Michele Evans looks at the history of Somerset Sight, a local charity helping the visually impaired

PUBLISHED: 19:40 20 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:02 20 February 2013

Jan Arnold of Somerset Sight with the Mayor and Mayoress of Taunton at the charity's recent relaunch

Jan Arnold of Somerset Sight with the Mayor and Mayoress of Taunton at the charity's recent relaunch

Somerset Sight, a local charity whose origins stem from the First World War, is moving forward into a bright future.

Michele Evans looks at the history of Somerset Sight, a local charity helping the visually impaired

Since it was founded in 1919, the Somerset Association for the Blind has striven to provide help and support for visually impaired people living in Somerset. Back then the Association was working to help the many servicemen returning from the First World War with eye injuries. In those days it was known as 'The Somerset County Committee for the Welfare of the Blind' and the aims were the same as they are today - to relieve the needs of blind and partially sighted people and to promote their health and education so that they might lead a full life in the community.

In the early years, Home Teachers were appointed to look into the specific training needs encountered by visually impaired people. Social support and advice were also provided, particularly during the war years when help was required with gas masks, blackout precautions and rationing. These Home Teachers were, in fact, the original Social Workers for the Blind and were employed by the Association, funded by Somerset County Council.

Over the next few years the Association was to undergo several name changes. In the 90 years since the Association was founded, much has changed, particularly in the way society perceives disability. So the decision has been taken to give the Association the new name of 'Somerset Sight' with a bright, modern logo to complement it. This, we feel, will be a clear demonstration of the Association's commitment to moving with the times and answering the changing needs and requirements of visually impaired people in the 21st century.

We are currently working with more than 1,500 visually impaired people and with the help of our 300 committed volunteers we are able to provide many services and activities. Braille classes, rehabilitation courses, a volunteer visitor service, craft groups, social afternoons and music appreciation are just a few examples. The volunteer visitor service is, perhaps, one of our most essential services, providing Befrienders for visually impaired people.

The Befrienders visit on a regular basis and help with a variety of tasks including shopping, visits to the Post Office and bank, and writing letters. Michael Fox from Wellington is just one of our members to benefit from the visitor service. He commented, "I have found it extremely useful to have a Befriender, as when one can't see to read long letters or write replies, a large pile of correspondence can accumulate and this can be a real worry." Across Somerset more than 200 visually impaired people are receiving regular home visits from Befrienders.

At our headquarters in Taunton our shop is stocked with the very latest equipment designed to help visually impaired people retain their independence. Out in the community our social afternoons are a real lifeline for some of our members. People with sight loss often find that they no longer have the confidence to leave the house and can become isolated. We provide door-to-door transport to our many social events where members can spend an afternoon in a safe and friendly environment. None of this would be possible if it weren't for the generosity of our supporters and the public. As a registered charity we depend entirely on fundraising, and donations come in from a variety of sources, from legacies and as memorials, from supermarket collections and income from several popular events we arrange throughout the year.

This allows us to work with people of all ages, helping them lead a full and independent life. Loneliness and isolation are huge problems facing those with a visual impairment so it's good to know that Somerset Sight is there to help.

Contact Somerset Sight at Northfield House, 51 Staplegrove Road, Taunton, TA1 1DG, 01823 333818. E-mail:info@somersetsight.co.uk

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