A COUPLE living at St John’s Winchester Charity Almshouses recently celebrated their 73rd wedding anniversary.

Staff at Southgate Street’s Devenish House Care Home, where they live, gave them roses and a celebratory lunch to mark the considerable milestone.

For incoming charity director Clive Cook, this sums up everything that is important about his new role – giving the elderly who cannot afford somewhere to live a happy and dignified retirement.

It’s a job St John’s has been discharging for over 1,000 years, after being founded around 931 following a bequest by the then Bishop of Winchester.

Before joining the cause in the mid-December, Clive was a partner at Baker and McKenzie, the world’s second largest law firm.

He lived in Singapore for three years, managing three Asia offices, but also spent stints in Hong Kong, New York and Budapest.

Now the 54-year-old Mancunian has decided to return to work in this country and see much more of his wife and four children.

While he has done voluntary work for the Samaritans and Crisis at Christmas in the past, this is his first full-time role in the charity sector.

Tall, immaculately dressed, the Cambridge graduate explains how the cultural leap from global law firm to one of Britain’s oldest charitable institutions was not actually as large as you might imagine.

“Both jobs are about people and delivering a high quality of service,” he says.

“And I’ve always wanted to do something in the voluntary sector.”

St John’s has four historic care home sites around the city, including a former medieval leper hospital in Colebrook Street.

The fourteenth century chapel in the Broadway and St John’s House next door - which was initially a hospital – have also been owned by the charity since they were built.

Today St John’s provides a home for one hundred and fifty elderly and employs 115 full and part-time staff.

The criteria for being eligible for housing is the same as it’s been for the past 1,000 years, that the individual, or couple, are financially in need.

Some start out able to live quite independently in a flat, before changing to another St John’s home, where they can receive more care.

Several still work though, with one resident in his mid-90s regularly volunteering for a Winchester dementia charity.

Clive Cook’s arrival marks a significant gear-change for St John’s, as the previous director Michael Jackson was there for 26 years.

A significant part of his job is to manage the charity’s portfolio of commercial properties in central Winchester, which includes shops, offices and residential buildings, some of which are in the High Street.

Clive has no intention of bringing in immediate, wide-spread changes.

“I arrived to find a well-oiled machine of hugely professional people.

“One of the lessons I’ve learned from previous roles is that you really need to come in, absorb things and listen,” he says.

He does in time, however, intend to establish a new, larger, community centre to act as a focal meeting point for residents.

He also wants St John’s to be more involved in Winchester life, with public tours of the almshouses set to be established through the city’s guides.

“Some people haven’t heard of St John’s at all, many don’t know what we are about. But our history is so entwined with the history of Winchester,” he said.

Most of all Clive is all too keenly aware of the responsibility of his new role.

“It’s a privilege to do this and I love it,” he concludes.