A 140-year-old charity has opened a new shop in the city to help raise the funds it needs to keep going.
Sunderland and North Durham Royal Society for the Blind was founded in 1873 – the same year as the Sunderland Echo – by philanthropist Edward Backhouse, one of the founding fathers of the newspaper.
In a time when people with sight problems faced poverty and social exclusion, the society built a large factory in Hendon where they could train and work.
The factory is long gone, but the charity still has a base in Foyle Street, and it has just opened a shop in Sunderland city centre.
The two-storey building in Waterloo Place, just off Blandford Street, was officially opened yesterday.
Manager Rob Albert is partially sighted after accidents when he was two and 23 cost him much of his sight. He is a qualified occupational therapist, but has struggled to find work since graduating from Northumbria University in 2009. The 44-year-old, of Grindon, said: “When I left university and couldn’t find work, I was using charity shops and got to thinking that they make quite a lot of money.
“I thought I would not mind taking that on myself, so blind and partially-sighted people were represented in that arena.”
Rob insists there is a need for the society to have its own charity shop, despite complaints from shoppers that there are too many in the city.
He added: “We had a temporary shop in High Street West, and in three months, we made half of the money the society needs to run for a year.
“In the absence of good clothes shops and good shoe shops, without charity shops, we would have boarded up shopfronts.”