My Justice Journey: portrait of the Revd Walter Hall

blog-2-sam-and-walterSam Monaghan, Chief Executive of Methodist Homes (MHA)

The Methodist Church can be proud of its role in launching some impressive charities. Often with humble beginnings, these charities are major forces for good in the UK – and even further afield. At MHA we are proud of our heritage as an organisation created by Conference, and for the continuing ties between the charity and Methodism.

One of the most visible reminders of our roots is the portrait we have of the Rev Walter Hall. It was through Walter’s vision and tenacity that MHA came into being. Amazingly, in the middle of a world war, Walter managed to persuade Conference of the need for practical action to support people in later life. So, in 1943, Methodist Homes was launched.

Of course, no enterprise of such scale could be achieved by a single person. Walter was backed in his project by leading Methodists of the time – names that will be familiar to people today. At MHA Willersley House near Hull there are several artefacts from these early days of MHA.

For example, a framed embroidery of a Maltese Cross has pride of place in one room, alongside an inscription that it was the work of Mrs F Bartlett Lang and was ‘miraculously saved from German bombs in 1940’. It was subsequently bequeathed to Willersley House in memory of her father, Joseph Rank.

The foundation of MHA was a response by the Methodist Church to the precarious finances of many older people in the 1930s. In his pastoral work in the community, Walter would have met many people who were afraid they might end up in the workhouse. The stigma of this, and the reality of living in a restrictive environment, created a lot of anxiety. The arrival of an unpaid bill that could push someone into poverty, was a real threat in a society without a welfare state. It follows that Walter’s vision, endorsed by the Methodist Church, was about dispelling the misery of a later life lived in dread.

It has been suggested that MHA’s origins lie in the First World War. It was in this horrendous conflict that so many young men died, meaning the female dependents and those who were reaching retirement in the 1930s were often disconnected from networks of support or financial aid. The male wage (and pension) earners in their lives were absent. It may well be for this reason that the first home opened by MHA in 1945 was for twelve elderly women.

In one way or another, war has been a feature in the founding of MHA. It demonstrates all too clearly the continuing consequences of conflict, much of which may be hidden at the time and only emerges decades later. Walter’s Christian response to this situation was to champion a creative movement in the Methodist Church to support older people who had limited resources. MHA has always had that inspiration close to its heart, and we continue to provide extensive care to people unable to fund their own support in retirement.

Tragically, despite being almost 80 years on from our foundation, we are witnessing the terrible consequences of war in Europe once again. Like many organisations, we are exploring how best we can support the relief of suffering in Ukraine. Sadly, the needs of older people are often well down the list of priorities, and I can only imagine how difficult this experience must be for care homes and retirement living communities in Ukraine. I hope that, like Walter, we can find creative ways to champion the rights and needs of older people.

The Prophet Zechariah, in words echoed by other prophets, sees the confident presence of older people safe and at ease in the community as a manifestation of peace. It’s a vision that inspired Walter Hall and I hope and pray that we enable people in later life to be present and participating in community life as much as possible, for as long as possible.


“Thus says the Lord of hosts: Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of their great age”.

Zechariah 8:4