The year was 1972.
The news was full of reports from the Munich Olympic Games, and the growing Watergate scandal in America which would cause the first ever resignation of a US President. Closer to home, the miners’ strikes were in full swing, and Ted Heath was in the middle of his only term as British Prime Minister.
Less column inches, however, were dedicated to Brian Pomfret’s start at a brand new care home in Manchester called Heathlands Village.
“As a teen, I’d played football on the lawns among the ruins of what had been the stately home on these grounds,” Brian reminisces.
“The owner of that original property – a man called Dimitri – I never met, but I had heard from others that every Christmas he would go around Rainsough and give money to all the homeless children.
“By the time I was playing football on the grass, he had long since died and the place was really just a mess. Where the big storage containers now stand in our car park were the remains of some old horse stables.”
The start of what would turn into a lifetime of service began for Brian with a familial recommendation.
“My sister was working at Heathlands already – she started pretty much the day the doors opened. She was a waitress in the home and suggested I come along. I had long hair in those days and it put some people off offering me a job – so I took the opportunity!
“The matron – Matron Oddy – interview me by her office, where our atrium is today. She offered me the job on the spot, and I started the very next day.
“I began as a porter and cleaner – there was only me and one other man doing all the work. He told me he was an Oxford graduate…and do you know, I always took him at his word!”
As a constant presence for five decades, Brian has witnessed some astonishing changes to the organisation he loves, yet there have been some continual threads throughout.
“It was always a busy, bustling place – even back then,” he recalls.
“Back when I started, the whole building hadn’t even been opened yet. It was another few months before each wing was operational, but once it was there was no looking back.
“Heathlands has always offered amazing care – even if it was a bit different in those days. Wolfson and Unit 2 were laid out like hospital wards with beds down the sides; people seemed to move into care homes much earlier then – there were more new faces frequently, but they weren’t with us as long.
“The organisation has grown and got stronger as the years have gone on – we’ve moved with the times and evolved.”
From Royal visits to personal meetings that had a huge lasting impact, Heathlands has provided a backdrop to Brian’s entire adult life.
“When Prince Phillip visited in ’72, it was all hands to the pump. We seemed to be working 24/7 to get the place ready, and everyone was at action stations.
“Beyond the many residents and colleagues I have known, I even met my wife here! We were introduced while she was working here and we were married in 1996.
“Some of my colleagues have been part of my life for what feels like forever – a number have been here for well over 25 years, some more than 30. You get so used to seeing the same faces daily – it’s hard to imagine them not being there. I’ll miss them very much, and the daily routine of being part of it all.”
Trying to sum up a career now in its 50th year, Brian gives it a go:
“Heathlands provided me with a good livelihood and a roof over my head. I had always wanted to travel America – that was my dream – and between 1972 and 1996 I did that ten times – all thanks to my job at Heathlands.”
The memories of a life spent dedicated to his work keep on flooding back:
“Leslie Kay, a former Chairman and Board Member of Heathlands Village and The Fed, once told me that ‘if not for you, we would have struggled to get Eventhall House open’ – I took that to be a huge compliment.
“I suppose our worst ever moment was the terrible laundry fire we had in the 90s. I was woken up in the middle of the night by a phone call, and when I got to Heathlands the entire unit had been gutted. It was a disaster. Thank god no one was hurt – the quick thinking of the night security guard saved the day.
“We had an arrangement with Crumpsall Hospital to send them our laundry in our vans, and we had washing machines and dryers dotted around site to keep things going. We even had washing lines strung all the way around the back as well – the weather was good to us and we hung it all out.
“It took more than a year for everything to be fully restored, but in true Heathlands fashion we came back even stronger.”
From a youngster playing football on the lawn, to one of the first ever members of staff, right through to a husband, long-time Heathlands servant and quite possibly now the longest-ever serving member of staff, Brian is well placed to pass comment on his 49 years with the organisation.
“It’s given me a good life, and everything I could ask for,” he says. “If not for my hip which has started giving me grief, I would have loved to have got to the big 50 mark next year.”
I’m sure every one of us will forgive him.
“You’ve got to work somewhere,” Brian says, philosophically.
“Why not work somewhere that makes you happy?”