The General visits iconic Strawberry Field site

published on 15 Mar 2018

On a scheduled visit to the North West General André Cox and Commissioner Silvia Cox (World President of Women's Ministries) were invited by Divisional Leader for the North West and North Wales, Major Drew McCombe, to visit the iconic Strawberry Field. They were given an insight into the new vision for the site. 

It was the first time the international leaders had visited Strawberry Field which was gifted to the army in the 1930s and run as a children’s home, supporting some of Liverpool’s most vulnerable children for nearly 70 years. The gates have remained closed since 2005 while an extended period of research and development was conducted. This revealed that over a million people in the UK have a learning disability and only 93% of that number have a job – 31% have no contact with family or friends.

As a result, the new vision for the site will include a training hub for young people with learning disabilities, a Fresh Expression for people to explore their spirituality and a visitor experience where greater insight will be given on The Salvation Army as well as John Lennon’s connection to the site.

The site was made famous, after John Lennon penned Strawberry Fields Forever which went on to be a hit for the Beatles. As a child, he lived a stone’s throw away and he frequently jumped over the wall into the grounds where he played with the children and listened to Walton band which often played there. For him, Strawberry Field was a special place and he remained a supporter of army, with a particular interest in the site, throughout his life, donating several thousands of pounds after the song’s release.

Now, on average, more than 60 thousand Beatles fans from around the world visit the site just to take a picture in front of the gates.

Major Drew spoke to the international leaders about the vision for the site and explained the missional opportunity it presents. 

The General, André Cox, said: “We were grateful for the chance to visit Strawberry Field as the vision for the site is something I’ve heard about. There is a real opportunity to address a social injustice here, helping young people with learning disabilities to gain meaningful employment and giving the public the chance to access the site and learn more about the army while exploring spirituality. We’ve now witnessed how many Beatles fans and tourists visit the site to take a picture of the gates and can see the opportunity there is to engage with them, tell them about the history of the site give them the chance to explore their own spirituality. It’s an extremely exciting project for the army.”

Central to the new vision for Strawberry Field is a ‘Steps to Work’ programme which combines two days of education with two days of work placement per week. The structured education programme has a strong emphasis on building practical skills and self-esteem; it includes basic elements like literacy, numeracy and IT, plus life skills such as teamwork, communication and taking responsibility. Trainees will also study for recognised vocational qualifications that employers know and value.

Students at the hub will train in vocational areas such as catering, retail, visitor experience, and horticulture. Importantly, they will receive opportunities for work placements to build skills and confidence that will lead to meaningful volunteering and sustainable employment opportunities.

Major Drew, said: “A Fresh Expression forms a key part of the vision and in July 2018 Mission Director and Fresh Expression Lead will take up their appointments. Strawberry Field is a project we’ve been developing for a long time and with the new Fresh Expression appointments we’re looking forward to moving into the next stage of which is wonderful. It was great to share this with the General and hear his encouragement.”

Work has begun on site after planning permission was granted in November 2017. It is hoped the site will open in the summer of 2019.

A fundraising campaign was launched in November 2017 which included a choir of local young people with learning disabilities who recorded a version of Strawberry Fields Forever. To watch the video that was created and to find out more about how you can support the fundraising campaign and discover more about the story visit here.