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Gentle goodbye to gentlefolk; Name change as charity looks to future.

A charity has called time on the gentlefolk it was set up to help by shedding its 19th Century legacy.

The Distressed Gentlefolk's Aid Association was set up in 1897 to meet the needs of the professional sector of Victorian society by providing financial support while preserving the dignity of the families it was helping.

But with the dawn of the 21st Century and modern vocabulary having rendered the term gentlefolk redundant, the organisation has decided to change its title to the Elizabeth Finn Trust in memory of its founder.

Mr Jonathan Welfare, chief executive of the London-based trust, said the changing nature of language made it necessary for change.

"When the DGAA was founded, everyone understood who the gentlefolk were. Today, the term gentlefolk has dropped out of our everyday vocabulary, making it irrelevant to the majority of people," he said.

The trust runs 14 residential and nursing homes in the UK, including Colehaven in Coleshill, Warwickshire, which opened in 1974 and has ten residents, and Rashwood in Droitwich, Worcestershire.

The homes will retain their names but the new Elizabeth Finn Trust logo will be incorporated into their signs and literature.

Rashwood was opened in 1950. The second wing of the house was built in 1995.

The matron Mrs Anne Lodge said: "Elizabeth Finn deserves to be the namesake of the trust and it is a title which will carry us into the 21st Century."

Time may influence Rashwood's external appearances but for its residents the nature and atmosphere of the home remains the same.

Mrs Vera Cave, aged 89, who used to work in "haute couture", has been in the home for the last 14 months.

She said: "I think the name should have been changed years ago - there is no such thing as 'distressed gentlefolk' in this day and age. There may have been 102 years ago, but not today."

Miss Veronica Durrant, aged 87, has been in Rashwood for 18 months. A former private secretary, she believed that the excellent reputation of the trust and its homes would receive a further boost by modernising. "By naming the trust after Elizabeth Finn, the foundation is becoming more personal and up-to-date and people nowadays generally take more notice of organisations with a name - initials are too confusing," she said.

But 92-year-old Mr Wilfred Berry, who has spent four years in Rashwood, said: "It makes no difference to me what the name of the trust is. It does an excellent job and Rashwood is a perfect example."

The trust also continues with its original line of work, providing support for professional people and their families of all ages. Last year, about 25 per cent of the people it helped were below the age of 50.

Among them was 42 year-old Ms Judy Dodd, from Kings Norton, Birmingham, a qualified full-time nursery nurse who was forced to give up her job two years ago after splitting with her husband, leaving her with two children to care for.

Ms Dodd, a multiple sclerosis sufferer, said: "When my husband left, I couldn't pay the mortgage or afford to have the central heating repaired, but the trust gave me money towards the heating and for two mobile phones so I can keep in touch with my 11 year-old daughter while she is at school."

Mr Hugh Thomas, the trust's director of marketing and communications, said the change was a step forward for charity.

He said: "By changing the name we hope to be more appealing to people who would otherwise be scared away by the words distressed and gentlefolk."

The Oxford English Dictionary defines gentlefolk as people of gentle birth or good social position.
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Author:Blakemore, Sophie
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jan 14, 2000
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