A £7,600 National Lottery grant awarded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) will enable the Newcastle Society for Blind People (NSBP) to digitise historic items, reveal the untold experiences of its members and transform future understanding of life for visually impaired people living in the city.

Ivor Crowther, Head of HLF North East, said: “Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, we’re delighted to support this project which will not only celebrate a milestone anniversary for the NSBP but also put the history and stories of its members at the heart of building a stronger future for visually impaired people in Newcastle and beyond.”

Telling stories and revealing secrets

For 150 years, the NSBP has provided support to visually impaired people living in Newcastle.

Part of a wave of home teaching societies set up from the mid-1850s to go into people’s homes and teach blind people to read with the moon alphabet, NSBP was formed in 1867 with a Mr Wilkinson becoming the first teacher. However, its exact date and location of formation is one of the stories this project will uncover.

Others aims include:

  • Telling the stories of notable society members including James Clydesdale who became the first blind Mayor of Newcastle in 1945 and was instrumental in the NSBP’s history
  • Capturing the personal experiences of society members about what they think about life as visually impaired people in Newcastle now
  • Investigating the effects of war – including the impact on those who were blinded during conflict and the change in employment status for some visually impaired people during the Second World War

Volunteers and society members will receive training to develop the skills needed to delve into the archives and digitise materials to be shared on the NSBP website for the first time.

The Society needs your help in two main ways – people’s own memories of any involvement with the Society but also if they have any information on notable people involved including Mrs Harriet Pearey who was Chair from the 1950s to her death in 1972 and EJ Sillett a blind poet who published three books of poetry in the 1930s and who contributed poetry to the Society.

Improving lives

The current website, complete with digital archive, will be transformed and a social media campaign will help to spread the word about issues facing visually impaired people.

By finding out how visual impairment, perceptions and services have changed over 150 years – and making the issues more widely known – the NSBP aim to use their past to inspire their future work in improving lives.

Celebrating a milestone anniversary

In addition to the National Lottery funded project, a series of events and celebrations will take place over the coming months including:

  • An anniversary tea party at the Copthorne Hotel on 30th June
  • A celebratory conference on 24th July
  • An exhibition at Newcastle City Library for three weeks from 20th July