Our history dates back to 1865 when Cardiff Institute for the Blind was founded by Frances Batty Shand, an early charitable activist in Cardiff.
Frances Batty Shand (1815-1885) was the daughter of John Shand, a Scottish plantation owner and an enslaved woman named Frances Brown. In the mid 1800s, Miss Shand came to live in Cardiff with her brother, also called John, who worked for the Rhymney Railway Company. Miss Shand was concerned with the “ragged” children she saw in Cardiff and toured the city offering help and support. Miss Shand first opened a small workshop in the Canton area of Cardiff, employing four blind men. They made baskets for the coal ships which sailed from Cardiff ports. The Association for Improving the Social and Working Conditions of the Blind (which later became Cardiff Institute for the Blind) was born.
Within a year, larger premises were purchased at Byron Street in the Roath area, and ten men were employed. A third move was made to larger premises on Longcross Street off Newport Road in 1868. There is a photograph of those premises further down on this page. In 1877, John Shand died and was buried in Allensbank Cemetary, Cathays. Miss Shand retired, and little is known of her until her death in 1885 in Switzerland. She never forgot her connection with Cardiff, and she was buried in the same grave as her brother in Allensbank Cemetary, Cathays.
The Longcross Street premises continued to prosper. By 1900, there were 100 blind men and women employed at the Institute, sewing and manufacturing baskets, mats, brushes and ships fenders. In 1941, Longcross Street was destroyed during a German air raid on Cardiff. Within weeks, all of the employees were back at work, housed in small workshops scattered around the Roath area of Cardiff. The Institute was given a plot of land in Newport Road in 1949 and work on new premises commenced in 1951. The iconic Shand House, named in honour of the organisation’s founder, opened in 1953. The work of the Institute at that time still concentrated on the employment of blind and disabled people. In 1965, 70 employees were engaged in the manufacture of traditional products for a blind workshop.
Gradually, attitudes changed towards integrating disabled people into work. Rather than segregated ‘sheltered employment’, more opportunities arose for blind and partially sighted people in open employment, particularly with the rapid growth in technology. The role of the blind workshops gradually decreased and they were closed in 2006.
Princess Diana’s Signature from her visit to Cardiff Institute for the Blind in 1991
The heritage display at CIB
Cardiff Institute for the Blind then began to concentrate its role on the provision of direct services for visually impaired people in the counties of Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan, setting benchmarks which local societies for the blind have followed throughout the UK. In 2009, the biggest expansion in our long history took place when we became part of RNIB Group, with the remit to spread our service and support model across South Wales. This led to an office opening in Pontypridd to manage services in Rhondda Cynon Taf and Merthyr Tydfil, and an office in Swansea Vale to manage services in Swansea and Neath Port Talbot.