Calls for hospital plaque

A PETITION has been launched to call for a permanent reminder of the role of St Mary’s Hospital.

The massive Stannington site, which in its prime accommodated thousands of patients and staff, is currently being developed for housing by Bellway Homes.

But mental health nurses Siobhan Armstrong and Irene Rigg, who trained and worked at the hospital in the 1980s and 1990s, are concerned that its history may be forgotten.

Now they have set up a petition calling for a permanent marker to recognise its former community.

Mrs Armstrong, who is an independent psychiatric nursing consultant, said: “The hospital site was left vacant for quite a period of time, but Bellway is now developing it for housing. Former colleagues and myself think there should be some recognition for the people who lived and died there.

“Even if it is just a plaque on the wall, it would be something.”

The hospital had been used after the First World War for returning soldiers and became a psychiatric hospital for patients from Gateshead, staffed largely by people from south-east Northumberland and Morpeth.

Mrs Armstrong said: “The hospital had a number of functions. When I was there it was a psychiatric hospital and had a lot of services for older people because there were not the community services at that time.

“There were people there who were having a break from reality and treatment at St Mary’s for a period of time before they returned home, and for people with more complex needs, it was their home. I nursed people who had been there from being married or from their teenage years.

“I don’t know if it was because it was so isolated, but every time you meet somebody who worked there they have a great connection to the hospital that doesn’t come across with other organisations. It is quite unique and I don’t think it happens with other hospitals, which are located in towns and cities, either.

“St Mary’s had its own football teams and social clubs, and staff lived on the premises so there are connections to families who were brought up there.

“I showed my husband around some years ago and he said he understood then what I was talking about. It was not a hospital, it was a community.”

The nurse said the online petition has already attracted strong support from former colleagues and she will soon be starting a paper one as well.

To sign it visit www.ipeti tions.com/petition/support-an-on-site-memorial-for-st-marys

Alternatively, contact Mrs Armstrong on 07703 443116.