VASD is a member of the Queen Elizabeth’s Foundation for Disabled People (QEF) family of charities. Interestingly both charities opened with the support and patronage of the late Queen Mother. VASD is based in Leatherhead Court in Surrey, where they have a shop with a wide range of products for disabled people. The products range from walking aids and wheel chairs to personal health and innovative tools to help with tasks around the home. Orders may be made from the VASD product catalogue. VASD also lend equipment to people who have a temporary need, often for people who have an elderly relative visiting or who are recovering from an operation. In addition we have some modern holiday homes on the West Sussex coast which are adapted for wheelchairs and provide a perfect retreat for disabled people to enjoy a seaside holiday as well as a wheelchair accessible canal boat on the Grand Union Canal.
QEF works with people living with physical and learning disabilities or acquired brain injuries to gain new skills and increase independence. Whether it’s learning everyday life skills, rebuilding a life affected by brain injury, acquiring the skills to drive a specially adapted car or training for future employment QEF supports disabled people to achieve goals for life.
The history of VASD
The following was written by Phyl Jeffcoate MBE who worked for the Association until the 1980s.
“The Voluntary Association for Surrey Disabled was started in 1936. It was originally sponsored by the Central Council for the Care of Cripples, whose aim was to set up County organisations throughout the country.
In those days there was no statutory provision for the disabled and it appeared the main object was to keep them quietly at home and out of the way of the general public. As with most voluntary organisations, the Association was started primarily to pioneer the needs of the people it served.
District Committees were set up, each with its local District Secretary, and these groups sought out the disabled and reported back the needs they found, and where possible dealt with them.
A Handcraft scheme was started in a private house in Guildford and later a class was opened in Effingham. It is interesting to note that one boy who was congenitally disabled who lived in the Effingham area, used to be taken out at night time by his family in an orange box on wheels. They did not take him out in the day time as they did not wish to be observed. The Local Helper persuaded him to join the Handcraft Group, and from that he managed to adapt himself to being seen by the general public and ended up a full time worker at Goblin’s factory.
In those early days such things as artificial limbs, spinal jackets, callipers etc had to be found by the persons themselves or through charitable sources. If the money was not raised by the person did not get the appliance, and a lot of time was spent by the Association raising money for individual cases and getting letters from the Surgical Aid Society to enable people to have the equipment which was essential if they were to enter into a fuller life.
The normal work of the Association was interrupted to a large extent by the War. Help was given with the evacuation of many severely disabled and the country areas found themselves with coping with evacuees that arrived. Despite the problems the handwork continued, particularly toy-making, for which there was a ready market.
In 1942 or so we started supplying wheelchairs and in particular motorised chairs. We used to provide them on hire purchase to the individual as this often meant the difference between being able to find a job or being unemployed.
Many disabled people through the War found employment from which otherwise they would have been precluded. One man very well known to the Association was offered a full time job in the Post office as a Telephonist – a post which he not only managed successfully but kept and became a Civil Servant and retired at 60 with a pension. Another woman was taken into a large store in the office and was so successful that she ended up as a senior person, with many girls in her care. Finding disabled people could undertake quite responsible jobs was a new thought and certainly helped in formulating plans for the future.
With the end of the War came the Disabled Persons Employment Act. This meant that 3% of disabled people had to be employed in the larger industries.
Also with the end of the War there was a tremendous amount of invalid chairs made available which had come as gifts from Canada and America, and these one more enabled us to get people more mobile.
At this time we found we were getting many more calls for transport both for classes and to take people to hospital. It says much for voluntary effort that so many came forward to help with this. We are sometimes apt to forget that without voluntary transport remedial treatment could not be obtained.
In 1948 the Association was anxious to extend the handwork and it was quickly found that to open classes round the County was giving the widest possible help to people. With this in mind we opened some 10 classes in all, and went from one part time craft teacher, to 2 fully trained occupational therapists. All this took the Association from start to the finish of its craft work some 21 years. By that time Surrey County Council had decided that this was a scheme it should foster and advance, so it took over completely with the two Occupational Therapists. We in no shape or form felt this was a failure, but very much a success. We had expanded to our full capacity and proved our point and it is right that when this moment arrives that officialdom shall step in with their greater financial stability and give the aid which is so badly needed.
It was about this time we experienced a constant call from disabled people to have a break away from home. This had a two-fold benefit, it gave a lift and an interest to disabled people and a well earned rest for those who cared for them.
A scheme was started by the National Association for the Paralysed to recruit good natured people who would accept a disabled person into their home as a guest. It was a start but it did not really answer the need as the places were few and far between, and naturally the hosts often felt only able to deal with the less disabled guest.
In 1950 the Association decided that the time had arrived when it might start holidays for disabled people. This was a completely new thought to many people and one that had not been tried very much. A line was drawn from the Wash to Bournemouth and every convalescent home in the coastal area was canvassed to see if it would take a mixed party of 25 adults. All but one Home was somewhat horrified at the idea of a mixed party, and to this Home we send our first group of disabled. Practically it was a good holiday, but from the aesthetic point of view it was a failure. They treated the party as patients, marshalled them in rows, and regimented the whole group. It was after this that we decided that we must run our own holiday scheme in our own way, and it was to the Church Army we turned at Tankerton. They took in our parties and helpers, and gave us a friendly informal welcome. Starting there with two parties of 20 in the first year, we now run holidays for anything up to 500 per year. Our views have broadened from simple accommodation at Tankerton, to Holiday Camps, Hotels, specialised places with full equipment, and even trips abroad.
None of these holidays would happen without the help of the volunteers. The volunteers always have been and always will be the back-bone of the Association. The Committee and Office may create the setting, but it is the volunteer that makes it materialise.
Another feature which we very much sponsor is the formation of Clubs. Although the Association encourages Clubs, by their very nature they must be run by local groups. They prove a wonderful source by not only linking the disabled but enabling voluntary helpers to really get to know the disabled and to help many of then with their problems – problems which they would not bring to a casual visitor.
From the beginning of the 1950s we had become increasingly aware of the need to establish a residential home in the County. It was repeatedly cropping up, one disabled person had gone to a home in Yorkshire, one to the Midlands, some to Kent, some to Hampshire and it was always the same story, it was not the Home they disliked it was being cut off from friends and relatives and feeling isolated. The Committee decided they would explore the possibilities, and make it a project to launch an appeal on the Association’s 21st birthday in 1957.
A good response came from this but we realised we should have to go to the Bank for a loan to purchase and equip suitable premises. As a voluntary organisation we were not a legal entity so we duly registered as a Housing Society to overcome our financial problems.
It must be stressed that in forming the Housing Society it was in no way to break away from the Association, but to provide ourselves with a “flag of convenience” under which we might sail legally.
We fully realised that a local Committee must run the day to day happenings of the Home just as the area Committee ran the Clubs and Classes.
We searched the County to find the right accommodation; somewhere that had chiefly ground floor rooms, no steps, near civilisation so that relatives could visit and the residents get out to shops, and in the end purchased Victoria House, which was the old Leatherhead Cottage Hospital. Our first residents were installed in February 1960.
As you will appreciate there were many teething troubles with builders and contractors in the establishment of the home. The people of Leatherhead, Ashtead and district were wonderfully kind in giving so much practical help without which the Home could not function.
Since those early days there have been many alterations and extensions to bring Victoria House up to a Home for 30 residents. This has been a worthwhile venture but one that does cost a lot of money and thought.
In the early 1960s in view of the excellent standard the disabled achieved in handwork it was decided to hold an Exhibition every year or eighteen months in different places so that the general public could see the work which was produced. Friends of the Association have provided trophies for competition and may people enjoy making something very special for this show.
Each year we organise a Church Service for the disabled followed by a tea party. We usually have about 500 people at the Service and the party has been provided for many years by British Aerospace at their Weybridge Works.
During these years Clubs had opened up in many parts of the County making a focal point for a greater number of people, who otherwise might have been housebound. The Surrey County Council provided a considerable amount of ambulance transport for these Clubs, so the very severely disabled were able to enjoy the companionship they provided.
Victoria House continues to be a real home for the disabled, but at the same time causes many headaches as the building is old, and as with all such structures requires constant attention and money.
Money has always been a difficult point and we have run through the usually gamut of flag days, concerts, whist drives, jumble sales, raffles and other fund raising ventures. It is essential to have a steady income to ensure that one may plan the work and although fund raising efforts may not be popular and are hard work, we have come to the realisation that they are essential. Much help is given with the finances by the Surrey County Council. They pay for the Halls for any Clubs, provide transport where possible, and give funds to the Association for staff. They sponsor holidays to enable us to take sufficient helpers, and pay for the more expensive forms of holidays for the very severely disabled. It should be remembered that generally speaking we apply the rule of 1 helper to every five disabled persons on holiday. Without this generous support we could not go forward.”
We ran a Handcraft Exhibition until 1995 and a Church Service until 1996. We had some 52 clubs affiliated to us but over the years these gradually dwindled and when we lost the funding from Surrey County Council which provided the transport and hire of halls. We continue to support some clubs through our insurance scheme.
The assisted Holiday programme continued until 2007/2008 and again this was because of the reduction in our funding from Surrey County Council.
We were given the bungalow at Elmer Sands in April 2002 and in November 2004 purchased chalet at Bracklesham Bay. The bungalow at Goring was purchased in 2010.
The Equipment Shop opened in October 1992 which was a joint project with Social Services and originally based at the Rentwood Resource Centre in Fetcham. In 1995/1996 we started to do “mobile shops” taking the equipment out to Day Centres and residential homes. In January 200 we launched out mail order catalogue. The loan equipment service started approximately 1996
We continued to do all the administration work for Victoria House but the Home closed in January 2001 and we moved to a premises in Dorking.
Subsequent to the our inclusion in the QEF family of charities at the end of 2011 we moved to our current premises at Leatherhead Court.