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Thomas Pocklington was a jeweller-turned-property developer who, after a period of sight loss, donated his considerable fortune to set up the charity.
Born in Sheffield in 1860, Thomas was raised in Whittlesey by his grandmother and uncle, a watchmaker. Thomas spent his early professional life in the family trade, working in London as a watchmaker and jeweller, most likely as an apprentice to his great-grandfather. He married, and by 1891 was operating a successful watchmaking business from his home in Shepherd’s Bush.
But Thomas had ambitions to move up in the world and it wasn’t long before he switched his attentions to a far more lucrative line of work: property development. He built an impressive portfolio of properties in London’s West End, as well as several sprawling suburban and country estates. It was on one of those country estates – Friningham Manor – that Thomas’ chauffeur misfired a rifle during a shooting party and shot his boss in the eye .
Doctors at Maidstone Hospital managed to save his sight, but the incident is thought to have inspired Thomas’ decision to dedicate his estate to the establishment of an organisation dedicated to helping blind and partially sighted people.
Upon his death in 1935, Thomas ordered that his assets should be left to accumulate for a further 21 years after his death before establishing the charity. This clause proved shrewd. Property prices rose massively during that time so that, by the time the charity (originally called The Gift of Thomas Pocklington) was established in 1958, the fund had grown to around £850,000. Today, it is worth approximately £160 million.
Over the next 50 years, the charity provided specialist accommodation for blind and partially sighted people and was renamed Thomas Pocklington Trust.
A review in 2014, which included research and consultation with blind and partially sighted people, led to major changes. The world in which we were operating had changed. Most blind and partially sighted people did not want to live in specialist accommodation but wanted to stay in their communities and have the same opportunities in education, employment, health and everyday life as their sighted peers.
In 2016, Thomas Pocklington Trust established a London-based Visual Impairment (V I) Parliament which proved to be an effective model for representing the blind and partially sighted community. Its success led to the creation of the first Thomas Pocklington Trust Sight Loss Council (SLC) in Birmingham in 2017. Thomas Pocklington Trust embarked on an ambitious programme to establish member-led Sight Loss Councils across England. Each SLC would comprise of blind and partially sighted volunteers who actively engage in their local community collaboratively to bring about practical and attitudinal changes to benefit the lives of all visually impaired people. By the end of 2023, 20 Sight Loss Councils had been fully established and demonstrated their effectiveness in bringing about tangible change.
The success of the Sight Loss Councils has fuelled demand for their establishment across Scotland which will begin to roll out from Spring 2024.