Blind Guests Fear for Future of Three Specialist Hotels Sold by Charity

Action for Blind People says it cannot afford the upkeep of three hotels in Devon, Somerset and the Lake District

The Lauriston hotel in Weston-super-Mare has staff specially trained to cater for blind guests. Photograph: Simon Williams

The futures of the UK’s three remaining specialist hotels for blind people are in doubt, sparking fears that visually impaired people could be left isolated.

Action for Blind People is selling the Cliffden in Teignmouth, Devon; the Lauriston in Weston-super-Mare; and Windermere Manor, in the Lake District, because it can no longer justify the running costs.

The charity is hopeful that the hotels will stay open under new management, but critics of the sale believe that closure is more likely and that blind and partially sighted people will suffer.

David Haynes, 69, from South Milford, Yorkshire, said: “Without this sort of facility, I don’t know what people will do. You can’t imagine what it’s like leaving your house without any sight at all. People go there because all the staff are trained with regard to working with visually impaired people. It’s safe and secure.”

As well as being a regular visitor, Haynes sits on the Action for Blind People customer council. He is angry the council was not consulted over the decision, which was made by senior management and approved by the charity’s trustees, most of whom are blind or partially sighted.

The three hotels have swimming pools, textured surfaces, talking alarm clocks, large-button phones, braille menus and facilities for guide dogs. They also provide a pick-up service from nearby stations and run supervised trips.

Action for Blind People said 2,000 visually impaired people used the hotels last year – just under half the total number of guests – although many went more than once. The charity said an increase in sighted guests is one reason it cannot justify the extra expenditure of £950,000 needed to run and maintain the hotels over the next three years.

But Haynes said the hotels provided an invaluable opportunity for the visually impaired to talk to each other and interact with the sighted. “We all learn from each other,” he said.

“It’s an indictment of 21st-century Britain that there’s no provision for the visually impaired to go to a hotel. All hotels have to have access for people in wheelchairs but they don’t all have to have staff trained to work with the visually impaired, to do small things like saying your meat is at eight o’clock [on your plate], your potatoes are at four o’clock.”

Christine Newcombe, vice-chair of Guide Dogs Circle, is another patron angry about the decision. She describes the hotels as a lifeline, particularly for the most vulnerable, who are completely blind, like herself.

“People are going to be isolated,” she said. “There’s been no consultation. No one has actually asked blind people what they actually want. The hotels offer peace of mind, health and safety.

“I just go with a friend and and leave John [her husband] at home. We have both got guide dogs. We just have a nice time. They do trips during the stays, [and] that would be difficult in an ordinary hotel.”

An Action for Blind People spokeswoman said: “We’re doing everything we can to find suitable buyers for the three Vision hotels to make sure they stay open, but we do understand that a lot of people are upset by the news that Action for Blind People will no longer be running the hotels.

“This has been a very difficult decision to make as we know how much Vision hotels mean to customers, staff and volunteers. To have kept the hotels open, we would have had to divert funds from other services and after careful consideration, we decided that this was not the right thing to do.”

She said the hotels were still taking bookings.

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