The N-Vision’s site at Squires Gate, Blackpool, is a beacon of support and practical help for people from the Fylde Coast who live with impaired sight. The building, occupied by the Low Vision Centre, has an interesting history – not long in years compared with many historic places but fascinating all the same.
The progress of the development of the modern services available today covers over a century and has depended largely on the generosity of local people.
Before the First World War, a society was set up to help with providing employment for visually impaired people. This project was abandoned during the war but restarted in 1919 and by 1924 had become the Blackpool and Fylde Society for the Blind.
'Sunshine Bazaars' were held in the Winter Gardens and by 1928 nearly £7,000 had been raised – enough to open Society's first home followed by a workshop and social centre at Castlegate, South Shore in 1935.
In 1956 an appeal was launched to build a new home and an interdenominational chapel at Bosworth Place. Around the Fylde, seventeen fund raising committees were formed and, in February 1962, the home was opened by Princess Alexandra and the name changed to the Princess Alexandra Home.
The idea of the chapel was soon abandoned but, with the determination of the fundraising Committees, the Evening Gazette was able to report in June 1962 that the chapel would be built after all.
The article on Friday June 6th 1962 was headed: ‘Blind Home Chapel will have 8 Sides’. The octagonal design by MacKeith, Dickinson & Partners was based on a side chapel in Whalley Abbey with a central altar faced by a single line of pews. The newspaper suggests that this arrangement was controversial at the time with those defending the plans saying it reflected the style of the church of early English Reformers. It also worked well within the land available and the practical needs of the congregation. Modernity was not overlooked though as the chapel was provided with underfloor heating.
The Chapel was opened in February 1965. By this time, the committees had raised about £100,000 in the nine years since their inception. One committee, chaired by Mrs C Armfield, mother of Blackpool and the England full back Jimmy Armfield, decided to continue their fundraising to provide stained glass windows to complete the chapel.
The announcement of the plan to commission the windows was made later in February 1965. The designs had already been drawn up and the windows would take about two years to make. Each window was to have an inscription honouring one of the seventeen committees. The three windows facing the entrance to the chapel being dedicated to Mrs Armfield’s committee.
The demands on space available at the centre meant that the chapel had to be deconsecrated in the 1990s. The octagonal building is now used by the Low Vision Centre. The windows were taken out and put into storage for sixteen years.
A very recent development has been the addition of a large, glazed extension to the Low Centre. Within this space, the original stained glass windows are reused to form a beautiful tranquil room. Although sited in the centre of a busy building, the chapel windows cast their colours and brilliance on the activities and are a quiet reminder of the determination of many local people over many decades to provide superb services to anyone who needs their help.