The idea to start ‘Villa Scalabrini’ was thought up by the Scalabrini Fathers who sensed the need for such a home through their work, spanning more than thirty years, within the Italian community in Great Britain. The Scalabrini Fathers noticed the anxiety of elderly Italian migrants who after a lifetime of hard work in a ‘foreign country’ were facing the prospect of having to spend their later days in English institutions for the elderly.
In July 1983, after extensive research within the Italian community, the property in Shenley was purchased with funds advanced by the Scalabrini Fathers. The Hertsmere Planning Committee approved plans for the Villa Scalabrini in August 1984 and work on the project began in December of the same year. In June 1986 the building works were completed and the first residents entered the home the following month.
Father Alberto Vico, founder and first Director, managed the home with the help of three sisters from the order ‘Figlie di Nostra Signora della Misericordia di Savona’. Whilst the initial purchase of the property came about as an advance of the Scalabrini Fathers, the development of the building has been due to the financial assistance generated by the Italian community. This support is one of which the Italian communities can be justifiably proud.
The continued existence of Villa Scalabrini is a result of the generosity of the Italian community, a generosity which knows no bounds. The Friends of Villa Scalabrini are very keen in organising social and cultural events to benefit the home.
Villa Scalabrini represents an important milestone within the Italian community in Great Britain and is without doubt one of the most worthy post war projects.
The meeting enlightened me immensely and I can only compare it with the experience of St Paul on the road to Damascus.
I began to think about the predicament of elderly Italian migrants and their social and pastoral needs for which I as a priest felt responsible, particularly for those just like Nicolina.
A home capable of welcoming the most vulnerable in the community was the most obvious choice to the Scalabrini mission.
In other parts of the world, from Australia to America and Europe, homes of this kind were already in existence to meet the demands of the migrant communities.
After overcoming my uncertainties and deciding that the home for the elderly would be beneficial, I sought to define my role in bringing the proposal to fruition. The first task was to promote both interest and support for a residential home for the elderly. My role allowed me to meet representatives from all groups within the Italian community. These include shopkeepers, association chairmen, bank managers, restaurateurs, cultural groups, people from all walks of life and backgrounds.
Success was forthcoming and I witnessed at first hand people’s generosity.
Particular attention has been given to the Committee of Villa Scalabrini, this is most deserved. This group, of half dozen people, was responsible for some of the most successful fund-raising initiatives. They were also able to secure financial support enabling the plan for a home to become a reality. Thanks to their experience, savings were made in both the construction and furnishing of the Home. Merit for the successful outcome of this project must go to this group.
In conclusion, though it was not an easy ride, I would like to express what Villa Scalabrini means to me. It brought about a radical change for me and my work in serving Italians living in Great Britain. It has strengthened my attitude and values. It constantly makes me face new problems and sometimes has made me unpopular even with friends who did not agree with what I said or did. Sadly, at times it has shown me the hypocrisy of life, but above all it has given me a renewed enthusiasm for the strength of prayer especially when things get desperate. I have also felt great happiness here.
" Many years have passed since I visited an English residential home and asked if there were any Italian residents. The manager was quite certain in her reply that there were no such residents at the home. But after a moment of hesitation she added: “there is one lady who has been here for the last two years whose surname sounds Italian but we have never heard her speak.” I asked to meet this lady, her name was Nicolina. The conversation I had with her is still clear in my mind. Nicolina quickly broke the silence and spoke…she spoke for many hours, recounting the story of her life as a migrant with eloquence and clarity. "
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