My name is Carol Green and I am the chairman of The Barnsley Blind and Partially Sighted Association, a local based charity group that is volunteer led and has been in operation for over 30 years.
Since the closure of Blind Welfare in 1960 there had not been any support group for the blind within the Barnsley Borough, so when I noticed a press release in the chronicle in 1987 inviting interested parties to attend a meeting to discuss blind Welfare needs I spoke to my Friend Sue Calton, who like me is registered blind, and asked if she cared to go with me.
We duly attended the planned meeting at the CVS premises in Victoria Road along with around 25 others who had also responded to the press release. It was there that we first met Pauline Acklam and Judith Watts (now Foster), who were the individuals who had written the press release. After listening to individual accounts of blind welfare issues, a decision was taken to have a second meeting to discuss the inception of a group who could be instrumental in finding resolutions to address Blind Welfare issues.
A second press release was published with venue and time of the second meeting and a message that all were welcome. This meeting drew in around 70 people and this meeting resulted in a decision to choose a team who could work together to establish a recognised group and formalise it through an inaugural meeting to launch it officially. It was decided that the group would be called The Barnsley Blind and Partially Sighted Association. The founder members being Pauline Acklam OBE, Judith Watts, George Hacking, Don Audin, Gladys Morley, Sue Calton and yours truly, ME.
After much work in the background the group held its’ inaugural meeting in September 1987 and commenced work by providing a weekly information and support service every Thursday run from the offices of the CVS in Queen Street Barnsley to where they had deployed. Right from day one we constantly had clients queueing outside waiting to be seen and because demand was so great we upped our days of operation to two per week to include Tuesdays also. Queries ranged from help and advice with equipment, benefits, education etc. We also started a weekly Social Club where Clients could go for a chat, cup of tea and a game of bingo. This was held at the then YMCA at the back of the post office. The client group increased year on year and it became apparent that we would need to increase opening times which in turn would necessitate a move to premises of our own to work from in order to continue the service. In 199 At a meeting with my solicitor (Alan Crutch) on a personal matter, I asked if he knew of any rental premises in central Barnsley. He jokingly replied, “There are our basement premises but you wouldn’t want them they’re derelict”. I asked if I could have a look and he agreed. To be fair he was right they were derelict, but the location was brilliant. He said if we could renovate them to a useable standard he would let us use them for a peppercorn rent. Of course, in order to do this we needed cash, so fundraising was started in earnest. Gladys Morley and I started the ball rolling by a sponsored visit to go down Caphouse Colliery (the mining Museum) for which we raised £3,000.00. The fund raising continued with small grants, raffles, jumble sales, sponsored events and donations from the public. In 1992 the organisation received a large legacy from a former client which boosted the building renovation fund and enabled building work to commence. The renovation included an outside ramp and floors throughout, all in all the renovation costs totalled £60,000.00 and in 1993 we opened our doors in Regent Street South for the very first time. And today we are still there although things have changed, and times are harder.
In 2011 after the credit crunch, the owners of our building, which changed hands in 2007, re-assessed their financial position and after looking at our lease decided to invoke their rights to conduct a rent review. The offices we use were assessed and the rental value came out at £11,000.00 per annum. Our Landlords informed us of this and agreed to a more realistic rent as we were a self-funding volunteer led charity. After negotiations The rent was agreed at £5995.00 per annum. Previously it had been free. Since then it has in fact been an uphill struggle for us to raise our running costs, The credit crunch hit everyone and our donations all but dried up. That said, our volunteers still work tirelessly to raise funds to keep the organisation going as we are all aware how much this service is needed for our clients and their carers alike.
Lastly, I believe that the BBPSA was instrumental in saving my sanity as I used the service as a lifeline when I was at a very low point in my life. I had divorced and was left to bring up 4 children on my own the youngest being only weeks old and the eldest just 6. I was born with restricted vision and by the time I was a teenager my eyesight was so poor that I was registered blind. Then I find myself at age 38 blind alone and with four small children to look after, 2 blind and two sighted. This was both daunting and terrifying. The support I received from the organisation gave me the confidence and determination to go on as I no longer felt useless and alone. So here I am today still fighting the fight for our group and the clients that depend on it. The service has grown to incorporate a much wider range of support for our client group and their carers. No-one is ever turned away from our door, if we cannot help we signpost to others who can.