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Forever, Strawberry Field

by Dan Wooding

The Salvation Army is bringing its Legend Back to Life

By Dan Wooding, Founder of ASSIST News Service

Strawberry Field gate smallerLIVERPOOL, UK (ANS – October 19, 2017) – When I am in Liverpool, a city I once lived in as a child after moving there in 1942 from my birthplace, Nigeria, I always head, with my wife, Norma, to Strawberry Field, a former Salvation Army children’s home, which was immortalized by John Lennon, with his iconic song Strawberry Fields Forever.

The site in Woolton, Liverpool, became world famous when Lennon wrote the song after playing there as a child and he added an “s” to Strawberry Field in the title.

He spent much of his youth playing climbing over a fence into Strawberry Field, which was close by his Aunt Mimi’s Menlove Avenue home (now a much-visited museum), where he lived for much of his childhood after his mother was killed in a tragic accident nearby.

I’m not the only one who loves going there, but its colorful Strawberry Field gate, have become a must-see stop-off for Beatles fans who flock there each year by the thousands and spend hours just soaking in the atmosphere, and later, many also visit John’s childhood home, just around the corner. (The last time I was there, I met up with a couple of band members from REO Speedwagon who, during their UK tour, where taking some time out to see all of the Beatles’ sites in Liverpool.

John Lennon outside the home of Aunt Mimi smallerTo the many young people who lived at the Strawberry Field home up until closure in 2005, those iconic gates — photographed by thousands of Beatles fans every year — symbolize not the psychedelic sixties but a real sense of spiritual and physical sanctuary. A place to find love and gain self-respect.

For seventy years, it was also an inspiration for hundreds of Liverpool’s most vulnerable children as The Salvation Army offered them a safe and loving home away from tumultuous lives in the famous north of England port city, were I landed back in 1942 after a dangerous passage dodging the German U-Boats, as part of a convoy of 28 ships from Lagos, many of which were sunk, and thousands died. (My father had become so sick in Nigeria, that he had been told that he needed to head back to Liverpool for treatment at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases, otherwise he would die really soon. Fortunately, he survived).

Now comes the great news from the Salvation Army in Liverpool, that during the next two years, the grounds will become a momentous time for the revitalized Strawberry Field, as work commences on bringing this iconic space back to life, once again servicing the needs of the most vulnerable members of our society, the young.

“This new project really is a bold merger between us and the city’s Beatles legacy,” says Major Drew McCombe, Divisional Leader in the North West of England and North Wales Division of The Salvation Army. “There are many common values between us and the band’s music and lyrics including love, peace and justice.

Strawberry Field Orphanage“We know there is the mention of ‘no religion’ in the lyrics of Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ but even so I believe it’s okay to raise questions. Our vision is that Strawberry Field will be a safe place to explore questions in community — the project leaves room for spiritual commonality.”

According to a Salvation Army news release, it has been estimated that 7% of people with learning disabilities in the UK are in paid employment and that’s mainly part-time work. However, over 50% of these young people say they would like to be in paid work. That’s a significant shortfall in the number of children being able to fulfil their potential in a meaningful way.

“This is precisely why The Salvation Army’s new vision for the Strawberry Field site is so vital — offering a new generation of disadvantaged young people the chance to learn new skills in a safe environment that can lead to real employment and a fulfilling stake in society,” said a news release provided to ANS.

“Young people with learning disabilities find it more difficult to deal with complicated issues and new situations than others of their age. Many have problems communicating and interacting with other people. Because of these difficulties, many of these young people lose self-confidence, retreating into themselves and questioning their own worth.

“Experience shows that, if people with learning disabilities receive the support they need early in life, many of them can overcome these barriers. This is precisely what the proposed new training centre at Strawberry Field is designed to help young people achieve, by providing education, training, work experience and personal development.

“Key to the success of the project is the fundraising phase that The Salvation Army is currently engaged in. Aside from building a working environment and training hub for young people the organization will create a vibrant visitor experience that will inspire people today as much as it did the young John Lennon.”

John Lennon with Aunt Mimi smallerBeatles’ fans will be delighted to learn that this will include a multimedia exhibition telling stories from Strawberry Field, the song and Lennon’s early years. It will also include a journey through a newly created Love and Peace garden and a tour of the woodland where John once played as a boy.

“Liverpool is a city that champions social justice,” says Major Drew McCombe. “Likewise, The Salvation Army takes social justice seriously. Everyone has been so welcoming to us as we make plans to reopen Strawberry Field as part of the city’s caring community.

“There are no current funding streams for this project with young people with low to moderate learning difficulties that we want to help,” he continues. “Our belief is that if we can make Strawberry Field a truly sustainable project for those young people, with the help of the city’s vibrant Beatles tourist economy, we will be doing good work.”

However ambitious, this unique and historic project can only happen, says The Salvation Army, “with the kind support of Beatles fans worldwide.” For more information on how you can help in UK pounds, just go to: https://www.salvationarmyappeals.org.uk/site/Donation2;jsessionid=00000000.app261a?df_id=2361&2361.donation=form1&mfc_pref=T&NONCE_TOKEN=5C1187C2B2D7B31F9F1FFBD452394A06

To see a fascinating video about Strawberry Field, please go to: http://www.salvationarmy.org/ihq/news/inf170217

In the UK, for media information, please contact Weber Shandwick, e-mail: SalvationArmy@webershandwick.com

In the US, to get more information on what is going on at Strawberry Field, please contact Anthony Begonia, Director of Entertainment Industry Relations, The Salvation Army, e-mail: anthony.begonia@usw.salvationarmy.org, and + 1 213.792.7409 cell.

Note: Strawberry Fields also gave its name to a memorial to Lennon in New York’s Central Park. Lennon was murdered near his Manhattan home in 1980 by Mark Chapman, a deranged fan

Photo captions: 1) The iconic gate outside Strawberry Field. 2) John Lennon outside the Liverpool home where he lived with his Aunt Mimi. 3) The Strawberry Field Children’s home before it closed. 4) John Lennon sitting on the lap of his Aunt Mimi. 5) Dan and Norma Wooding by the gate of Strawberry Field on another visit there.

Dan and Norma outside Strawberry Field 2About the writer: Dan Wooding, 76, is an award-winning author, broadcaster and journalist, who was born in Nigeria, West Africa, of British missionary parents, Alfred and Anne Wooding, who then worked with the Sudan Interior Mission, now known as SIM. Dan now lives in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for some 54 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. Dan is the founder/president of the ASSIST News Service (ANS), and is also the author of numerous books. He has a radio show and two television programs, all based in Southern California. Dan lived in Liverpool for several years after arriving there from Nigeria, and his sister, Ruth, along with her husband, Allen Ross, still live in the city.

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