Royal School for the Blind exterior

Iain Mitchell – Thanks for the Memories

nick.young@rsblind.co.uk Uncategorized 1 Comment

As a visiting ‘professional,’ a former pupil of our school was keen to recall some memories of his time here at Wavertree.  A big thank you to Ian Mitchell for penning his stories about his time here. A fascinating insight into 1970s school life !

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I arrived at The Royal School For The Blind in September 1975. Of course it was a completely different era and things that happened then would be considered serious breaches of Health & Safety now – we were allowed to have accidents then.

Primarily it was a school for children with visual impairments, although it did also cater for physical disabilities to a lesser extent.

My first impressions of school was how grand and imposing it looked, I was 10 at the time. The huge towering brass doors from the original school on Hardman Street – goodness knows the efforts exerted in transporting them to Wavertree. The long echoing main corridor, amplified even more without carpet back then, and large rooms full of books in braille, hundreds if not thousands of them.

After meeting the then Headmaster, Derek Marks, and being shown around my life at RSB started.

I should say I was not an easy child, difficult in fact. Nowadays I would probably be bracketed as having ADHD, as I was quite disruptive and would get bored very quickly. The slow relaxed pace of school I found difficult to adjust to.

However, there were some marvellous, dedicated and caring staff, and looking back I have a great debt of gratitude for their kindness and patience.

I was sent to the school as it was thought I may go blind in later life and so learning braille was a must. When I arrived at school my sight was quite good compared to others and that was a distinct advantage. There were a small group of us who could see quite well and we soon teamed up during playtime and other bits of mischief.

Richard Hanson, Ivan Metcalf, Terry Cooper and Leonard Dewhurst. Richard was probably the ring leader, although I was the trouble maker, never bad just naughty.

At night there was not much structure regarding activities, apart from being in the TV room, and as the girls always had control of that we looked to create our own fun. Usually we would end up playing football or cricket (without the rice in the balls). There were also lots of other outside areas that had swings roundabouts, climbing frames and a witch’s hat. Often we would devise assault courses and time each other. On a number of occasions we’d do some damage to ourselves as we fell or smashed into things, but we never told or complained in case we were stopped from going out.

Our final big project was to build dens in obscure places around school that adults knew nothing about. One place was in an old container where discarded newspapers were stored (I never knew why the throw the old papers in there, because in my time at the school it was never emptied)

One of our greatest finds was down in the basement. There were a number of rooms that had not specific purpose, but did have a numerous locked cupboards. One night Richard and I found one of the cupboards unlocked. We crept inside as it was more like a store room, and thought we had found Aladdin’s Cave. The place was full of brand new unopened toys, and going off the amount of dust on them, they had been there for some time. Richard and I borrowed two Wild West rifles and revolvers and a box of caps and then out we went into the grounds to fight off some imagined Germans. The next night we went back and the door was still open so we enlarged our army by included Terry and Ivan (Lenny was a day pupil) This fun lasted for a whole term with us hiding our booty in our den inside the container. As I mentioned before, times were different, and it was quite easy to slip out unobserved to entertain ourselves. We made sure we were always back in time for bedtime.

The funniest trick I ever had played on me was by a young pupil who was completely blind, but was an accomplished pianist, Colin Dawson, He was playing the piano so well that I went into to listen to him. He could play anything. I asked him if he could play some Elton John, he asked me to pass him a braille book, which he I did. He started playing and then asked me to turn the page for him when he nodded his head. I took me two turns of the page before I realised what was going on.

I have so much to thank the school for, especially Mr Delecruz, my teacher. They always say there is one teacher that stands out above all others and for me it was him. I last saw him in 2000 when he came to see me in a Play I was in with Margie Clark at the Neptune. I left the school after 2 years to go to Exhall Grange in Coventry, by then I had learnt stage 1 braille and my mum wanted me to get my O’Levels, something RSB didn’t provide at the time.

Some very fond memories include.

  • The Taxi Driver/s day out to Southport
  • Major the Minor Bird
  • Being taken on holiday to Black Rock Sands by Mr Delecruz and Mr Taylor
  • Classes in The Mystery
  • Walking to the shops
  • Mr Hector (what a character)
  • Our Porto cabin just outside and the steps by Major;s cage
  • The girls sitting in the basement singing Bay City Roller songs (annoying at the time)

Since then I have had some amazing opportunities offered me. I became an actor for a short while before going to Leeds University and getting a 1st class honours degree in Dramatic Art. I started a Phd in Conflict Resolution through Drama and got to live and work in New York for 6 months working for the UNESCO and being sent around the world as a part of my research.

In 2001 I ended up as the Department Head for Performance Studies at Widnes and Runcorn 6th Form before making a decision to go and work in Social Health Care back in 2007. I love my job now having worked extensively with autism, a subject that fascinates me the more I learn about it.

It’s been a great journey, with lots missed out so as not to bore you, but The Royal School was certainly the my starting point, not just through education, but through the core values staff displayed and showed me.

Comments 1

  1. Christine McKendrick

    What a lovely contribution the the website. My connection with the school doesn’t go that far back but when I started in 1984 the school was pretty similar to Iain’s memory. He is certainly right about Ron Delacruz, a fantastic teacher remembered very fondly by lots of former pupils and staff. The Minah bird wasn’t there by 1984 but was still talked about by staff, it was kept in a cage on the top corridor and shouted at people as they walked past!

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