places to live in the UK in the early 21st Century and links between hospital and community remained strong.  As well as generations of locals working in and around the site, the most visible link was the annual Royal British Legion Remembrance Service, the only one of its kind outside London.

Charles, then Prince of Wales, visited in 1981 and later wrote to say he was impressed by the happy atmosphere and inclusiveness in what had then become a site for people with complex learning disability needs.

1960sStudentNurses.jpgJust over a decade later Calderstones joined the NHS.  A perhaps fateful decision was to retain its original name as the hospital became an NHS Trust, which cemented its old use in people’s minds. After adding some patients from the nearby Brockhall hospital, Calderstones has 976 patients in March 1992 and 800 by 1994.

By the end of the 1990s, much of the older buildings had been decommissioned ahead of a new housing development, but not before refugees from the Yugoslav wars were housed there. Those families from Kosovo came back two decades later to thank hospital leaders and take part in commemorations.1996_75Years.jpg

Calderstones Partnership Foundation Trust came into being in 2009 with more than 5000 members.  It became known as a place delivering high quality specialist LD care.  Colleagues led wide ranging research and innovation including service user experience, psychological therapies and the national NIHR portfolio, publishing about a dozen papers a year in the early 2010s.

Highlights of the service’s last decades included Nursing Times Awards, creating an innovative recovery college and receiving an outstanding rating from the Care Quality Commission. Service users were regulars at national events and annual awards on site gave out well-earned certificates for their achievements in Our Shared College, local technical colleges, sport and life skills.

MayorTrampoline.jpgIn 1995, 250 service users had received certificates from the Principal of Accrington and Rossendale College. Two decades later, 422 certificates were presented by the Chairman, including for 126 accredited courses. The Goddess Project of female service user art was exhibited at the Tate Gallery and in 2012, the Trust sponsored the beautiful ‘Spheres of Wellbeing’ portfolio study.  And only this month, Whalley based staff shared best practice in co-production in a well-received presentation to NHS North West Coast.

After the site and services had been acquired by Mersey Care in 2016, national changes to NHS commissioning took place. These led to the relocations and changes of recent years.  Mersey Care’s forensic learning disability services are now part of specialist community teams, plus Rowan View and the new Aspen Wood sites in Maghull. That low secure site opens to patients this week.

A big thank you to all the staff who have gone the extra mile for service users (and each other) during challenging times and in preparation for the move. 

For many Whalley and all it stands for will be remembered with fondness.  In the words of one prominent recent ex-service user: “You’ve got this big NHS Trust that actually stands up and says, ‘right, we support these people’ rather than judging them, giving them a safe place to be who they actually are. I think that’s pretty good.”