Hertfordshire Society for the Blind gave each blind person in the County 5 shillings per fortnight. In Watford this was distributed by the Watford Round Table in an upstairs room in Queens Road. The Ladies Circle, including Rene Milton, provided refreshments using the bathroom!
Joe Hare, Round Table and other members of Round Table and Ladies Circle started a building fund to build a purpose-built hall for the blind. The suggested site was where houses had been demolished by a bomb in Cross Street. Fundraising included holding a concert at the Town Hall with guest performers Harry Secombe and Cyril Fletcher, street collections and begging letters. The cost of the land and building was £750.00 and was fully paid for before the opening of the Centre.
In June the Bishop of St Albans opened the Centre and later in the same year the then Duchess of Kent, Princess Marina, visited the Centre enjoying chatting to members over a cup of tea. The charity was registered with the Charity Commission and one of the original fundraisers, Rene Milton, became Chairperson of the charity and oversaw the day to day running of the centre.
Members were taught life skills including braille, basketwork and other handicrafts and were visited once a month by a wonderful lady called Mrs Steele who was a home teacher specifically for blind people. The Centre flourished with on average 60 members attending weekly meetings.
Rene’s daughter Susan Harper started to play an active role in the Centre becoming a trustee and helping with some of the day to day activities and fundraising.
Susan Harper took over from her mother as Chairman of the Trustees due to Rene Milton’s ill health but Rene continued in have an active role in the charity and at the Centre.
After years of not having a proper kitchen to work with the trustees decided to build a new one to allow volunteers to serve more ambitious meals as well as all those cups of teas! More fundraising events were held to fund this project and as usual all the volunteers helped ensure that enough was raised to cover all the costs without having to take out a loan.
Rene Milton was recognised in the Queens Honours and awarded a British Empire Medal for over 50 years of voluntary service to the Blind. She received the award from the Lord Lieutenant of Hertfordshire, Sir Simon Bowes-Lyon and attended a garden party at Buckingham Palace later that year.
The new kitchen had shown that it was time to consider other improvements, especially as the membership was now at a maximum of 80 people attending regularly every week. Another major fundraising programme was launched and in 1997 the building was almost totally rebuilt to include a new roof, wooden floor, double glazed window, modern toilet facilities, new heating and a total rewire. A porch was added to the front and the garden was re-laid. The whole building was redecorated inside and out, new natural wooden doors were fitted and new curtains hung. While the works were ongoing the Centre was still open weekly and meetings were held in an unused day lounge of a newly opened care home in Watford. The total cost of £98,000 was completely covered by fundraising. As in the early days begging letters were sent and special events held such as a series of Jazz concerts and the Watford Observer Golf Days.
50th Anniversary! The Centre was privileged to receive a visit from H.R.H. The Duke of Gloucester who spoke to the members and enjoyed a game of darts with some of them. Also during the 50th year the Bishop of St Albans re-dedicated the centre. Susan’s daughter, and Rene’s granddaughter, Jenny Marsh started to play a more active role in the charity becoming a trustee and helping at the Centre on a more regular basis.
Rene Milton passed away and in memory of her lifetime dedication, the hall was renamed Rene Milton Hall.
60th Anniversary. The Centre continued to flourish with twice weekly meetings and almost maximum capacity. The club opened several days a week to members for them to enjoy activities ranging from computer and braille lessons to keep fit.
Susan was delighted to be recognised in the Queens birthday honours for her services to the Blind and like her mother received the British Empire Medal from The Lord Lieutenant of Hertfordshire, Countess of Verulam. She also enjoyed a garden party at Buckingham Palace.
Due to Susan’s ill health Jenny took over the reins of the day to day running of the Club. Membership still thrived and group holidays enjoyed together each year.
Susan passed away and in memory a plague was unveiled in the entrance hall of the Centre recognising her dedication to the charity.
The Coronavirus pandemic hit. For the first time in the charity’s history the doors of the hall in Cross Street were closed to members. However, this did not stop members from continuing to be supported with volunteers arranging weekly individual calls to each member, running errands and collecting shopping, holding zoom meetings and group telephone calls. Unfortunately, the charity did not escape unscathed, and we remember fondly members who lost their lives during this unprecedented time. The club reopened in September to members on a limited basis and reduced hours but we managed to have several Christmas parties for the members rather than the usual big party with full Christmas lunch.
After the January Lockdown we have reopened our doors again to members and hope that in our 70th year we can start to rebuild to be able to open in full again. Plans are in place to celebrate the anniversary with a celebration lunch party and several special outings later in the year if restrictions are lifted. Membership continues to thrive with members looking forward to a range of activities each week