The History of the Giles Group
In 1994 it was suggested by a Social Worker for the disabled that a group to support those with physical difficulties should be set up in Alresford. A small group of interested people organized an open meeting in the Community Centre to find out if there was enough interest locally to proceed. Over fifty people attended that night. From that meeting, a Committee of ten was formed to start up the Group. The aims and principles were agreed, and these included the need for a weekly drop-in facility in the town, to act as a contact point and for information services, plus a monthly social meeting for members.
Some of the names of the founder members should be recorded: there was Tessa Purkiss, Hazel Warland and Mary Keer – who still attend meetings regularly – and Fabia Wrigley and Molly Cook, who are still associated with the Group and live locally. Annette Miles and Lesley Drew were also members of that first committee, but have since moved away from Alresford.
There was much discussion about the name to be chosen for the group: it needed to be easily remembered and not too long. It was Lesley Drew, who was a local press reporter, who suggested a reference to St Giles, the patron saint of cripples (as evidenced by St Giles’ Church in Cripplegate in London). As it has been decided to have no allegiance to churches or political parties, the title of Saint was dropped, and ‘The Giles Group’ became our chosen name.
Various venues were tried out, but it became clear that the meetings had to be in the very centre of town, and that meant in the Community Centre. Then finally, Sir Peter Ramsbotham, just retired from the Diplomatic Service, was approached to become our Patron, and agreed. This was an excellent appointment, as Sir Peter had a disabled daughter, and was a close friend of Leonard Cheshire. His understanding, knowledge and contacts were immensely useful. Later he requested to be appointed President, as he felt that rôle was more involved with the Group!
The monthly social meeting has always been popular, offering speakers on a wide range of subjects, and a time for socialising and making new friends. To open the drop-in facility required setting up a data bank of information, an enormous task and one that required constant updating. Nowadays the data is more easily obtained, using the Internet, but the drop-in allows questions to be asked and relevant help and expertise to be provided by personal contacts. The drop-in is open from 1030 till 1200 each Tuesday, to offer tea/coffee, advice and help, or just a chat. In addition to the organised talks at the member’s meeting, on the second Monday afternoon each month, the following week an outing on the town Minibus is organized for members, typically to a shopping venue, the coast, or a Garden Centre. The Giles Group is also grateful for the support of local charities like the Alresford Pigs and Rotary, who run evening outings in the Summer.
Making Alresford Disability-friendly
Over the last twenty years the Giles Group has campaigned for better facilities and consideration for those with disabilities, and has been in the forefront of:
- Getting the various Councils to put dropped kerbs in place to help mobility vehicles.
- Making sure access was secure for mobility vehicles on the Millennium Trail.
- Placing chairs in the shops where people had to wait, eg the chemists.
- Disabled toilet facilities in the Community Centre and local public houses.
- Keeping the public toilets in Station Road open.
- Securing a safer route under the railway arch in Jacklyn’s Lane.
- Obtaining wheelchair access to the NatWest Bank (unfortunately now no longer).
- Obtaining wheelchair access to the Fish & Chip shop.
- Alterations to the Bus Stop in West Street, to improve safety and accessibility.
- Supplying reflective yellow jackets to Mobility scooter users.
The Giles Group also has a stock of various disability aids, that are provided for members at cost, or for a donation, and organise sessions at occasional meetings to show examples of the equipment available.
The Giles Group members pay an annual subscription, which covers around 33% of the total running costs. The Group is grateful for the further support that makes their activities viable. Past and continuing support of various forms has been received from organizations such as Hampshire County Council, Winchester City Council, New Alresford Town Council, The Alresford and District Community Association, The Emilienne Charitable Trust, The Alresford Pigs Association, and Alresford Rotary. There have also been some separate one-off donations from the Group members, as well as the strong support provided for the monthly raffles etc.