End of an era for Hartlepool charity stalwart

Standing down: Elizabeth O'Rourke (left) will hand over to Barbara McLeod.
Standing down: Elizabeth O'Rourke (left) will hand over to Barbara McLeod.

A WOMAN who has been at the forefront of blind services in Hartlepool for more than half a century is getting ready for a new chapter in her life.

Elizabeth O’Rourke will retire as manager of Hartlepool Blind Welfare Association in a few weeks time after 52 years of service.

Elizabeth joined the charity, in Avenue Road, straight after leaving Sacred Heart School when she was just 15.

She said: “The then general manager came to school and asked the headmistress if there was anyone she thought would be suitable for the position they had.

“I don’t know what made her chose me but she must have had some foresight as I have been here for all these years.”

Over the years, Elizabeth worked her way up from office junior to centre manager and chief administrator and has witnessed many changes.

When Elizabeth first joined the charity it was called Hartlepool Workshops for the Blind.

Workshops, now occupied by new tenants, made various items to sell in the workshops’ retail shop.

They sadly closed when Hartlepool became part of Cleveland and the organisation became Hartlepool Blind Welfare Association.

It gives support and information on all aspects of living with a visual impairment.

Elizabeth said: “We began to concentrate more on the welfare side. We always ran a home visitor service but we started offering training in daily living and cookery skills.”

Other new additions have been the production of a talking newspaper, benefits advice and support and a book club by teaming up with the library service.

Elizabeth, married to Arthur, 66, became manager when the shop closed its doors in the mid 1980s.

“Over the years I had taken on a more hands on role,” she added.

Last week, she was presented with a prestigious British Empire Medal from the Lord Lieutenant of Durham for her dedication.

Elizabeth will hand over the reins to Barbara McLeod when she retires early in December.

“We have been working together for the last few months and I know Barbara will fit in really well,” she said.

Elizabeth added: “I have been here a long time and made lots of friends.

“I will miss all the registered visually impaired and blind people and everyone I work with.

“It will be a big change in my life.

“I will be able to spend more time with my family and three grandchildren.

“But I will still be involved as a volunteer.”