Captain Paul and Sister Betty Swinscoe

Betty started her Church Army training in 1952, after a short period of office work. After much heart-searching Betty started a 6 month period of "pre-training" divided between two holiday homes for struggling mothers and their children in St Leonards-on-Sea and Bexhill-on-Sea. After spending 2 years at the training college Betty went into parish work and over the next 11 years spent her time in 3 different parishes, in Bristol, Sidcup and Oldbury, near Birmingham.

During her time in Bristol Betty worked in the area of St Paul’s, a deprived area full of tenements, running Sunday schools, women’s meetings and generally helping with church life.

In Sidcup Betty taught Sunday school children in a Nissan Hut, ran women's meetings and would visit people on her trusty bike. Her vicar was a chaplain to a huge hospital for the mentally ill and Betty would go with him to visit the patients a couple of times a week and help him with the Sunday services in the chapel.

homeless 2In Oldbury, an industrial area on the outskirts of Birmingham, Betty ran Sunday schools, women’s meetings, women and baby meetings and girls clubs, as well as caring and supporting the lonely.

Due to her father’s declining health Betty was granted a leave of absence to go and care for her frail parents. Upon her father’s death Betty was given the post of sister at the Derby Hostel for homeless men where she assisted the captain in charge, Captain Paul Swinscoe, with keeping the hostel’s books, taking the rent from the residents, answering the telephone and writing letters as well as other hostel duties, including prayers and Sunday services. Betty would also ensure each resident received a birthday card and small present on their birthday, and would organise fundraising events and outings for the residents.

Betty enjoyed getting to know the men and coming to understand the reasons why they had found themselves homeless, which were often due to no fault of their own. The hostel was given many gifts of clothing for the men and Betty became adept at matching clothes to men.

Betty recalls on one occasion a visit from some high school girls to see the work of the hostel, following which they gave a lent offering which was used to buy some cheerful bedspreads for the dormitories. The girls themselves came and put the bedspreads on the beds so that they could see the results of their giving.

men eating at a Church Army hostelDerby's first Church Army hostel opened in 1891, to provide a community for those who for one reason or another had no home. The Bridge Street Hostel, which Paul and Betty ran first opened its doors on 21 May 1929, with its vision being to see "broken lives remoulded and despair being converted to hope." The hostel was made up of dormitory and cubicle accommodation, and together with meals, in 1979 the cost to a resident was £17.50 a week, although financial assistance was given to those in dire financial circumstances. The men aged from 18 to old age pensioners, were give complete freedom, but were expected to vacate the bedrooms between the times of 8am to 4pm. The men came from all walks of life, some worked, others retired, some suffering from mental or physical illness, some on probation and others discharged prisoners. One of the longest staying residents was Jack Rotherham who lived in the hostel for over 28 years.

Paul ran the hostel, which had between 55 to 60 residents, with 8 members of staff and the aim was to provide a "home of love for all, for as long as they want to stay and to help them, physically and spiritually." Paul’s work was varied, he had to be ready to listen, to understand, to advise, to love, to comfort and to give those in need a reason to live. Betty recalls one man who one day left his home in a desperate state and threw himself into the River Derwent to end it all. He was rescued and bought to the Derby Hostel where he was cared for until his death 6 years later.

Paul subsequently transferred to the Hull hostel, which had over 70 residents, but following Betty’s mother’s death he came to ask Betty to marry him. After their marriage Betty transferred to work with Paul in the Hull hostel. Betty’s work in the hostels covered nearly 11 years and took her up to her official retirement.