- University of Wales, Newport / University of South Wales
- The housing years
Helen Ruth Barton was born at 3.20 a.m. on 13th June 1922 in Market Street, Cinderford where her father, Alfred Quinton Barton, had set up as a druggist and pharmacist. She was the eldest child and had two siblings – Margaret born in 1926 and Richard born in 1929.
The first school Helen attended was a small, private school in Cinderford. From there she went to Bilson Primary School and then on to Cinderford East Dean Grammar School in 1933. Having gained her Higher School Certificate, Helen went on to the Rachel McMillan Training College in 1940 to begin a three year course to study to become a teacher. Because it was war time the college was evacuated to Hollanden Park, Hildenborough, Kent and Helen remembers that the beginning of term was postponed for a few weeks ‘until the waning of the moon’ as the site of Hollanden Park was on the direct path of the Spitfires.
Having qualified with the Rachel McMillan Teaching Certificate in 1943, Helen went to work at a residential nursery in Nethway House, Residential Nursery, Devon, looking after very young evacuees from Plymouth. She remained here until 1945 when she moved to take up a position as an Assistant Teacher at Bannerman Road Nursery and Infant School, Bristol. In 1947 Helen became Headmistress at Downend Nursery. During her time in Bristol Helen was involved in the Broadmead Baptist Church where her Uncle Leonard had been minister.
The 1948 Children Act was a turning point, supporting Helen’s own philosophy of child development, and radically changing the approach to childcare.
In 1949, on the recommendation of her Aunt Elsie who was an H.M.I., Helen went to London to study for the Home Office Certificate for Care of Young Children at the Central Training Council in Child Care. She was happy to move to London as both her sister Margaret and her brother Richard were also training there at the time – Margaret as a doctor and Richard as a vet.
In 1951 Helen took up a position as Child Care Officer in the Kent and Canterbury area where she had a huge case list and had responsibility for adoptions. She thoroughly enjoyed this work and when she left, a glowing, local newspaper article described her as “A young lady who is known to hundreds of children in East Kent”. In 1953 Helen moved back to her family home in Staunton (Forest of Dean) for a while when she became Assistant Children’s Officer with Monmouthshire County Council and was then appointed as Monmouthshire County Council’s Children’s Officer in 1961, a position she held for ten years. In 1971 she took over as Assistant Director of the Residential and Daycare Social Services Department, Monmouthshire until her retirement in 1974 when the new authority Gwent was formed and when she also married James Kegie.
Helen and Jim first lived in Hove Avenue, Newport. In time they bought a plot of land at Christchurch and built their bungalow, affording them wonderful views right across the Bristol Channel on one side and across the James Kegie Viewing Point to the hills and mountain of Twmbarlwm on the other.
However, this was just a new stage in Helen’s career and she continued to use her skills and expertise by joining the board of managers at Sedbury Park Approved School, Chepstow. She also became Chair of the Divisional Council for Social Work. Helen was a founder member of SOLAS, Newport Action for the Single Homeless – a very active voluntary organisation supporting vulnerable, single, homeless people in Newport not just with the provision of housing but also developing their capacity for personal development, leading independent lives and preparation for employment.
In later years Helen has also become involved with the University of Wales, Newport (now part of the University of South Wales). She established the Kegie Trust to provide ongoing support to the University and its students, with the aim of developing the full potential of individuals and building sustainable communities. The Trust continues to provide bursaries for low-income students from South Wales. In recognition of their generous benefactor, a building has been named after her on the Caerleon Campus – the Kegie Building - which was opened in 2007.
In 1997 Helen joined the board of a fledgling and forward-thinking housing association called Family Care, but little did she know at the time that this would become such an important part of her life. During this period Helen served as chair of the main Board as well as numerous committees. She was a vital part of the building programme which saw over five thousand new homes being provided for local people. The organisation’s activities diversified and encompassed homes for sale, homes for rent, the establishment of partnerships with specialist organisations like the Autistic Society and, where necessary, the creation of new bodies for special purposes.
In the early 1980’s Helen was a key part of a ground-breaking decision for the Housing Association to become a provider of care services as well as being a landlord.
From such small beginnings emerged a large and respected regional organisation which has housed and supported many hundreds of vulnerable, local people. It is equally important to recognise that the organisation has provided employment opportunities for many, contributing to the local economy.
This range of services now comes under the umbrella of the Seren Group which, at the time of writing, employs over one thousand local people.
At the same time as being involved in all of this, Helen found time to be a council member and chair of Homeless International.
As a result of all these efforts, Helen was recognised with the award of the MBE in 1997.
Helen would say to all of this: “I was just part of the team”.
Helen died peacefully on April 12th, 2015, aged 92. Widow of James Kegie OBE, daughter of the late Alfred and Amy Barton of Staunton, sister of Richard and the late Margaret. The funeral service was held on 29th April, 2015, in the Forest of Dean not far from the family home of Staunton.