Our beginnings (1854-1918)
CLARITY – Employment for Blind People was established in 1854 as “The Association for Promoting the General Welfare of the Blind” (GWB) to provide employment for blind people. Our founder was Miss Elizabeth Gilbert, who lost her sight at the age of three due to scarlet fever. She believed in enabling blind people to help themselves, and to earn their own living – a mission that the charity continues to this day.
Elizabeth first set up a workshop in Holborn, London, with seven blind employees making baskets. However the workshop soon grew, employing increasing numbers of blind workers and moving several times to bigger premises until 1893, when a purpose built factory was opened in Tottenham Court Road.
Queen Victoria was our first patron, donating £50 (over £5000 today) in 1856 and providing finances for the factory to open. Other early supporters included Prime Minister Gladstone, the Archbishop of York and Charles Dickens, who helped to augment our funds by publishing an article entitled “At Work in the Dark”.
At the turn of the 20th Century, patrons included King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, HRH Prince of Wales, HRH Prince Christian, and the charity’s Presidents were the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Duchess of Bedford. In 1901 we made all the mats and some other articles used on board HMS Ophir, in which the Duke and Duchess of York (later King George V and Queen Mary) toured the world.
Surviving some turbulent times early 1900s and WW1, in 1918 record sales figures were reached (£21,000) and more blind people were employed.
Continued growth (1918-today)
After 1918 GWB continued to grow, producing baskets, brushes, brooms, upholstery and chair seats, divans and mattresses and something new – soap!
The initiative of making of soap came in 1936 through grants from trustees Captain Sir Beachcroft Towse and Lord Nuffield, and after WW2 we also introduced talcum powder. Winston Churchill became a regular donator to the GWB.
A door to door sales organisation was set up and continued for the next 50 years as the product range grew with shampoos, foam baths, shower gels, liquid soap, body lotions, beeswax polish, car wash, kitchen cleaners, bath cleaners and air fresheners.
- In 1954, the GWB’s centenary year, four houses were built in Tottenham to house some of the blind workers and their families, which are still in use today.
- In 1995 due to environment changes we introduced a telesales operation to sell our products, in addition to local marketing of our products.
- In 1998 we opened our Scotland office which still sells to businesses and households across Scotland today.
- In 2013 our factory relocated to Highams Park, London, and we hire 29 new employees, making 102 overall.