1st April 2010 - 1st April 2020
Coventry Resource Centre for the Blind hits double figures today! Exactly ten years ago, Rosie Brady and Tricia Griffiths took possession of 33 Earlsdon Avenue South. They walked into an empty building with little furniture and no money and set about building the charity from scratch.
There has been a charity associated with visual impairment on the site for more than 50 years. In the days of Coventry Society for the Blind, it was just a care home before the Resource Centre annex opened in 1993. But in 1997, with the society running into serious financial difficulty, the whole site was taken over by the national deafblind charity, Sense. There were a few activities - the long-running Rose Staner Friendship Club (our Thursday lunch club), and social clubs on Monday and Wednesday and some computers. So when Sense decided it would have to concentrate on its core activities and close the centre, there was a real danger it would mean the end of social support for visually impaired people in Coventry. A steering committee was set up to see if anything could be salvaged and in the end, there were just two people left: Rosie and Tricia.
In the May, they took part in the Walkathon, organised by our longtime friends and supporters the Leofric Lions, and raised their first £1000. Since then, the charity has grown and grown.
From operating a bare two days a week, its doors opened a third, then fourth then, about four years ago a fifth day. From two or three sessions a week, we are now up to 15, with activities ranging from IT and smart tech to creative writing and crafts, cooking and music to social groups, alloment, Braille and T’ai Chi.
There were around 30 people using the centre at the start: we now have about 120 people coming each week, several of them more than once. We have another 30 or so who drop in from time to time. We offer people support over the phone, make and receive referrals, help people who are newly diagnosed or coming to terms with their sight loss to take the next steps towards leading full active lives. We operate two minibuses which go out across the city to bring people to take part in the Resource Centre’s activities - an essential service that provides access to everyone. We couldn’t do any of this without our wonderful volunteers - around 80 of them now - who run the groups, provide one-to-one support, drive our minibuses, help us on reception and with admin tasks, and help run our fundraising events and activities. Their central role in the charity was recognised in 2018 when we were greatly honoured to receive the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service - the highest award a charity can receive.
Over the years the charity has helped hundreds of people learn to cope, to break out of social isolation, to learn new skills, make friends and have a good laugh. We often say to people when they join us is that their visual impairment is frankly the least interesting thing about them. Everybody is the same boat - and it’s a boat that rocks with friendship, banter and laughter, a proper community that is strong and deep, as we are all finding out in these extraordinary times.
So busy has the centre become, that staff had to be recruited to help Rosie and Tricia. Denise Riley has been dealing with admin and finance since the beginning. Heather Cooper joined as receptionist in 2011. Hugh Sorrill, a Trustee since 2011 joined the management team in 2016 becoming general manager, with firstly Debbie Hewitt and latterly Guy Rawson as transport co-ordinators. Jo Dickie, whose mum has used the centre for many years, became fundraising and development manager in 2018.
That year also saw one of the most important events in the charity’s existence - the acquisition of the Resource Centre and the adjacent Boston Lodge. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to provide a strong asset-base for the organisation, one that could not be passed up. With the premises being sold anyway, we had the choice either to buy or die. It was not easy to raise the money necessary and it has undoubtedly placed a big strain on our finances, but we hope and expect that it will secure our future in the long run.
What an eventful decade! We are all so proud of how far the charity has come, the kind of organisation it is, the kind of people we have both using the centre and supporting others to use it. And of course we will all want to say a huge thank you to our founders Tricia and Rosie for the phenomenal, extraordinary hard work and dedication they have put in over the years and continue to put in.
They didn’t imagine either that the organisation would get as far as it has or that we would have to celebrate this significant milestone from our homes! And the current public health situation has meant that sadly we have had to close the centre for the duration. Because of the strength of our community, we have been able to set up an extensive telephone support network for and between both the people who use the centre and the volunteers and staff. It is so important to keep those bonds strong and everybody engaged in each other’s welfare. We are undertaking shopping for those few who need it and our talking library is providing welcome distraction.
But closure has had a big effect on our income. We have generous supporters but we need more to help us get through.
We have a Friends of CRCB programme set up, where you can donate a regular monthly amount to help us not only keep going during the emergency but also to support our work when things get back to normal. For more information, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call the centre on 024 7671 7522 and you will be put through.
We will be celebrating later in the year now, with a big party, which we hope as many people as possible will attend. But in the meantime a big, big thank to everyone who has supported us, our service users, our volunteers, the Earlsdon and wider Coventry community, local companies, local charitable organisations, the trusts and foundations and last but by no means least our wonderful Trustees.