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First Name

When Paul and Michele Lavars met at YMCA Fairthorne Manor in 1975, little did they realise that 40 years later they would be returning to Botley to relive old memories.

Paul was a local boy who’d been volunteering every summer since the early 70s at the YMCA’s international camp, teaching children from all over Europe to kayak on the beautiful stretch of the River Hamble.  Summers were great fun, living in the old “horse boxes” in the woods and enjoying long days on the water.

Michele hailed from New York and had just completed a psychology degree, but wanted to keep busy as she waited for post grad applications for the sunny climes of the West Coast to confirm.  Not wanting to lounge around at home, she heard through a friend of this place called Fairthorne and decided to apply for a summer voluntary job teaching arts & crafts to children despite a distinct lack of experience!  She was accepted and hitched up to Canada with a friend; the flights were cheaper from there and $400 bought a return ticket to London.  Leaving her parents with vague instructions of “I’m off to the Y in England”, Michele arrived and set down her suitcase at a quaint Botley train station wondering what she’d let herself in for.

A proper Fairthorne summer was had by all – Michele lived in staff accommodation in the Manor House and helped develop the skills of hundreds of children.

In true Fairthorne style, the pair became firm friends and it was at a hip 70s disco where Paul struck up the courage and made his move.  Their first date was a trip to the Horse & Jockey pub in Curbridge, still a popular local watering hole.

But soon enough, the summer was over and the staff started to drift off their own separate ways.  Michele decided to stay on in the UK for a bit to see how things went – that post grad course was going to have to wait.  She took numerous jobs across the south, from ad agency to barmaid, weed picker to nanny, anything to keep the money coming in.  It wasn’t long before the authorities took note of Michele’s “alien” status and a return home was firmly on the cards, but just 11 months after they met, they happily tied the knot.  Over the intervening years, they moved around the UK and finally settled in Bransgore in the New Forest; enjoying time with their growing family including 5 grand children.  Michele never did return to the States to study, but had a successful career as a teacher, while Paul held senior positions in multi-national engineering firms and ran his own company.

Recently, Paul and Michele returned to Fairthorne and marvelled at the great improvements to the site as well as commenting that some things haven’t really changed.

“It’s great to see that Fairthorne has clearly gone from strength to strength and still provides a fantastic platform for a child’s development” said Paul. “It really is a special place and it brought back so many memories for both of us returning here today.  There was a real buzz about the place with hundreds of children having the time of their lives, so some things haven’t changed”.

If you’ve got great memories of Fairthorne to share, contact us at [email protected] or our Facebook page (YMCA Fairthorne Manor).