Sight charity to explore stories of soldiers blinded in First Word War

Casualties from the British 55th Division taken in April 1918
Casualties from the British 55th Division taken in April 1918

Sight Support Derbyshire (formerly Derbyshire Association of the Blind) was established in 1914 and soon became a vital source of support for returning soldiers readjusting to life with sight problems or permanent blindness. A century later, the organisation is still working to improve the lives of people with sight loss throughout Derbyshire.

The '100 years and still serving' project will mark both the centenary of the organisation and the War. Visually impaired children and older people will explore the stories of the returning soldiers through museum visits and by using audio books and tactile objects.

The project will culminate with the creation of a piece of art or sculpture which will tour around Derbyshire.

Claire Winfield, CEO at Sight Support Derbyshire, said: “We are delighted to have been awarded the grant in this, our centenary year. The original idea behind the charity was to support blind and visually impaired children who were missing out on education, but the First World War changed the emphasis because of the need to help returning injured soldiers.

“The project is a great opportunity for our older and younger members to come together and record our history and the impact of the War on our organisation’s development. We are looking forward to working with local museums and community groups to ensure that blind and visually impaired people can access World War One collections and use that information in their research.”

The announcement comes as groups across the UK examine the links between war and impairment as part of Disability History Month (22 November – 22 December). The annual event this year looks at the impact and treatment of newly disabled people following the First World War and other conflicts since.

Vanessa Harbar, Head of HLF East Midlands, said: “This is a fascinating project which will shed light on the unexplored story of how soldiers readjusted to living with visual impairments after the War. The changes in society’s understanding of sight problems, and the creation of support networks such as Sight Support, are just some of the ways that the War still impacts on us today.” 

The project is set to begin in January 2015.

Notes to editors

About Sight Support Derbyshire
Sight Support Derbyshire is the largest provider of services to people with a visual impairment in Derbyshire with over 4,000 registered members, and over 13,000 individual contacts per year.

Our services include rehabilitation, hospital support, befriending, sports and leisure services, home support, low vision assessments, children and young people’s services and more.

Some of our services are funded by statutory services but many rely on fundraising initiatives.

Sight Support Derbyshire, formerly Derbyshire Association for the Blind, was established in 1914 to provide support and opportunities to visually impaired young people leaving school. With the onset of the First World War services were soon extended to include support to soldiers returning from war with horrific eye injuries.

There are estimated to be around 32,000 people in Derbyshire County and Derby City who experience significant sight loss. Approximately 4,000 of these people are living with severe sight loss (blindness).

By 2020 the number of people living with significant sight loss in Derbyshire County and Derby City is projected to have risen to 40,000.

46% of blind and partially sighted people have given up hobbies and interests because of their sight loss.

One in twelve of us will become blind or partially sighted by the time we are 60. This rises to one in six by the time we reach 70.

90% of the public say sight is the sense they most fear losing.

60% of older blind and partially sighted people never go out on their own.

(Statistics provided by RNIB).

Further information

HLF press office: Tom Williams, Media Officer, 0207 591 6056, tom.williams@hlf.org.uk.
Sight Support Derbyshire: Alyson Koe, Communications and Marketing Fundraiser, 01332 287 008, alyson.koe@sightsupportderbyshire.org.uk.