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Macclesfield Eye Society has served blind and partially sighted people in East Cheshire for over 140 years. We help visually impaired individuals and their families access support, information and equipment from our office and resource centre on Queen Victoria Street in central Macclesfield. As well as signposting people to other sources of support in the area Macclesfield Eye Society provides a number of direct services which are highlighted in brief below:
- Supporting blind or partially sighted people in East Cheshire who are in work; helping them to access financial, technological and other support to help them thrive at their job and understand their rights as an employee with sight loss. We also help employers understand the needs and rights of newly employed individuals (or newly diagnosed current employees) who are blind or partially sighted.
- Assisting blind or partially sighted people who are no longer able to work, or who are seeking work; helping them to access financial and other support during their unemployment and/or search for employment.
- Encouraging employers in the town to adopt best practice in the workplace to make their products, services and workplaces accessible to employees and clients affected by sight loss.
- Assisting visually impaired people who are recently diagnosed, or whose circumstances have recently changed, with an assessment of their home environment by our Independent Living Coordinator to ensure they can live as independently as possible in their own homes.
- Providing or recommending specialist technical equipment or home assistance products via our Resource Centre in Macclesfield.
- Offering a befriending service for blind or partially sighted individuals who are less mobile and unable to attend social activities outside of their homes.
- Our Hospital Information Point runs weekly alongside the Eye Clinic at Macclesfield District General Hospital, facilitating a point of contact where consultants and nurses can refer patients to discuss the support available via Macclesfield Eye Society with one of our volunteers.
- Our Macclesfield Weekly Social Group meets every Wednesday in central Macclesfield to provide peer support and a social setting for blind or partially sighted people in the town.
- Our Congleton ‘VIPs’ Social Group meets biweekly in Congleton, providing peer support and a social setting for blind or partially sighted people in the Congleton area.
- The new Audio Book Club meets on the second Tuesday of the month in Macclesfield.
A Brief History of Macclesfield Eye Society
In 2015 the Macclesfield Eye Society reached its 140th anniversary, so how and why did it all begin?
In the 19th century, the majority of people in Macclesfield worked in the silk industry. Much of the work was detailed and complex, for example the threading of hand loom harnesses. This was generally carried out in very poor lighting conditions and inevitably this had a detrimental effect on people’s sight. As a result many became unemployable. The Local Authority acknowledged this problem and in doing so founded the “Society of Home Teaching for the Blind” and a committee of caring ladies was formed in 1875 when there were 80 blind people registered in the town.
The object originally was to visit the blind in their homes or in the workhouse and to improve their quality of life by teaching them to read books, mainly religious works, produced in “Moon’s Simple Embossed Type” (a predecessor of Braille based on the standard alphabet).
As the Society progressed over the following years the Committee began to teach further skills such as knitting and crocheting. With additional outside help basket weaving, rush seating, piano tuning and even coal sack making were introduced and blind people began to obtain worthwhile occupations. As more saleable items were being produced it became obvious that permanent premises were essential and consequently 15 Queen Victoria Street was purchased in 1926 for a sum of £560. This became the central base and part of the building was converted into a suitable workroom. It was during this time that outings and monthly socials were arranged and these have continued up to the present time with just a short break during the war years.
In 1933 the Society officially changed its title to the “Macclesfield Society for the Blind”. Electricity was duly installed at 15 Queen Victoria Street and in 1950 the premises were officially classified as a “workshop for the blind”. Direct employment was provided here for blind people right up until to 1963 when sadly production in these premises had to be stopped as the Ministry of Labour considered them no longer suitable. The shop continued to sell items produced by blind and visually impaired people until 1974, when some very significant changes took place.
Firstly as a result of the passing of the Local Authorities Social Services Act, the Society’s role changed and it no longer acted as agents for the County Council as all statutory obligations were taken over by the Social Services.
Secondly and far more positively, a team of dedicated volunteers founded the Macclesfield & District Talking Newspaper for the Blind – the first of its kind in the north of England. Initially sending out news items to its listeners recorded on cassette, it has progressed with technology on to CD’s and more recently memory sticks. Now over 40 years old it continues to provide a valuable service to its listeners.
As the 20th century was drawing to a close the Society realised that the needs of people were changing again. Therefore in 1990 a home visiting scheme was started and in 1997 in order to make better use of the premises the building was completely refurbished due to a generous legacy left to the Society. The opportunity was taken to install a modern recording studio for the Talking Newspaper on the top floor that had been the old workroom. This refurbishment meant the Society was able to provide a proper resource centre where visually impaired people were welcome to come for advice and information. They could also try and buy a wide selection of aids available to help maintain their independence.
With the kind help and permission of the Macclesfield District General Hospital an information desk was started at the Eye Clinic. Run by volunteers from the Society it offers advice and understanding to people diagnosed with sight loss.
Thanks to generous donations from our members and the public, along with community organisations such as The Rotary Club and supermarkets including Waitrose & Sainsbury’s, the Macclesfield Eye Society, as we are now known, was able to undertake a further refurbishment of its resource centre in 2014.
This refurbishment means that as well as demonstrating and selling the more traditional aids such as hand held magnifiers, we are also able to demonstrate more of the technology available to assist people with visual impairment, such as talking computer software and electronic magnifiers.
The Macclesfield Eye Society has come a long way since 1875, but we continue to operate with the same core objectives as the original founders, namely helping to improve the lives of visually impaired people. By recognising the ever changing needs of people with sight loss and the development of new aids and technology we hope, with the continuing support of our invaluable team of volunteers, to continue providing this service for many more years to come.