British Wireless for the Blind Fund has been providing radios and audio equipment to visually impaired people for almost 90 years. Thanks to a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2012, we have been able to fully research and bring together our history from 1929, when the first 100 crystal radio sets were issued, to the present day.
History of British Wireless for the Blind Fund
Since 1929, radio technology, set components and design have advanced from crystal sets to internet. British Wireless worked with manufactures such as Magnum, Bush, Clarke & Smith and Roberts Radio to adapt set designs to the needs of people with little or no sight. The very first sets had Braille marked dials; later sets had innovations such as a turntable in the base, large button controls with raised symbols and high colour contrast controls.
All the information collected as a result of the project is available as a web-based resource with selected information forming part of a moving exhibition. This archive contains old photographs, scanned documents, audio files, social research and historical information that provide a fascinating insight into the setting up of the fund and issuing of sets. There is also a document containing First World War diary entries relating to Captain Towse, brought to light as a result of the project.
A new piece of social research undertaken for the project provides understanding as to the social and welfare context which resulted in BWBF being set up. Growing recognition of the specific difficulties and needs of blind people was prompted in part by the large numbers of military personnel blinded in the First World War and led to special provisions in welfare benefits and an increase in services and aids for the blind.The mass production of radio sets also promised to transform the lives of the blind.
British Wirelesses for the Blind Fund (BWBF) was formed in 1928 by Captain Sir Beachcroft Towse who at the time was vice chairman of the National Institute for the Blind (NIB) and had lost his sight in 1900, following an injury during the South African Boer War. Just as Braille books had once been the ‘only solace’ for the blind, the wireless promised a further step towards integrating the blind into society. However, despite the waiving of the license fee, the cost of a radio set was prohibitive for many blind people and the fund was designed to remedy this through providing wireless sets. Many charities used the radio as a medium to broadcast appeals but only BWBF was permitted to broadcast on Christmas Day, beginning in 1929 with an appeal by Winston Churchill. By 1931, £37,000 had been raised and 17,000 radio sets provided to blind listeners through the fund.
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