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Managing Pearey House – Helen’s Story

It’s great, lovely environment, lovely people.



I started November 2009. The manager retired two years after me being here and I was offered the role of Manager which I accepted. I was made redundant in banking and I saw this job. I wish I had done this sort of job from leaving school, it’s great. Lovely environment lovely people.

The first thing was to modernise it, so I just went about getting funding in. I could see the potential; I could see what the focus was all those years ago and I think it had just got into a rut.

After refurbishing I set about networking, trying to find out how people could refer in, it was just a massive task. A lot of working with sensory support team at the council, RVI eye department, local opticians, local doctors and then we just slowly started to build the service up again. But at the same time thinking we still need to think about the future and think about how things can evolve. It’s always been a long-term plan so in 2015 we became a CIO, a Charitable Incorporated Organisation, that was a lot of hard work. We were Tynemouth Blind Welfare Society, the borough’s all changed so we rebranded to Pearey House Centre for Visually Impaired. We needed new blood and new ideas so that’s when we started looking for new trustees.

Photo of Pearey House Gym

The Gym Pearey House

I started to say, “What is it that you actually want to do.” We were getting younger people in which made a massive difference. They all came in, mobile phones, computers, iPads, so we needed somebody to be able to do that. We did the gym. We realised talking to people, they felt very uncomfortable in a public place going to the gym so we set that up and we worked with the YMCA to bring somebody in to show them how to use the equipment. Getting out and about, socialising, that’s the main priority, that’s what they wanted to do and that is what we focus on now. It’s the socialising, stopping isolation, going out. We have 59 coming in over the days, it’s lovely, we have got a waiting list of people.


Photo of the new Miller Conservatory

The new Miller Conservatory

We put the conservatory on in covid. I found that photograph, I said, “Look at that, it’s absolutely amazing, we need to get this back.” Quickly realised it was bespoke, the council needed to have it like for like because we are in a conservation area. Costs just went through the roof, but we managed. We did a massive, massive fundraising to get the conservatory and it’s a great addition, extra space, it’s a lovely addition. That’s one of the things I am chuffed about.

I just wish I had taken photographs of what it was actually like. It had always been looked after as a building, always had repairs done it was solid, but it was so old fashioned, it just wasn’t inviting. All of the woodwork was orange because somebody had come up with this idea that all the framework needed to be bright. When I spoke to people, they said they needed all the framework white as a definition between the colour of the walls and frames. In the lounge the walls were green, so the woodwork was all dark green. All the hallway was orange. The dining room lilac and purple. So, we have had windows changed, we have had the conservatory built, we’ve had floors done, decorating.

It’s actually a custodian now, Pearey House. I think people didn’t realise legalities and policies and how things had changed so much to protect everybody, so everything was brought up to date and done correctly. We had shares and they were with people who had died 30, 40 years ago, so we had to go to families and get death certificates, so that was a huge job, but it’s done now and sorted out.

Getting out and about

The first year I said, “Who’s up for a holiday, let’s sort this out.” There wasn’t many people at the time using the service so I arranged to go to Llandudno. There was an RNIB hotel there at the time, all set up for blind and visually impaired people. I sorted absolutely everything out for that holiday. Four days, three nights, all the trips, all the transport, all the accommodation and they absolutely loved it. From then on, I have looked for holiday companies who could help us. We’ve been all over, Yorkshire, Lancashire, Wales, Scotland. It’s good fun but hard work. Everyone thinks we are on holiday, no we’re not, we’re actually working 24/7. I just love seeing people enjoy themselves.


Photo of a group outing to Tynemouth LongsandsTransport is a massive issue for people. Some people can’t afford it and some people are not comfortable getting into a taxi on their own. The minibus is one of the big things, so that makes it hard for logistics of picking people up when you are going out on a day trip because that can take an hour and a half before you have even got to where you need to go. What we have done pre-covid is just short trips to garden centres, Boundary Mill, Blyth to get fish and chips, things like that. This year we could focus on trips further away like the Lavender Gardens in Yorkshire are fantastic and that’s such a lovely day, but picking people up, getting them there for a certain time, having a talk, having an afternoon tea, getting them back, getting them home, it’s not as simple as people think. But hopefully this year we will do a big trip where we can get a coach.


Exterior view of the new Iris CentreWe’ve purchased the property on Queen Alexander Road which is going to be called Iris. That is going to be a resource community hub, not just for blind and visually impaired people but the whole community. We want to raise awareness of Pearey House, so it’s going to be like a shop front. What we do, how we help people but also working with other organisations in partnership. For example, Optelec, Guide Dogs, RNIB, anybody who can work in partnership, helping people with benefits, that’s a big thing. We want to make people aware of what it’s like living with a vision impairment. We’re going to have refreshments and gifts for people to buy which are tactile. I don’t think we shout enough about how good we are. People keep coming, so that’s a good sign if people use the service and keep coming and we’ve got a waiting list. So, who knows for the future.

There’s a lot of younger people out there with visual impairments, they might want to volunteer, they might want to just have a sounding board to talk to somebody to say how they’re feeling. So yes, it is literally listening to people, seeing what people need and want. There’s a lot of people at the age of 16-17 who are leaving the school system and not having anything else to go to. There’s a place in Edinburgh that takes people, from 18 to 21 but there is a big gap, how you fill that I’m not sure. Some people’s perceptions of Pearey House are old people in a day care centre environment and I think a lot of people get a shock when they come in and see that it’s not like that.


We are extremely lucky here that from day one they have had astute people and they have been very wise with their investments. They have had groups of people who have always invested. They had a vision and that’s carried on. We are lucky, we own the building, we own the flats and that’s a massive thing because that’s where charities are falling down, they are renting.

There was a trust called Viney Trust that a gentleman set up in 1926 and we just received money every year. Five years ago, the people running this trust fund, said that it wasn’t viable for them, so they wanted to close it down. Big discussions came about and then I looked at all the paperwork and I just thought, oh gosh! Then I started having discussions with the trustees, “This is a lot of money, we need to be thinking about what we can actually do with it.” I said, “I’ve got this vision, come on.”

This property came up round the corner, it was really run down. Three bedroomed flat above was refurbished and rented out straight away, we got a really good price for that and then we started on the work downstairs. I can’t believe it’s actually going to be happening now that I think about all these years that we have thought about it, I am quite proud about that.


Photo of the Iris Centre after completion of the refurbishment

An interior view of the new centre


Covid was bizarre now when you look back. It completely changed, it’s like every organisation, it made you sit down and think why are we doing that, why have we done that for the last 10 years when we could be doing this? I think it was a bit of a shake-up at the time. We used to take the minibus out and we used to go through all of North Tyneside on one day, staff, petrol, people on the bus for how long? So now, Tuesday we do Whitley Bay, Wednesday we do Wallsend, North Shields, Thursday we do Killingworth, Wideopen. We are utilizing the minibus, the petrol, the staffing, so that was one of the things that we thought. Also, the times that we opened. It was a long time for people to come all day, so we said let’s just shorten the day and make it more enjoyable for people.

We worked seven days a week. Sorry, I am going to get upset, but it was hard. We had a lot of people to look after. We even took a Christmas mobile shop out, when you look back you think what did we do that for? But everybody was buying things. We had the people in the flats as well. We queued for hours shopping. Shopping and then going back for more shopping because other people needed shopping, that was weird. But we got through it. It was just a strange time.

I put staff on furlough, it was just a good job we worked well together. It was strange times. The flats were extremely lucky they’ve got the garden. We did social distanced barbecues and singalongs. We did ring arounds; everybody was rung up every week, seeing how they were, seeing if they needed anything. We started delivering hot food to people that’s when we bought a little van to do the deliveries and then we started doing frozen meals as well so that they could have something to eat on a weekend when we weren’t there, so we were out delivering those, so that was the logistics of doing that.

We are very unique. There’s nowhere like this in the whole of the country. There’s different societies and organisations, but they might have a Knit and natter group there or a computer group once a month. There’s nowhere actually that brings people in from their homes to socialise and do what we do.

Cost of living crisis

We got the windows done, we got a new boiler system, we got LED lighting. We thought we’ve done everything we can and then this happens and then you think, well we can’t do anything else apart from sit in the dark and sit in the cold, which we can’t do because people come in you know. The staff do after they’ve gone, we’ve all got our hoodies on. Our energy before we started getting the government assistance was £1700 a month from £700.

So obviously you start looking at income and outgoings again and seeing what’s working and what’s not working. Do we charge for the service? Because we don’t charge for the service. I did a piece of work 5 or 6 years ago and at the time day centres were charging £25 a day they are now charging £40 a day and people come here for free. They put voluntary contributions into the bus tin that covers fuel, they get their lunch, pud and a cuppa for £8.

They do their own little lottery bingos, bonus ball things. That’s for their social fund, it’s completely separate to the charity, it’s their fund. So, last Christmas we went to the Dome, they had their three-course dinner, their entertainment, taxis there and back and they paid £15 though their social fund.

We are very, very lucky that we have got good support from people who use the service. The people who can afford it do give and that’s really appreciated and of course we do fundraisers. We do the Christmas fair, summer garden parties, we had a 70s-night last year, race nights, we do things to try and keep it fun as well as raising money.

I think, if we get the community involved and for them to realise what we actually do, then I think a lot more people would be on board and that’s what the future vision needs to look like to keep the books balanced. So, lots to go forward with.

150 years

Photo of the Lord Mayor at the summer fair.

The summer Garden Fete

I’ve ordered, for the first time, a massive inflatable slide for the garden party because I said traditionally children haven’t come, because the only children that come are the service users’ grandchildren or because it is predominantly older people and that’s another thing with the opening of Iris, that we can advertise that wider, so we might get families coming in. We’ve got steel bands, barbecues. 150 years, it’s absolutely amazing, especially in this climate. I do believe we are very lucky, but you can’t just rest on your laurels. You still need to keep looking what we can do.

The people are a massive part of Pearey House and they always have been. I am the fifth manager in all this time, so that tells you something that once people are here, they don’t tend to go.

Photo of the flats at Pearey House

The Flats at Pearey House

The people who live here get a lot of benefits from living here. If they need a light bulb changing or a letter reading or they’ve lost something, they literally pop over or ring up and we go and sort it out for them. If they were living independently on their own, they might have to wait a week for a family member to be there to do that. They come over on a Friday and have a chat altogether in the lounge and have a cuppa. I take them out shopping. They have got the gardens; we do barbecues in the summer for them. They’ve got a really nice little community. The flats are lovely, and the people are lovely who are in them. Sometimes I am a social worker, sometimes I am a dog walker, sometimes I am a cook. It’s a lovely environment for people to live in.

Twelve flats, but we’ve got a couple in one of the flats who met here and got married. And that’s a rolling programme of refurbishments. If somebody moves out we are refurbishing them, putting new kitchens in. We did all the bathrooms into wet rooms, new boilers.


Helen was interviewed as part of the Pearey House 150th Anniversary Project.

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