New vision, new visitor centre as Salvation Army opens gates of world famous orphanage

THEY are an ordinary pair of gates in a narrow lane in Woolton, but each year they attract thousands of people from across the world.

They guard a former Salvation Army-run children's home and eyes first turned to them 50 years ago when the Beatles released Strawberry Fields Forever.

Read more: It was 50 years ago today

And today, to mark the record's golden anniversary, the Salvation Army launched its ground-breaking new vision to turn Strawberry Field into an even bigger attraction for devotees of John, Paul, George and Ringo.

Instead of just gazing at the locked gates, and perhaps adding to the scrawl of messages left on the wall and posts,  visitors will be able to step inside Strawberry Field for the first time ever.

As well as opening those famous gates, the Sally Army’s redevelopment will reveal a host of never-before seen Beatles-related memorabilia as part of a new planned exhibition.

An inspiring new vision for the Strawberry Field will weave together educational, cultural, heritage and spiritual exploration in what is described as one bold, imaginative plan. 

Step inside love: The visitor centre at Strawberry FieldStep inside love: The new visitor centre at Strawberry Field

The song happened of course because of John Lennon’s close association as a boy with Strawberry Field, just around the corner from the semi-detached house,  Mendips, where his Aunt Mimi brought him up. It is said he often wandered into the grounds of the orphanage to play.

The revival of the site will include a new, authentic exhibition on the place, the song and John Lennon’s early life around Strawberry Field, and the development of a haven for spiritual exploration.

Central to the vision is a training hub for young people with learning disabilities to train in catering, retail, visitor experience, customer service and work placements, building skills and confidence that will lead to meaningful volunteering and sustainable employment opportunities.

So why has it taken the Salvation Army half a century to realise they are sitting on a potential gold mine?

Major Drew McCombe said: “Strawberry Field is special in the hearts of many people in Liverpool, the UK and across the world, and we at The Salvation Army are aiming to redevelop the site to do justice to the many people that have been supported by the children’s home or formed a connection with the iconic Beatles song. 

“It’s no secret that Strawberry Field was special to John Lennon – it mattered to him – and it feels right to launch our fundraising campaign and new website on the 50th anniversary of the UK release of Strawberry Fields Forever. We’re going to inspire people to become involved in the project in any way they can, to create a pivotal place in the lives of young people and a must-see destination for Beatles fans the world over.

“And this is just the beginning. There is much more to share about the site, including its links to John Lennon and The Beatles. Over the next few months we will be letting fans across the globe know just how special this site was to John, as well as showing them how they can be a part of the site’s legacy and its future. There are some fantastic plans just around the corner.”

 A stylish dedicated website launches today to support the new vision and capture the essence and heart of the project, and also offer inspiring information on how donors and volunteers can become involved.