When it was time for me to start school in the mid 1970’s, integration wasn’t an option in the UK. There was a school for the Blind in my home town but my parents felt that it wasn’t progressive. Their feelings of unease were increased after I spent an unhappy day there. They therefore took the very brave decision to send me to a boarding school on the other side of the country.
When we visited St Vincent’s in Liverpool for the first time, the immediate impression they had was one of warmth and competence. I spent a wonderful day there! When it came time for me to start school I apparently was excited to go. I am sure that I was very upset when my parents didn’t collect me at the end of the day but I have no memory of this. The fact that it was a Catholic school was comforting for me as this echoed my upbringing at home. During my time there I would generally come home every second weekend and for the holidays.
The vast majority of my memories from this period are happy ones. I stayed at St Vincent’s until I was eleven years old at which point I moved to a different boarding school. For some reason, apart from a few very significant people, the thing I remember the best is the layout of the school (I should have been an architect)! At that time pupils were divided into Infants, Juniors and Seniors, each for a four year period. Every group had its own living accommodation along with a common room, dining room and small kitchen. The Juniors and Seniors came together for dinner in a large dining room.
My memories of my time in the infants are pretty vague. I know that we had a fantastic playground and an amazing indoor soft-play area! I do remember that I only started learning Braille when I was about eight at which point it became my main method of reading and writing until I was sixteen. The logic of this was that they wanted me to use as much of the sight I have so that it could develop (this approach has really served me well).
Extra-curricular activities played a huge role; music and sports in particular. I had lessons in both piano and flute. I clearly loved piano because I came back to school after Christmas when I was eight, very exited because we had got a piano at home, forgetting to mention that my Mum was expecting a baby!
Gymnastics and ballet were two of my favourite activities. I took part in the British Gymnastic Association’s BAGA awards, getting to level two, one being the highest (I could never do that backward sumersault into a handstand!!)
Apart from academic education, independent living skills were key. I particularly remember that once I was in the Juniors we were expected to make our beds properly (in those days this meant envelope corners on sheets and blankets!) We were taught how to dust the living areas and had a rota for laying the tables and washing the dishes.
One of the main highlights of the year was the annual trip to Southport and New Brighton. This was funded by a local charity who extremely generously took us in a procession of cars (one year I was at the front in a Rolls Royce) from the school to the fairground in Southport. After that we went by boat which had a disco, back to New Brighton. On the bus back to school we would be very excited, looking at the presents we had been given.
This school really was an amazing place to start my education. I was taught how to be independent in a supportive and caring environment. It must have been so difficult for my parents to send me off at the age of five but I am so grateful that they did.
Related Link: St Vincent’s School https://www.stvin.com