Skip to main content

Memories of Pearey House – Alan’s Story 2

I was just hoping that I was giving them back something that they have given me.


Photo of Alan Rowley 2013I became a volunteer at the age of 12 in 1963.  I was helping a lot of blind and partially sighted when I was very young.  To date I have been a volunteer for 66 years and I don’t think I’ve missed a year of Pearey House, maybe covid was the only one that I missed.

When I was 16, Mrs McQueen approached the local welfare department, and the chief executive took me on as a messenger boy.   I thoroughly enjoyed being a messenger boy it was great. Fred Hodson who succeeded Mrs McQueen became manager in 1976 and in 1979, Fred put me forward to a college for training for work with blind and partially sighted people in Leeds.  I was very successful there and I became a qualified rehabilitation officer.  I got a job in Gateshead which lasted 30 years.  I was a qualified rehabilitation worker, and I did teaching of braille, moon, typing and assessment of people’s needs and I thoroughly enjoyed that.  I was very, very grateful to Mary McQueen and to Fred Hodson.   It’s quite an honour to have known them both and to work with them in many ways.

It started my young life and ended with my working career, and I wouldn’t have known what to do without those two people.  They certainly were the people who pushed me on and really made me the success I was at that time.

I kept up my volunteering work until about 4 years ago and it really did pay off for me and I was chairman of the society for 15 years.  My biggest project was the lead figure for demolishing the flats and rebuilding the present ones and that was a huge decision to make because we didn’t know whether we would succeed but we did and that was my major project.

I used to take the bingo quite regularly.  I was heavily involved with the garden fete and the annual flag week.  I did that for exactly 40 years without a break and I used to go house to house collection Monday to Friday and then on a Saturday we had the flag day in North Shields, I think I raised somewhere in the region of about £300 quite regularly.

We used to have visits from blind people in South Shields.  It was an annual visit.  Mary McQueen organised this for many, many years and blind and partially sighted people from Billingham as well.  We used to go there one year around June and in the July, August time we would reciprocate and have them at Pearey House.

From 1976 we introduced a Christmas fair and that was a huge success.  We used to do a lot of fundraising and people used to give us generous donations and that’s what really has kept the society going.  Prior to 1974, we were just a charity for people who lived in the county borough of Tynemouth but since then we have expanded a great deal.

Pearey House Library

Pearey House Library

The library was very important.  It was a national library it wasn’t just for local people.  In fact, we were international just a few years ago and people used to send their braille books to us and request new ones and also moon was another reading product for the more elderly people.  The library was known as the Northern Counties Library.  But because of tape services, talking books and so forth, braille has gone down very much. People still use it but nowhere near what they used to.

The other interesting thing was we were involved in 1964 with the large print Ulverscroft reading books and my school was one of the first schools to try these out.  Sadly in 1976 there was not a big take up of reading braille and the moon system and so the library was changed completely.

I have been heavily involved with volunteering work for 66 years.  I was put forward fortunately by somebody who nominated me and to my surprise received a gold award.  It was like receiving an Oscar it was just so nice to feel appreciated.

Helping people to overcome their visual impairment to a degree of them being independent, I look back and think what a big achievement, and I think that was the satisfaction really.  The same with my work, it was seeing people making progress because of my input and I think that’s the most important thing.

Peary House has helped hundreds of people over the years and of course the biggest thing is relieving families who had visually impaired living with them.  I always feel that it’s a great relief for families and carers and it’s really good.

(Interviewer – What are the services that had the biggest impact on you?)

I think learning braille and achieving my working life, I think one couldn’t go past that.  If you pardon the pun, but I think I’ve lived and slept and drank blind welfare work and I am certainly in the same bracket as Mary McQueen and Fred Hodson because the three of us, really put Pearey House at the heart and we were there at any time of the day or night if anybody wanted us.

I certainly enjoy the social occasions now.  I still can’t withdraw from the society after all these years.  It‘s just been such an honour and achievement.  I think that I would have been struggling getting a job because of my visual impairment and my other disabilities, I just feel that because of the encouragement that Mary and Fred gave me this is the position that I am in today and I was just hoping that I was giving them back something that they have given me.


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

If you've enjoyed this memory and would like to share a story of your own why not go to our Contact Page to find out more.