Inspirational legacy

As we celebrate International Women’s Day (March 8), we are reflecting on how lucky we are to have such amazing and inspirational women at both Amesbury Abbey and Sutton Manor – from management, to staff, to residents.

But none of us would be here today without the remarkable work of Mary Cornelius-Reid MBE, founder of the Amesbury Abbey Group and the pioneer of luxury independent retirement living in Britain.

Mrs Cornelius-Reid was a force of nature. She was living proof that anything is possible if you set your mind to it and are prepared to work hard to achieve it.

The concept of luxury retirement living was unheard of in the early 1970s, when she embarked on her ambitious enterprise, seeing there was a gap in the market for comfortable nursing for the elderly and setting out to deliver it on a grand scale – first with the purchase of Winton House in Nether Wallop, and then the Manor and the Abbey in Hampshire and Wiltshire.

In the last 50 years, our beautiful period homes have taken retirement living and bespoke nursing care to new heights. Mrs Cornelius-Reid also set up the first retirement village in Portugal, which celebrated its 30th anniversary last year.

While other nursing homes in the UK were very much a functional facility, the Amesbury Abbey Group was offering something on a different level, and it was this vision of creating luxury independent retirement living that led to Mrs Cornelius-Reid receiving an MBE in 2001 for services to health care.

Mary Cornelius-Reid receiving an MBE


Today, her daughter and AAG MD Naomi Cornelius-Reid says: “Mum had spotted a hole in the market for those people who were the ‘walking wounded’ – they wanted something that was like a hotel, but with a little bit of extra assistance. She found these gorgeous old homes that needed restoring and did them up to be something splendid.”

Her sister and AAG director Rosemary said: “Some of our first residents needed nursing care straight away, but a lot came in several years before they needed it, and that’s really where the independent living came from. Mum realised they weren’t ready for a nursing home, so she turned the houses and cottages on the grounds into independent retirement living.

“She thought all some of these people need is their cleaning, gardening and food taken care of and they’d be perfectly independent. They’ll also know that they’re near the nursing home, so won’t have to move again when they need a little more care.

“That’s where the concept came from, and she was the first to do it. She was chairwoman of the Nursing Home Association when she had this idea, and every time you see an independent living retirement set up it comes back to mum’s clever idea."

Both Naomi and Rosemary are incredibly proud of the business and the wonderful people they support.

Naomi says: “Working in care is demanding but immensely rewarding and I have grown up with and have a huge appreciation for the elderly.

“The lives lived and the stories to be told are often inspiring, always moving.

“To be a part of a company which cares for those who have given so much, and to work with such a fantastic group of people, some who have been with us for 30 years, feels very special.”