Bob and Mary Sergeant
Bob and Mary Sergeant

Family’s involvement with Harrogate charity ends after 100 years

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A Harrogate charity has said goodbye to one of its trustees after 42 years, ending a century-long family connection.

At its latest AGM, Vision Support Harrogate District gave a special thank you to Bob Sergeant for his long service, bringing to an end his family’s involvement since the organisation’s early days.

Bob joined in 1979, following in the footsteps of various family members including his father, Russell Sergeant, after whom the charity’s drop-in centre in East Parade is named.

The Sergeants first became involved with the Harrogate Society for the Blind, as it was then known, in 1923. The organisation had been founded two years earlier to support local soldiers returning from the First World War with visual impairments caused by mustard gas.

Russell Sergeant
Russell Sergeant

Bob’s grandparents, Henry and Marion Sergeant, were near neighbours of the charity’s founder Miss Fripp, who lived in Spring Grove. Henry had a shop in James Street, where Waterstones is now situated, and offered to display and sell basketry work made by visually impaired people.

Henry went on to become vice chairman of the charity for six years from 1932, while Marion continued to be involved as a committee member. Later, their son – and Bob’s father – Russell, became a trustee, serving as secretary, chairman and president before being made honorary president in 1993. Russell’s sisters, Jean, Alison and Joyce, were volunteers at the charity’s social centre, while Jean’s husband Les Topham was on the committee.

Looking back over nearly a century, Bob said he was proud of his family’s connection and honoured to have been personally involved for so long. But he praised the hard work and commitment of many others in ensuring the society’s longevity and success.

He said: “There is no way that it could survive without the help of its loyal volunteers, some of whom have been there for a number of years. I also think the centre would not be here today without the very valuable help from the Rotary Club of Harrogate, which was formed in the same year as the society and has been involved since the start. The club’s members have been absolutely incredible over the decades.”

Henry Sergeant
Henry Sergeant

Bob said some of his highlights include the fundraising garden parties at Dacre Banks and the yearly trip to Scarborough for visually impaired people and their carers. He remembers big events like the annual Christmas party at The Lounge Hall, now Wetherspoons, which welcomed around 400 people. It was funded by the society, with transport arranged by the Rotary Club.

“Funding has become more difficult now,” he said. “But one of the society’s strengths has always been that over 90 per cent of the money we raise goes back to the direct benefit of the visually impaired people we support.”

Bob and his wife, Mary, still intend to be involved with the society in the future, but his resignation from the committee marks the end of an era as their two sons live too far away to continue the Sergeants’ active contribution.

“Right the way through the charity’s history there has been the Sergeant family and the Rotary Club,” said Bob.

“It’s been part of my life and my family history for so long, but I feel that the time has now come to stand down.”

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