Founder member of Burnley Guide Dogs for the Blind branch reflects on its 40 years of service

The only surviving original member of Burnley Guide Dogs for the Blind has looked back on the local branch which has reached the 40th anniversary of its formation.

Tuesday, 23rd November 2021, 3:45 pm
David Herbert

The Burnley and District branch of the Guides Dogs for the Blind Association was officially formed in November 1981 when just five people attended the first meeting. David Herbert, now aged 82, is the only surviving member of that first meeting and David recalled how the meeting came about.

"I was registered blind in 1975 and after attending various courses run by the Royal National Institute for the Blind I decided to apply for a guide dog. I was accepted for training and in January 1979 completed the course at the then North West Regional Training Centre at Nuffield House, Bolton and came home with my first guide dog Gwen," David said.

"This led me to want to do something for the Association and I asked about joining my local fund-raising branch only to be told that there wasn’t a Burnley branch but to try and form one.

"I didn’t have much success but a breakthrough came when an article appeared in the Winifred Bose column of the Burnley Express telling of a lady who had looked after a retired guide dog and was also interested in fundraising. The lady was Marjorie Bigg and I contacted Marjorie and together we decided to form a branch

"We managed to encourage three other people to attend a meeting with a representative from GDBA in November 1981 and signed the constitution which made us an official branch. Marjorie was appointed as the first branch Secretary, Alan Pidgeon became the first branch Treasurer and I became the first branch chairman and the Burnley branch was up and running."

As the branch became known in the area more people joined the committee and over the last 40 years many people ensured that it continued its successful fundraising activities.

David didn’t, however, remain as branch chairman for very long as in June 1982 he as appointed as North West fund-raising manager for Guide Dogs and took up full time employment with the Association based in Bolton, a position he held until his retirement.

David added: "The Burnley branch was one of 54 branches in the North West but as I continued to live in Burnley I was able whenever possible to attend and support their events."

Following his retirement David was invited to become the Burnley branch president, a position he held until recently.

"It has been a long and interesting journey over the last 40 years and I am very pleased to have played my part along the way.

"Over those 40 years there aren’t many fundraising activities we haven’t had a go at. These include street and store collections, coffee mornings, charity concerts, sponsored walks and bike rides, dinners and countless talks to local groups and schools."

Things have also changed a lot during that time.

"The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association is much different from the one in 1981. Then the only activity the association was involved in was the training and provision of guide dogs and all the funds we raised were used for that purpose.

"Now the association has a range of services and funds are used for any of these as appropriate. I am not as involved as much these days as I once was but I still continue to visit groups and tell my story about my six guide dogs, fundraising and living with blindness."