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It's official we're 150 years old!
The UK's leading specialist college for people who are blind or partially sighted is celebrating its landmark 150th anniversary.
The Royal National College for the Blind (RNC) which has been leading the way in education for the visually impaired since 1872, was founded when Victorian philanthropist,
Dr Thomas Rhodes Armitage
, met like-minded American visionary,
Francis Joseph Campbell
Both men were visually impaired and resolved to create a ground-breaking college focusing on offering blind students an education which would lead them into worthwhile employment.
The Royal National College for the Blind was born on 1 March 1872, based in London - firstly Crystal Palace and then Upper Norwood. Staff and students were evacuated during the Second World War and several homes followed in Kent, Buckinghamshire and Shropshire before finally settling in Hereford in 1978.
Armitage and Campbell were remarkable men and offered a curriculum that was liberal and advanced for its day, and designed to prepare its students for employment in a sighted world. Physical education was enthusiastically promoted, and the atmosphere was full of life and excitingly experimental.
Alongside academic studies, students were encouraged to take part in many and varied activities. From roller-skating to cooking, from rowing to music and from cycling to sewing - nothing was out of bounds and this ethos remains the focus today.
Over the years many students have competed in national, international and Paralympic competition, with RNC's public leisure facility, thePoint4, also hosting many international tournaments such as the Blind Football World Championships.
Braille continues to thrive as a means of communication for the visually impaired with RNC still very much an advocate of teaching and learning Braille, whilst also embracing newer assistive technologies which help with communication, navigation and independence.
Applying the principles set out by the College's founding fathers to modern day, it is important that RNC students develop their IT skills. Students are encouraged to learn or update their skills in a range of accessible technologies, including screen reading and magnifying software, which helps with accessing emails, searching the Internet and presenting work using industry standard software such as Microsoft Office. Equipping students with these skills helps with transition into the workplace and to university.
completed his studies at RNC in 2021 and was soon offered an Admin Assistant role in his hometown of Plymouth. Brandon said:
'I never thought I would walk straight out of education into a job. RNC has been the best part of my life so far and without it I wouldn't be the person I am. I wouldn't be able to cook, I used to hate computers and no way would I have a job!'
RNC focuses on independent learning and living and empowers students to overcome barriers and develop skills and confidence in order to live their best lives. In fact, student,
, who also left RNC in 2021, and is now reading Law at the University of Strathclyde, said:
'On my first weekend at RNC, I was given my first long cane and shown around the campus. Two weeks later, I challenged myself to complete my first independent travel journey on the train from Hereford to Manchester alone. I genuinely believe that I would not have been able to do that without support and encouragement from a brilliant Independent Living Skills (ILS) team at the College.'
The College runs a varied programme of A Level / Level 3 courses with many students progressing to university and, in recent years, two students have made it to Oxbridge. A suite of vocational programmes also offer students a gateway to employment in audio media production, business and administration, massage and complementary therapies, IT, and sports coaching and instruction. Students are taught to use standard equipment, with very little adaptation to ensure they can apply their skills in any work setting from an office to a gym.
Tash Mead finished at RNC during the height of the pandemic in 2020. Unfortunately, given the timing, her dream of setting up a massage business was thwarted. However, the skills she learned and the work experience she undertook at RNC made her really resourceful when applying for jobs. Tash is now working as a Health Care Assistant at Mount Gould Hospital in Plymouth. She said:
'The Transitions Team at RNC are brilliant. They gave me a lot of good tips and techniques for interviews and filling out application forms and they helped me tweak my CV. I will probably revisit massage at some point but I've just bought my own flat and this job has given me the money and the opportunity to do that.'
Lucy Proctor, Executive Principal, said:
'The College is a national asset and has a fantastic history and legacy of providing top quality education, training and life skills. RNC alumni have, and continue to make a very distinctive mark on the world including Paralympian, politicians, actors, teachers, entrepreneurs and musicians.
This milestone anniversary is an opportunity to celebrate RNC's unique contribution and heritage and over the course of this 150th year, a variety of celebratory and commemorative events and activities will take place as a tribute to current and former staff, students and volunteers, reflecting on the many areas of interest, achievement and influence the College has fostered over the decades.'