On the death in 1944 of a much admired local solicitor, Mr John Haswell, two of his close friends and colleagues, Mr W Porter, the Town Clerk of Gateshead, and Mr N Green, the then Manager of the Midland Bank, formed a Committee to raise £1,000 to provide a memorial to their friend. The intention was to purchase a building that would provide a permanent headquarters for the Gateshead Council for Social Service. Twelve months later in 1945 that intention was carried out through the establishment of the John Haswell Memorial Trust and the purchase of two Victorian terraced properties in Gladstone Terrace, Gateshead.
For a number of years the buildings were used to house voluntary organisations and were converted in the early 1960s into single bedsitting accommodation for the elderly. With the demise of the old established voluntary organisations that ran them successfully for many years and the introduction of regulations requiring higher standards of accommodation, the last of the elderly tenants left in 1984. The ravages of time and the attentions of vandals severely damaged the buildings and by the time the Gateshead Voluntary Organisation Council (GVOC) assumed responsibility for them in June 1988, they were in a very sorry condition.
From GVOC’s own experience the problems the founders of the Trust sought to tackle, namely the need to provide a permanent base for voluntary organisations, had not diminished in the intervening forty years. Voluntary organisations were still scattered across the town in cramped and unsuitable accommodation which not only isolated them, and undermined co-operation, but also inhibited their ability to respond to the needs of the people they were serving. GVOC saw in John Haswell House the opportunity of not only providing the Borough’s key voluntary organisations with a permanent and secure base, but also strengthening the key principles upon which they are based, that of encouraging co-operation, joint action and the sharing of resources.
If the decision to convert John Haswell House is to be characterised by anything it is by the words of Julian of Norwich, a medieval sage who in 1400 is quoted as having said “In time and in all manner of things all will be well”. John Haswell House has been a monumental project and has absorbed the time, efforts and skills of a great many people. GVOC raised over £140,000 from charitable trusts to complete the work and secured help in kind from both business and from a key employment project – Community Task Force, who carried out virtually all the work of the non-specialist conversion.