Police officers with their down to earth approach often have a talent for working with troubled young people. In recent years the Club has got to know and admire PC Ash Razzaq, the inspiring leader of CATCH working in Harehills.  We’ve also been impressed by former Military Policeman, Major Gordon Laing, who on retirement went on to become general manager of the charity Simon on the Streets, working with rough sleepers. This week we met Dave Norman MBE, a police officer for thirty years, who since 2020 has been chief executive of Leeds Children’s Charity at Lineham Farm. Dave has a long history of working in the voluntary community sector. He told us that many community based organisations are started by bobbies, who see the problems of social deprivation at first hand, and would much rather help people than lock them up.

Dave began his talk by going back in time to pay tribute to a remarkable woman. In 1904, Helen Currer Briggs, the Lady Mayoress of Leeds, was concerned about the levels of poverty suffered by thousands of children in the otherwise prosperous city of Leeds.  With a group of friends she formed Leeds Poor Children’s Holiday Camp Association, with the object of providing a free two week  holiday to needy children. The Association acquired a beautiful site at Silverdale with a substantial building above Morecambe Bay and gifted it to the Leeds Children’s Charity. The aim was to provide the experience of healthy outdoor pursuits and, importantly, three square meals a day.

Children would be weighed before departure by train from Leeds to Silverdale, and they would be weighed again on their return. Success was measured by weight gained. Dave wryly observed that nowadays a different measure would be adopted. The camp was run on military lines, and although a huge success, it was not enjoyed by everybody. Dave’s own mother, now 94, went there as a little girl and said she hated it, and Rtn Richard Wharton recalled being threatened by his parents with a week in Silverdale if he did not behave. He used to crouch down in the car when driving near the camp on his way to family holidays.

The centre was huge, and could take over 65 children at a time. It operated for over 100 years, giving over 60,000 disadvantaged children experience of the countryside. Dave joined the charity, now renamed the Children’s Charity, in 2015. By this time the centre,  battered by storms, required substantial repairs and was no longer economically viable. Dave decided it had to be sold off.

There was an alternative, thanks to the foresight of another determined lady, Denise Atkinson, for 40 years a Leeds councillor representing Bramley ward. The Council had acquired a 17th century farm building, Lineham Farm, set in 120 acres. When Denise became Lady Mayoress in 1993, supported by a team of volunteers, she raised £1m and had Lineham Farm turned into an outdoor children’s centre, available free to schools in  Leeds,  run by the Lineham Farm Trust. Over time, the Council had to introduce charges and the Centre became too expensive for many schools. A third generous female benefactor rallied to the cause: Joyce Mary Mountain, co-founder with her husband of the kitchen equipment Victor Manufacturing Company. When she died in 2005,  she insisted that shares in the company could not be sold for 10 years after her death to help protect employees’ jobs, but that on sale the money should go to her chosen charities, which included help for the neediest children in Leeds. When the shares were sold, the new merged charity ‘Leeds Children’s Charity at Lineham Farm’ benefited. With that legacy, and the proceeds of sale of Silverdale, Leeds Children’s Charity began using Lineham Farm.

Dave took over as chief executive just as the pandemic struck, but with that now over, Lineham Farm is very busy, helping 2,500 young people ever year. A system of partnership with 43 schools and community organisations ensures that priority is given to children living in the most deprived and disadvantaged areas of Leeds, together with children with special needs. During term time the farm is used for school residentials for two to five night stays, keeping prices as cheap as possible for schools.  The charity is fully funded, making it available free to those who need it in the school holidays. It caters principally for children between ages 7 to 11, but older siblings may join in, and the facilities are now available for whole families where parenting skills need development if children are to avoid going into the care system. Dave told us that he is proud that ‘every child who comes down the drive at Lineham is a child in need.’

The old ethos of three cooked meals a day continues. Activities include adventurous stuff such as abseiling, climbing, and mountain biking. Children also learn animal care with guinea pigs, chickens, sheep and ponies. There is a sensory caravan for ‘neuro diverse’ children with a range of problems. The facilities are excellent, and there are plans to make them even better, developing a camp site with pods. Mobile phones are not permitted, to encourage the children to socialise in the moment.

We thank Dave for coming to tell us this inspiring story. For more information, go to the website



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0113 266 6203