Sharing the stories of how they came to the Dulwich Almshouse, five residents expressed the contentment and happiness that the community made them feel.
The almshouse is located next to the Dulwich Picture Gallery in Dulwich Village. The flats, each of which houses one resident, are adjacent to Christ’s Chapel and overlook a field of grass. Having just celebrated its 400th anniversary, the Dulwich Almshouse is a historic gem.
The residents spoke to me about their experiences over tea in a multipurpose flat that serves both as a meeting room and as a guest room for visiting family members.
Many residents come to the almshouse for practical reasons. Maureen, who is in her 70s, said that she had started falling down the stairs at her previous home. She knew she needed to make the move to a place without stairs where she could get around easily. Now having lived at the Dulwich Almshouse for seven years and counting, Maurine is known as the master of knitting and describes herself as “quite happy.”
Joan, who will be 90 next month, was the oldest member of the group. She said her previous residence had a hill, which made it very hard to get anywhere and that one of her priorities in finding a new home was to find somewhere with flatter grounds. Additionally, there was a feeling of isolation. “You shut your door – that was it… You didn’t see anybody all day long,” she said. She’d first come to the Dulwich Almshouse because she had a friend who lived there. When she herself made the move to the almshouse, which sits on a level field, Joan said that she found a sense of community that she really enjoyed.
Wendy, a three year resident, also praised the community. “It’s lovely here. You can mix if you want. The community is great. We are lucky and blessed. Everyone here is happy.”
The only man in the room, Mr. Khan, as he was affectionately referred to, is the newest almshouse resident. He said he was choosing between two different almshouses but preferred the one in Dulwich because he was familiar with the area, as he had lived there for years. The deal was done when he visited the Dulwich Almshouse and found every “very helpful, very pleasant indeed.” He was convinced that it was the right place to live.
Betty stressed the importance of making an effort to be a part of a community. Hailing from Zimbabwe, where she lived for 42 years, Betty needed to assimilate to life in the UK. She came to stay with her daughter and son-in-law for a period of time before eventually making the move to the almshouse. She had to form new relationships with new people and make an effort to go out, join groups, and widen her circle of friends. She enjoys flower arranging and made all the arrangements for the almshouse’s 400th anniversary celebration.
The almshouse’s warden, Shelley, organises community events, including film afternoons, knitting every Friday, and three outings per year (one of which is a Christmas lunch at the nearby Dulwich College). Shelley emphasized the importance of the almshouse’s responsibility not only to help its residents maintain their independence but also to provide necessary support.
The Dulwich Almshouse currently houses 13 residents, 3 of whom are men. At its original founding, there were six women and six men. Catrin, a trustee, speculated that the current ratio of women to men was because this generation of people was the last to have a population imbalance because of the men who died during the war. Also, as a general trend, women tend to live longer than men and move to almshouses after their husbands pass away.
Following the 400th anniversary celebration, there have been efforts to preserve the legacy of the Dulwich Almshouse and its residents. Not much about the past residents is known, but local historian, Brian Green, wrote a history of the almshouse to commemorate the four centuries of its being.
ADDRESS: The Dulwich Almshouse Charity, The Old College, Gallery Road, Dulwich SE21 7AE