New book charts history of Worthing’s visually impaired community

Wood chopping may not sound like the ideal job for a blind person but Worthing’s oldest charity has helped people do just that.

The story of Fredrick Algar is just one of many gems in a new book launched by Sight Support Worthing, the culmination of a project first started in 2015.

Sight Support Worthing president Bob Smytherman, centre, with the new book, Providing the Jam, and guests at the launch party

Sight Support Worthing president Bob Smytherman, centre, with the new book, Providing the Jam, and guests at the launch party

The charity was awarded £55,000 by the Heritage Lottery Fund for A Journey in Time, recording a history of the sight-impaired community in Worthing.

Project manager Chris Hare said he was surprised to learn one of the early jobs the society supported was wood chopping. He found Mr Algar, one of the first ‘cases’, was given five shillings to buy wood to chop and sell.

“Fred was helped by the society right through his life and spent a large part of it chopping logs, as far as we know without mishap,” added Mr Hare.

The book is called Providing the Jam, referencing a quote from the Rev Edward Penfold, who was involved in setting up the society. He said West Sussex County Council provided ‘the bread’ and the society provided ‘the jam’, the little extras like companionship, trips and an annual holiday.

West Sussex High Sheriff Caroline Nicholls and Worthing deputy mayor Hazel Thorpe were among special guests for the launch at the charity’s headquarters in Rowlands Road, Worthing, yesterday.

Barry Ward, chairman, said: “Two-and-a-half years ago, we decided it would be the perfect time to create a book to tell the story of the visually impaired in the locality to try to understand how life for the visually impaired has changed over time. There are many interesting and amusing elements.”

A sample paperback has been produced and a hardback is soon to follow, along with audio and ebook versions.

The charity’s president, Bob Smytherman, who chaired the steering group, said: “ I believe we have got something to be truly proud of. My grandfather was blinded in the troubles in Northern Ireland in the 1920s, so I grew up knowing all about visual impairment and how it impacts on people’s lives, which was very different then to how it is today and that is why this charity is continually evolving to meet the needs.”

Chris co-wrote the book with prize-winning author Lela Tredwell. He said it helped that the charity had all the minute books from when it was started in 1910 as Worthing Society for Befriending the Blind, as that gave complete continuity.

Volunteers were brought in to help with the research, trawling through the minute books and searching through newspaper archives.

Aural histories were also recorded, involving around 20 people talking about their memories.

Chris said: “Talking to people about their own experiences and amusing things that happened to them certainly brings it to life.

“The thing I came away with is that people would give of their time on an extraordinary scale. The formidable Mrs Cobby came up a lot, for example. She was a lady who usually got what she wanted.

“The second thing that stands out is how attitudes have changed. In 1937, Milton House, in Nursery Lane, was opened as a home for the blind. That was seen as very progressive but now it would be seen as retrogressive.”

The hardback should be available soon. Visit www.ajourneyintime.org.uk and sightsupportworthing.org.uk for more information.

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