By Hollie Bone and Iain Watts
Strawberry Fields really is forever as the former children’s home which inspired John Lennon’s iconic Beatles song has reopened to the public for the first time in more than 70 years.
For more than seven decades the iconic red gates to the home in Liverpool have been shut to the public, but after a major project by the Salvation Army the building has been fully refurbished as a training centre, Beatles exhibition and café which will open to visitors tomorrow [SAT].
The home won international fame when it became the subject of the 1967 hit Beatles single written by John Lennon – who took inspiration from his childhood years spent climbing over the building’s walls to play in the wooded garden.
Officially opening the home this week, John’s stepsister Julia Baird said she was proud to represent her brother, adding that the home had given him ‘sanctuary’ at a time when he wasn’t living with his own mother.
The 72-year-old said: “When we were young Aunty Meme’s house was just a few houses down.
“The boys would play cricket on what we called the ‘wasteland’ behind the home and we all knew that when we heard the band strike up John and his friends would come over to play with the children here.
“It’s probably the last arm I think of the Beatles places to visit and see. The fact that it’s been reopened as a training ground for youngsters with learning disabilities is what really grabs me.
“It’s helping people outside of mainstream society, which John felt really passionate about because his childhood put him outside of mainstream society because his mother was down the road but he didn’t live with her, and he wouldn’t have known the reason why and we wouldn’t have known the reason why.
“In those days nobody explained anything to children, it was almost a royal prerogative, ‘never complain never explain’.
“I think coming here gave John a sense of sanctuary. If he was still here today I think he’d be opening it, I feel very proud to be here doing it in his honour.”
The Salvation Army were gifted the Strawberry Fields site in 1934 and opened it as a home with capacity for 40 girls two years later – it wasn’t until the 1950s that boys under five were also taken in, when John Lennon was just 10 years old.
But since it closed down as a place of sanctuary 14 years ago, the charity have been working to re-open the derelict site.
It now boasts an interactive exhibition of John Lennon’s life and time with The Beatles, an employment training centre for young adults with learning difficulties, and a cafe run by volunteers and trainees in the charity’s Steps to Work programme.
Every year the programme will help some 50 young adults with varying learning difficulties from across Merseyside to follow their dreams and access employment.
Salvation Army Territorial Commander, Commissioner Anthony Cotterill, said: “The Salvation Army ran a children’s home at Strawberry Field from 1936 until 2005.
“In that time, we helped some of Liverpool’s most vulnerable children. Now, 70 years later, we are using Strawberry Field to give Liverpool’s young people a step onto the employment ladder.
“I like to think John Lennon would be pleased his special association with Strawberry Field is being used in this way.”