The charity expanded its range of services over the last five decades of the 20th Century. Blind children and young people from Devon were helped to gain education, training and employment. Younger pupils studied at Sunshine Homes or at special schools for the blind, and the charity helped students at the West of England Institution to train in a variety of roles, including piano tuning, switchboard operation, physiotherapy and horticulture – and there is one instance mentioned of a blind student training as a wood chopper!
In 1947, the DCAB first discussed the need to establish a home ‘for elderly blind persons needing a little extra care and attention’. A suitable property – a large house and, subsequently, the next-door property, overlooking the Taw and Torridge estuaries – was purchased at Instow, North Devon, in 1951. It was named Andrew Home after Alice Andrew, for 24 years the home teacher for the North Devon area. Andrew Home provided permanent accommodation for 24 blind residents and for holidaying and convalescent guests. Accounts from the period show an asset value, including furniture and equipment, of £13,852 10s 8d, and an annual household income and expenditure account of £404 19s 6d. The Home was highly successful for many years – despite a ceiling collapse in 1955! – providing excellent care, outings, interests and companionship for elderly blind people not able to care for themselves. Eventually, the home was sold, in 1981, after caring for blind people for 30 years.
From the earliest times to very recently, the charity organised an annual craft show where blind people exhibited their handiwork. It proved a popular event until very late in the 20th century, when dwindling numbers of entries made it non-viable. Blind people are nowadays far less likely to live isolated lives in their homes, and far more likely to be working and active in their communities, and craftwork is not so central to their lives anymore. In other ways, though, the DCAB continues to facilitate many social activities. As far back as the 1930s, the charity was organising socials and parties in the winter months and outings in the summer. Annual holidays took place from the 1960s, the first one being to Bournemouth in 1963 for 20 blind people and their guides, and a scheme for families and young people to take a break at holiday camps in the south west was introduced in 1968. We also have links to 20 long-established clubs for blind people across Devon through which visually-impaired people meet and enjoy outings and shared pastimes.
Modern aids and new forms of assistance mean that independence is a reality for most visually-impaired people. The DCAB has always played a major role in furthering this. It has always provided small grants, for example, for items that enable independent living. Over the decades the things these grants have been put towards has changed markedly. The charity’s records show that in earlier years they were used for, amongst other things, repairs to dentures and hearing aids, a caravan for a blind agricultural worker, a batch of month-old chicks for a poultry breeder, wheelbarrow and cloches for a blind gardener, a harmonica for a ’16 year old boy deprived of a normal home life’, pig-meal to replace some stolen from a blind pig-keeper, and the fares for a blind couple with a baby travelling to Ireland and for a mother visiting a blind child in hospital. Nowadays, the DCAB is more likely to be awarding grants towards talking microwaves, talking wristwatches and electronic reading aids. The DCAB’s resource centre, established some twenty years ago, had a huge facelift in 2011 and now represents the best that can be offered to visually-impaired people. The same centre also provides Low Vision Clinics and advice, the modern-day version of our counselling ‘surgeries’ offered from the 1970s.
2011 also saw DCAB change its name to ‘Devon in Sight’ to reflect the fact that services are provided to people affected by a range of sight loss conditions.