Headley Court Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre (DMRC) was once one of the leading rehab centres in the UK. The 58-bed facility helped injured servicemen and women with rehabilitation and prosthetics and even went on to treat veterans. Corporal Andrew Garthwaite, was the first person in the UK to receive a mind-controlled prosthetic limb and spent 18 months at Headley Court following a rocket propelled grenade attack in Afghanistan.
Headley Court started out as an Elizabethan farm house bought by the Cunliffe family, who later built the imposing mansion at the centre of Headley Court in 1899, under Lord Cunliffe, who was Chairman of the Bank of England. It was during World War II when it was first used by the military as the Headquarters for the VII Corps and then for the Canadian Corps. Nearby Headley Heath was used as a training ground for engineers building airstrips and trench systems. The site was bought after the Second World War and started its journey as a rehabilitation centre.
Around 200 staff worked at the site which consisted of specialist medical officers, nurses, remedial instructors, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists to name a few. The countryside location and peaceful grounds were said to help in the recovery of patients.
The charity ‘Help For Heroes’ was also founded as a direct result of Headley Court. In 2007, when Bryn and Emma Parry heard that people were shouting at wounded veterans in Leatherhead swimming pool, they established the charity to raise money to build a swimming pool and gym at Headley. Within 17 months, £17 million was raised and at least £8 million went towards these new facilities. In June 2010 Prince William officially opened the new building which included a 25 metre swimming pool with a movable floor, a jacuzzi and an AquaJogger. The refurbished Battle of Britain gymnasium was fitted with a sports-sprung floor and the new gymnasium on the first floor had a cardiovascular suite with two anti-gravity treadmills.
More money was invested into Headley Court and the then Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall officially opened the new Jubilee Rehabilitation Complex, costing almost £17 million, which included a gym, therapy building, radiology department and a flat where patients can learn to live independently. This was funded by the MOD.
The site also had its own cinema called Medicinema, which showcased the latest Hollywood films to soldiers and patrons Nick Frost and Simon Pegg visited Headley Court when the cinema opened.
Despite the significant amount of money invested into the former military site, in 2014 the Ministry of Defence announced that it would close within four years with services transferred to Stanford Hall in Loughborough. Defence secretary Philip Hammond said the move will ‘establish a long-term, state-of-the-art rehabilitation facility for our injured personnel’.
After almost 70 years of treating injured servicemen and women, the last staff members left in September 2018, and Headley Court was sold to Angle Property in May 2019 who planned on building a signifcant amount of housing on the site, and most likely demolishing the majority of the buildings.
During the Covid pandemic the NHS took over parts of the site and provided 300 beds for infected patients. Converting the empty site took weeks and involved creating new access roads, re-plumbing water supplies and re-installing electricity supplies. Converting the derelict site into The NHS Seacole Centre took just 35 days and even involved the military in the process. As mortuaries across Surrey became full, a temporary mortuary was built at the site and as of January 2021, 170 bodies were being stored there. A year later, in January 2022, the mortuary was given permission to remain for another six months due to a shortage of body storage facilities across Surrey, however the capacity was being reduced from 825 to 365.
In September 2021, NHS Surrey and Borders Partnership submitted planning permission to use the £16.9 million complex to increase the amount of mental health support they could provide however as they were unable to purchase the site, these plans were withdrawn. In May 2022 it was announced that the mansion had been sold to Audley Group, who planned to convert that building into a retirement village however the previous year, in November 2021, planning permission by Angle Property for 114 senior living apartments, was refused.
Sources: Surrey Live, BBC News, Gov.UK, NHS