Images from ‘Growing Well’: The Family Health Club

This post relates to my new exhibit, ‘Growing well: a recent history of growing your own in Coventry’, to be launched on Tuesday 25th November at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire, Coventry. The display has been produced in association with UHCW’s Healing Arts Charity. For more information see Permission to use the images was kindly granted either by institutions or by those involved in the events described, and should not be copied without permission.

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growing well poster

The Family Health Club

During the war a group of like-minded Coventrians formed the Family Health Club Housing Association, to plan a housing estate with integral organic farms to provide healthy food for the residents. Over 200 families signed up to the scheme, and two farms were bought in Binley Woods. The scheme was eventually rejected by Coventry City Council, partly due to the plan to build high rise flats in an area of green space, but also because Councillors felt that, during a severe housing crisis, allowing this individual scheme to go ahead would not be fair to the rest of Coventry’s residents. The images for this section of the exhibit were largely provided by Joanna Ray, the daughter of the instigator of the scheme, Kenneth Barlow. A selection of further images are displayed below. All of these are reproduced by kind permission of Joanna Ray. These images should not be reproduced without permission. If you have any memories of the Family Health Club in Coventry, please follow this link to leave your details:

Dr Kenneth Barlow, Coventry GP and instigator of the Family Health Club scheme
Dr Kenneth Barlow, Coventry GP and instigator of the Family Health Club scheme
Binley Common Farmhouse- one of two farms purchased by the FHC in 1946
Binley Common Farmhouse- one of two farms purchased by the FHC in 1946

Dr Kenneth Barlow took a post as GP in Coventry on qualifying as a doctor and radiologist in 1936. According to his obituary in the journal ‘Nutrition and Health’, he served tirelessly in caring for the injured during Coventry’s Blitz. A prominent writer of the early organic movement, Barlow was quick to recognise the opportunity that the tragedy which had befallen Coventry presented for an experimental housing estate. Inspired by the Peckham Experiment which had been researching the nature of health since the 1920s, he founded the Family Health Club to discover whether it was possible for citizens to found a housing estate using their own initiative. A flourishing membership was soon established, with committees discussing the layout and facilities of the proposed estate.

Scale model of the first phase of the FHC's estate.
Scale model of the first phase of the FHC’s estate.

The FHC engaged the services of up and coming architect, Raglan Squire, of the firm ARCON which was responsible for the famous prefab housing design. A protracted planning battle ensued, which was eventually referred to the newly formed Ministry of Town and Country Planning. The City Council argued at the hearing in October 1947 that the proposed high rise flats would be unsuitable for a semi-rural area. This was in spite of the plans for the Tile Hill estate being very much in progress.

When the Family Health Club was wound up as a housing association in 1950 it had been producing organic vegetables on its two farms for some time. The club continued to meet socially and Joanna Ray remembers her father recieving cards and gifts from grateful Coventry residents for many years. The evidence in Coventry History Centre suggests that the City Council were unwilling to allow this membership scheme to go ahead as it would be unfair to the remainder of Coventry’s residents. Now that the significance of healthy food and healthy environments is once more being recognised, it seems a particular shame that this experiment was not allowed to proceed.

Joanna Ray and her younger sister at Binley Common Farm
Joanna Ray and her younger sister at Binley Common Farm

For further information on the Family Health Club, see:

Barlow, K.E., A Home of Their Own (London, 1946).

Conford, Philip, The Origins of the Organic Movement (Edinburgh, 2001).

Records held at Coventry History Centre:

Planning records, CCA/3/1/8738/1, Correspondence files, CCA/3/1/8866, City Council Minutes, JN352.


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