The VIEWS group was formed in 2002 initially by a Social Work Student who wanted to create a group that supported Visually Impaired people of working age who were in education or employment and living in the Gateshead or South Tyneside areas. The first meeting of the group was in July 2002 at a pub in Low Fell, Gateshead the initial meeting having 8 attendees of which 3 still attend meetings and events regularly.
It was agreed at the first meeting of the group to widen the area covered by the group and this led to new members joining from other parts of the North East Region. The group also decided at a later meeting that we should not exclude unemployed visually impaired adults from joining.
For the first two years the members met once per month at the Gloucester Pub in Gateshead for a meeting which was chaired on a rota basis. The main topics of discussion were around issues to do with Education and Employment. We had a number of guest speakers attend to give talks during this time. These included Alan Rowley, Technical Officer for the Blind at Gateshead Council, John Swaine, Professor of Disability Studies at Northumbria University and Peter Stubbs from the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB).
In 2003 the group approached Gateshead and South Tyneside Sight Service to see if we could get help from Sheridan Dixon, an Empowerment Worker, to try and help the group recruit more members, Particularly female ones as the group had a male only membership at that time. Due to this and a recruitment drive a few new members joined and the group decided to set up the VIEWS first committee. Lee Cawkwell was appointed the first permanent Chair Person and continued this role for four years.
During this time the group decided that VIEWS should have more of a social side to it so agreed that we would have our regular meetings every other month and then have a social event the month in between. For our bi-monthly meetings we used Gateshead Civic Centre and went over to the Gloucester Pub across the street afterwards to socialise. This proved popular with the majority of members and we did things like the curry train to Corbridge, party boats down the River Tyne, and eating out at various types of restaurant around Tyne and Wear. Visiting all these different restaurants has helped the group increase its membership further as we now have members who are from as far away as Ireland, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Scotland.
The group continued to get guest speakers along and we have had talks from Access to Work, Niall McMurtry about the Equality Act and the Director of Gateshead Access Panel. One of the main achievements of the group was to get the Chief Executive of Nexus to attend a meeting so we could discuss with him our concerns about the accessibility of the Tyne and Wear Metro system.
In 2005 the group went on it’s first of 5 weekend visits to the Low Mill Activity Centre in Askrigg near Ripon in the Yorkshire Dales. This has been an amazing experience for everyone that has been along. We have done activities that some members have never had the chance to try before such as Gorge Walking, Abseiling, Cave Walking, Canoeing, raft building and even a night walk through the moors. It was great to experience the team spirit in the group with Rehabilitation Officers available to support people along with better sighted members assisting severely sight impaired members to take part in the activities. There was also a great deal of patience and encouragement from everyone which helped people to complete each activity they tried.
In May 2011 we became a constituted group and started to fundraise to host two confidence building training courses and to subsidise our annual activity weekends. We have now visited the Calvert Trust in Keswick and Galloway Activity Centre.
In 2011 we also started to hold every other meeting in the voluntary sector building in Newcastle, MEA House and later convene in the nearby Five Swans pub. In early 2012 Gateshead Council stopped keeping their premises open in the evening, so we decided to host all of our meetings in MEA House.