Our first children’s country hostel – and the BCCV charity – was founded in 1968 by a Birmingham primary school, to create a low-cost opportunity for disadvantaged children to experience life in the countryside. The Warwickshire landowner, Sir William Dugdale gave his support and offered a choice of wonderful acre-size sites near Atherstone, North Warwickshire.

I bought three dismantled meccano-constructed 1940s bungalows from a Chester Road site, for £125 each, which a local architect, Noel Hastilow re-designed as a single building on our chosen site. Atherstone Rotarians gave crucial support in ensuring planning permission and the foundations were laid by a young people’s European United Nations work camp. Hundreds joined a sponsored walk from Birmingham city centre to Atherstone, which raised much of the funding, and the hostel was finally opened at a grand local event in 1969 by Bishop Brown, Bishop of Birmingham. Access to membership steadily grew from its single founding primary school, to twenty member schools, creating a self-funding cooperative for which my mother, Winifred Winkley raised money over many years. Some 10,000 children visited the hostel year on year.

Forty years on, the hostel was burnt down by vandals : and a decision was made by the continuing Trustees to rebuild the project based on its original principles. We now have an architect designed building with state-of-the-art health, security and environmental standards. The new twenty school membership includes some of the original founders, with many first-timers. We now have secondary schools and a school for the deaf joining the mostly primary school cohort. Sir William’s son Matthew continues the invaluable Dugdale family support.

In May 2016 the new hostel was opened in the presence of Sir Tim Brighouse and Sir Matthew Dugdale with local councillors, community representatives, teachers and head teachers and a fine musical performance by the children of Hillstone School. It has now named ‘The BrigHouse’ after Sir Tim, who was for ten years Birmingham’s Chief Education Officer.

The forthcoming year has been fully booked for use and in the six months since September 2016 some 9,000 children have already visited.

Our new website testifies to the unique and exciting opportunities and experiences once more on offer to the children.

Sir David Winkley

Chair – BCCV