QEF was founded as the Cripples’ Training College by Dame Georgiana Buller and Stanley Evans, with the aim ‘to demonstrate the possibility of fitting many cripples for absorption into industry by means of occupations’. This was achieved by providing specialist training courses for people with disabilities so that they could be accepted into the workplace.
On 1 November 1934 the College received its first sixteen trainees. Courses included engineering, house painting, handyman skills, gardening, cookery, and clerical work. When war was declared the college was officially recognised as part of the Disabled Section of the Munitions Training Scheme of the Ministry of Labour and National Service. This was munitions training in engineering, welding, and tracing. On 12th January 1989 there was a large fire at Leatherhead Court, much of the college being devastated by the fire. Sixty firemen tackled the blaze and there were no casualties. Trainees only missed 11 days of training. On 12 November 1992 the Queen Mother reopened Leatherhead Court, 57 years after her first visit.
Over the years the courses offered changed according to the job market, as the College’s main purpose was to get people with disabilities into the workplace. In the 1940s this included spray painting, pottery, bookbinding, needlework, and leatherwork. In the 1970s this include bookkeeping, shorthand, and telephone switchboard operating. In 1982 the first computer programming course was offered. By the 1990s all courses lead to NVQ or other awarding bodies’ qualifications. Courses included accountancy, business administration, IT, desktop publishing, spreadsheeting, travel services, along with manual skills such as horticulture, draughting, bench joinery, and domestic appliance servicing.
On 1 November 1958 a new section of the College, Dorincourt, was able to admit its first residents, 22 men and 21 women. Dame Georgiana described Dorincourt as a ‘unique opportunity for combining an industrial unit, already designed for that purpose, with an established Training College in a district eminently suited for the purpose and offering the fullest opportunity for further development.’ Dorincourt was suited to people with disabilities who could not be employed in open industry, either because they need to work under special conditions, or no suitable employment was in reach of their homes, with their disability meaning they could not live in lodgings. Dorincourt now provides care, therapy, life coaching, skills training and tailored day services to facilitate independent living for disabled people.
In 1956 Banstead Place was set up as part of the Dorincourt estates, sponsored by the College and the National Association for the Paralysed. The aim was to train those who had been categorised as ‘young chronic sick’ in all activities of daily living. In 1974 the focus of Banstead Place shifted to become a special unit for young people of school age with disabilities. This was different to adult units and had no criteria for success and failure, where abilities could be objectively assessed with a focus on independence, mobility, and further education. Over the past twenty years the service has become a specialised centre for acquired brain injury rehabilitation, keeping the historic focus on supporting younger adults. The atmosphere and ethos of Banstead place still has the personalised approach to therapy, combined with community and residential programmes.
The Mobility Centre was originally a department based at Banstead Place which provided support regarding mobility and assistive technology to the residents. In 1983 the department was expanding so much it purchased two wooden buildings onsite for staff accommodation, which they had bought from the Department of Transport for only £10. In 1990 the entire mobility department moved to a refurbished ward on the site of Queen Mary’s Hospital for Children in Carshalton, where it remains today. The service today still offers assistance with wheelchairs, scooters, and assistive technology, with the addition of providing driving assessments, a driving school for people with disabilities, and a support service specially created to reduce the anxieties and stress for people with disabilities before and during air travel.
On the 5 November 2014, Mole Valley Development Control Committee approved the planning permission for a complete redevelopment at Leatherhead Court. QEF plans to build a state-of-the-art Care and Rehabilitation Centre. This is an extremely exciting development for the charity and will help to support their mission; to enable and support disabled people to increase independence and improve life skills.