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Memories of Pearey House – Eric’s Story

Just keeping the thing going, I think, was the greatest achievement of everybody


My name is Eric Nixon. I was legal advisor to North Tyneside Council until 2000. North Tyneside incorporated Tynemouth County Borough Council which serviced Tynemouth Blind Welfare Society. The Town Clerk of Tynemouth traditionally was the secretary and the treasurer of the council was the treasurer of the society and that continued when North Tyneside took over and Brian Lincoln who was the Chief Executive of North Tyneside was the secretary until he retired in 1989 and then I became secretary of the Tynemouth Blind Welfare Society and at that time the treasurer of the council was still the treasurer of the society so that’s how I first came into contact with it.

The council when it got strapped for cash decided that it wasn’t going to service outside bodies anymore. I think, that was about, if I remember rightly that was about 1995 so I did it as a council employee, really up until then. After 1995 they decided they weren’t going to give this service to outside bodies. I then took it on just as an individual and continued, not as secretary because I retired from work in 2000 so I then decided that I couldn’t really be secretary so Fred became secretary, but I stayed on as an advisor and stayed in that position until 2016. So, it was continuous from 1989 to 2016.

I mean when you look around here now it wasn’t dramatically different. I mean the average attendances I think from memory were about 50 persons a day in 1989/90 and they used to provide special spectacles for people. Obviously, there was the meals was a big thing and the minibus for transporting people, well getting them here apart from anything else and also of course, the flats were important which the Thompson family provided. I think there were 12 flats for visually impaired people, so they had to be looked after with tenancy agreements all that sort of thing. Obviously, we used to

Photo of Pearey House drive with white handrail

Pearey House drive with white handrail

teach people braille and things like that. Most of the activity was done by Fred, the day-to-day activity. There was a library upstairs and book binding. Way before my time, Library was included in the title of the society because when I first came Ernest Armitage, Mary McQueen and Harold Thompson were the big names so to speak and Mary McQueen in particular, knew more about the library than most people did, but I suspect that was quite a long time ago. There were some silly little things like the white rail up the entrance road that caused great excitement from time to time especially when next door house was sold because you’ve got to get permission to stick it on the wall all that sort of stuff. There was little things like that but by and large they all got sorted out.

Then of course they had employment issues as well because they employed a cook, cleaner and obviously I can’t say a huge amount about that because there were differences of opinion which had to be sorted out. Originally there were quite a number of volunteers on the committee who were quite happy to participate. But as time went on I think the thing which frightened people was the possibility of personal liability because there’s quite a lot of money goes round and I think it became much more difficult to get volunteers which culminated just about the time I left in 2016 with the society changing from an unincorporated association which was a charity to a charitable incorporated organisation which as you probably know means that the trustees don’t have personal liability unless they are really naughty. For the last few years that was quite a big issue getting people to actually do things.

Poster for 1986 Garden FeteOh, the other thing, the annual fete was always a big thing because it did raise quite a lot of money from time to time. I expect other people have mentioned that, but it was a big thing in the summer and it did for a long time, it raised a lot of money. It was a good money spinner and a good social occasion. There was a BBQ, toys and books, fancy goods, Kathy’s cards, plants, cakes, beauty, toy tombola, scouts’ games, bottle top roller, grand raffle, bouncy castle. Always on a Saturday they were, Saturday afternoons.

A story, it was when Brian Lincoln was still involved, he might have retired by then, but he continued his interest after he retired. And the drink hadn’t turned up which was a big thing at the time of course. He disappeared and came back, he was a very social type of person and he’d managed to get a full complement of drinks within an hour, saved the day he did.

And of course, as provision for visually handicapped people changed, the local authority work changed. Tynemouth Blind Welfare Society eventually had an agreement with the local authority for provision of specific services for blind people and visually handicapped people. Provision of services to the Social Services department that was a change in the way things operated because there was a formal agreement for which the council paid for the services which it got which was driven really by the local government law, that was a big change, you could only give services to the local authority through formal provision and agreements had to be negotiated to do that but, that was a money earner and that was important.

I didn’t have anything much to do with the day to day running of the thing. The sorts of things I did were the agreement with the local authority for the provision of services, tenancy agreements for the flats. I mean I was a lawyer, so I tended to do the legal things and I didn’t really get much involved in day to day unless there was a staff dispute. But there was a Christmas dinner they always had as well, which was quite well supported. It would be at a local hotel. It was a purely social occasion at Christmas.

I can remember one time which must have been probably about the 1990s there was a bit of friction with the RNIB. The RNIB seemed to see Tynemouth Blind Welfare Society as it was then as a competitor and the two really worked closely together so I can remember going to meetings with the RNIB they were quite critical really, but like all of these things, it was never solved it just sort of died out.

(Interviewer:- Is there anything that you feel particularly proud about that was achieved during your time that you were involved?)

I think the main thing was actually keeping it going. I mean there is no great hurray moment. Obviously getting the contract every year with the council was important but that wasn’t really an achievement it was something that had to be done. The building for example, I remember one time the gutters and spouts had to be replaced but because it’s a listed building in a conservation area they had to be hand made in some particular material which of course jacks up the price enormously, things like that. There’s a note here about the chimney stacks being unsafe, I mean they got mended. Because it’s in a conservation area you know they don’t like plastic windows and all that sort of stuff and things having to be purpose made. Day to day, just as I say, just keeping the thing going, I think, was the greatest achievement of everybody. I mean obviously the flats were important but that was Harold Thompson, he just provided them. But as I say keeping the building going was difficult.

Well, the other thing which caused difficulty at the time, it’s not too difficult to get money for capital costs but it was very difficult to get it for revenue costs so paying staff and things like that, now I don’t know whether that’s changed or not. But they also used to have weekend collections in supermarkets and places like that but then of course that became more difficult because you weren’t allowed to shake your tin or anything you weren’t allowed to harass people.

But if you go back a few years you could be a little bit more proactive without necessarily upsetting people but as I say I remember that becoming more difficult and of course when that happens it’s more difficult to get volunteers to do it so it was always difficult. Because the supermarkets by and large were pretty good you know, saying yes you can use that corner over there but of course if people just have to stand there like a statue, they weren’t very keen to do it.

The society was a beneficiary of a thing called the Viney Trust. Joseph Viney, I think was a ship owner and he set up a Trust with the Children’s Society, Christchurch and Tynemouth Blind Welfare Society and I was a trustee of the Viney Trust for a while because the Children’s Society had 2 the Church had 1 the Blind Welfare had 1 and that brought in a reasonable amount of income every year, but they have wound it up now and distributed the capital.

Newspaper cutting of charity picture auctionBack to fundraising. A friend of ours is an amateur artist he lives in Tynemouth. He said he would give paintings to the society to be auctioned. So one of the committee members knew Bobby Pattinson the comedian, who said he would come and do the auction free of charge provided he could mention the Elephant on the Tyne, which was his pub or club. So, we said fine. So, this chap John Briggs gave us I think it would be perhaps 20 or 30 pictures to be auctioned. Bobby Pattinson, I can still remember him and thinking he’s not coming, he’s not coming. On the dot of 12 o’ clock, he arrived, and he was fantastic. He auctioned all of these pictures; I can’t remember how much money they raised but they were all going for sort of £90 to £100. It took him an hour, wheedling money as he went around the room. Exactly an hour later he left. Alan Rowley, he bought one of the pictures, Peter Thompson bought one of the pictures. Yes, I had forgotten about that. It was a one-off event; it was the 20th of May 2006.

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

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