In 1920 Parliament passed the Blind Persons Act which stated that ‘every blind person who has attained the age of 50 is entitled to receive the same pension as if he was 70’. The definition of a blind person was that they should be so blind as to be unable to perform any work for which eyesight is essential. The Blind Persons Act was no doubt party due to the increased number of blind people as a result of the 1914 – 1918 war.
Some of the citizens of Harrogate were concerned about the welfare of the blind locally and after eighteen months of informal discussions the first official committee meeting of the Harrogate Blind Association was held on 4th February 1921, chaired by Mr Steward an Ophthalmic surgeon.
The aims of the Association were discussed. From the outset they were: the preservation of sight where possible, then the encouragement of suitable employment, recreation and social activities and the provision of helpful aids, these aims apply as much today as they did then.
An evening social club was formed with an anonymous donation, which would pay for the first 3 months rent, members of the club, gatherings of up to 30 people, enjoyed dancing, refreshments and a variety of entertainments, as numbers grew the social group moved in to the Lecture Room of the Congregational Church. A conference and exhibition was held in the Spa Rooms on 13th and 14th October 1921, which would now be our AGM, at which the Mayor proposed that ‘this meeting form a Voluntary Agency to be known as The Harrogate and District Society for the Blind’.
The event must have been well publicised as, in addition to Newspaper adverts and twenty five posters, five thousand handbills and five hundred invitation cards were printed. The Mayor was supported by several Aldermen and other worthies and the meeting was addressed by Mr Priestley from the Ministry of Health. At the event there was an exhibition and demonstration of knitting, chair caning, typing and shorthand, reading and writing followed by a short concert in the evening.
Also formed 100 years ago, the Harrogate Rotary Club gave a lunch for the blind in June 1921. Rotarians have had close connections with the Blind Society from the beginning and had their own blind committee which provided considerable support, even today many of the charities trustees and supporters are Rotarians. The Rotary Club of Harrogate will also be hosting a garden party in celebration of our joint 100 year birthday.
An account for the Society was opened at Becketts Bank by Mr J. R. Ogden with the sum of £25. The firm of J. R. Ogden, jewellers and Silversmiths, still occupies a prominent place in James Street where other contemporary shops have long since disappeared. It was recorded in the 1931 Annual Report that 28 Wireless Sets had been supplied by Mr J. R. Ogden to blind people and an application was made for more to the British Wireless for the Blind Fund. The possession of a wireless set was a great boon to a blind person, giving both information and entertainment. Braille literature such as Radio Times and other magazines were also supplied.
Thirty years later as a result of a special talking book machine fund there were 42 machines in the area and this was further extended with the cooperation of a Nuffield talking book library for the blind. Nowadays the choice is even wider for the visually impaired with digital downloads and MP3 available from the public library, the weekly talking newspaper and it’s fellow monthly magazine as well as many other book, newspaper and magazine subscriptions. As in those early days, we still work closely with the British Wireless for the Blind Fund, providing cd, mp3, and internet radio players.
Ripon was affiliated to Harrogate and District Society for the Blind in 1922, enabling our services to reach even more people, in November 1979 a weekly social club for the blind was set up by Mr and Mrs Fisher, the social group met in the Social Services premises at Sharow View. The organisers of the club arranged transport for many of the Ripon members to attend classes at the Harrogate Centre, unfortunately with the eventual cut in funding from the council this transport ceased. The Ripon Vision Support Group still meet to this day, holding their meetings formally at The British Legion Premises, Lister House and in recent months at Allhallowgate Church.
The Ripon club is now much more than just a social group, with an advice and support session being held the first meeting of each month. If you would like to find out more about the history of Vision Support Harrogate District, formally Harrogate and District Society for the Blind, you can purchase a book called ‘Low Vision… Great Vision’ this book was written in 1995 by Daphne Fisher, available at Vision Support Harrogate District, 23 East Parade, Harrogate, HG1 5LF.
There is so much that has happened over the past 100 years, and through this time our values and priorities have stayed the same, our charity believes in sustainability, working hard to provide vital services and support, many of the services we have today, we have always had, over the years moulding and adjusting them to suit the changing times. As technology, education and policy has changed, we have been able to develop new services. The main changes for our charity have been the cuts in funding over the years, leaving charities like ours to source their own funds, through donations and fundraising, this continues today, with no government funding, we rely solely on the generosity of our local community and the occasional grant for a special piece of equipment or project.
Vision Support Harrogate District has traditional values but deliver them in a modern way, by researching and staying up to date with latest in developments, technology, services, listening to our members, building partnerships and networking within organisations who have the same goals for the future for people with sight loss. Our vision is to support the vision of others in our community through the promotion of independent living, building strong social networks and the learning and retainment of new skills.