The work of Lionel Watts, a pioneering advocate for disabled people, has been further honoured with the opening of the Watts Cottage Historical Museum at Alstonville’s House With No Steps today.
The late Mr Watts became a quadriplegic at the age of 28 as the result of polio.
Lionel and his wife Dorothy devoted their lives to providing opportunities for people with disabilities, and their efforts have been recognised as forcing State Parliament to ensure new building laws took into account the needs of the handicapped.
In 1970 Lionel purchased the Alstonville property and it gained a new role as a ‘home’ for the activities of House With No Steps, initially as an avocado farm, employing people with disabilities from the local region.
The cottage has flourished as a real home over the ensuing years, housing an administration/training centre, disability accommodation and gift shop.
“We are delighted to have been able to create this new cultural and historical centre which celebrates our past and continuing role in the region, particularly our mission to work with and provide productive futures for those among us with a disability,” said House With No Steps Regional Board Chariman, Dr Bill Buddee.
The new museum will add to the cottage’s well-known role as a significant tourist attraction and it will house the fully accredited HWNS Visitors Information Centre, providing full group and tour booking services.
The historical displays provide a graphic presentation of the region’s history and the role of the HWNS organisation, using a unique selection of photos, portfolios, panels and videos, with the latter to be presented in a dedicated audio/visual room.
Volunteers contributed many hours of work gardening, painting, renovating, the internal fit-out, curtaining, floor polishing and myriad other tasks. The Richmond Valley Woodcrafters Club rate a special mention for the many hours of labour provided by its members.
The 170-acre farm opened for business in 1972 with Shirley Oag one of the eight disabled people who started work there. She was on hand today at the museum opening, as was Dorothy Watts, who cut the ribbon and announced the museum open.
Summerland House With No Steps now employs more than 80 people with disabilities and 14 other staff.
PICTURE: Dorothy Watts cuts the ribbon to open the museum.