Sue Hayward’s Happy House - a Lancashire woman’s orphanage in Kenya

Children are given a safe and loving environment at the Happy Home and are well fed and clothed, l

Children are given a safe and loving environment at the Happy Home and are well fed and clothed, largely thanks to donations from Lancashire - Credit: not Archant

Three years ago we told the story of a woman leaving Lancashire to start an orphanage in Africa. Elizabeth Gomm has been out there to see how one person can make a difference.

Sue Hayward’s Happy House is built on a firm foundation of hope, every brick imprinted with love. In the three years since the former hotelier left behind her life in Lancashire to open an orphanage in Kenya, it has become home to 63 children with Sue as their Mama and her husband, Dave, as their Papa.

These are children aged from a few months to teens, who have been abandoned, neglected, and abused; children who have been orphaned through HIV Aids, malaria or one of the many other diseases that ravage this part of the world.

Some have been rescued from the urban slums of Malindi, while others were beaten and abused until they ran away to live on the streets. Sue says: ‘We have toddlers, who were brought to the Happy House as babies to die because struggling grandparents could no longer even afford to provide milk.

‘One desperate and defeated grandfather came back six weeks after entrusting us with his dying grandchild expecting to find her grave. Instead he found a healthy, bouncing baby.’ He told Sue: ‘I gave you a dying baby and you have given me a beautiful granddaughter.’ He now comes to see her as often as he can. Children arrive at the Happy House in a terrible state, physically and emotionally. ‘Within a short space of time, as the Happy House magic weaves its way around these sad little people, smiles that start on trembling lips reach their eyes,’ adds Mama Sue.

With security, respect, the best of health care and nourishment and not forgetting love, the most important ingredient of all, the children begin to discover the joy of childhood, previously unknown to them.

Sue’s vision for the Happy House developed after being shocked by the poverty she found while on holiday in Africa. It led to her setting up her charity, Children of Watamu, and Lancashire Life reported how her dedication resulted in her being voted Lancashire Woman of the Year.

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‘Since then we have come so far. Not only do we have the Happy House, we also have a nursery, which opened in 2011, and this year we opened an eight-class primary school.

‘None of this would have been possible without the support of those who have shared my vision and belief. When I started my work in Watamu in 2000 it involved taking resources to a local school where I’d seen kids sitting on floors, counting with stones, their teacher without any of the resources.

‘I have been helped by people from across Lancashire. They helped me to develop three schools, creating 700 places, and to equip a library with 50,000 books, before I realised my Happy House dream.

‘And in growing numbers, the people of Lancashire have carried on helping, by joining our child sponsorship scheme, holding fundraisers and making donations, and now they have been joined by many others from across the world. We also get volunteers coming from Lancashire.’

The Happy House school is blazing a trail for change with Sue introducing European teaching methods. Instead of learning by rote, classes are lively and interactive and are kept to a maximum of 25 pupils.

Thanks to Burnley-based charity champion, Terry Burns, founder of Furniture for Education Worldwide, the school is well furnished with kit from Lancashire schools which has been refurbished instead of going to landfill.

The result is that the children are achieving outstanding academic results, despite their terrible start in life. Sue says: ‘Our children have the best. I believe that is what every child deserves. They have their own clothes and belongings and, at our school, they are getting the best education.

‘Everything we have at the Happy House and in school has been donated but, unlike so many other children’s homes which are run as businesses, we ensure that everything we receive, right down to the last shilling, the last grain of rice, is accounted for and that it goes exactly where it is intended - to our children.

‘Terry Burns and his family have just been out to visit and were delighted to see the furniture his charity had sent being so well used. His son Gary chose to propose to his girlfriend Rachael Clamp while they were here - everyone was in on the secret, except Rachael, so we made it very special. The kids were thrilled.’

Sue spends most of her time in Kenya. ‘We have much more to do. Our next step is to provide a halfway house, where kids leaving us at 18 will have somewhere to go until they have established themselves in the workplace, or somewhere to come back to if they go on to higher education. In a family, you don’t tell a child to leave home at 18 if they are not ready, so how can we? We are their family. I am their Mama and Dave is their Papa.’

To find out more about the Happy House or its unique child sponsorship scheme please visit or email