Aug 20 2012 By Jeff Holmes
FIFTY years ago, a caring group of volunteers got together to give people with learning disabilities a better life.
No-one knew just how big an impact it would have – and just how many lives would be enriched with the launch of Enable Renfrew.
Hundreds of people have walked through the doors of the dedicated club, based in Sandy Road, and that continuous line shows no sign of abating.
In fact, the organisation has even survived a full-blown hurricane – and lived to tell the tale.
Charlie Newlands, branch secretary, recalled the day he turned up with his guitar, ready to entertain members, and decided to stick around.
“That was over 40 years ago,” laughed Charlie, “and I can still remember it as though it were yesterday!”
Enable Renfrew were recently honoured by Renfrewshire Council with a lavish civic reception at Renfrew’s Glynhill Hotel, and Charlie insisted it was a proud moment.
After dinner, he gave a presentation featuring photographs of the group throughout the past 50 years.
Charlie said: “The old snaps brought back lots of memories.
“It was great to be recognised in this way, and proves that we’re doing something right.”
Enable Scotland was established in 1954 by four sets of parents looking to set up an organisation for children with learning difficulties.
The organisation had its base in Glasgow and was attended by people from Renfrewshire, and further afield.
in 1962, a group of parents broke away and formed Enable Renfrew, and the inaugural meeting of the branch took place in Renfrew Town Hall.
Five members of the Burgh Council were present and Baillie John Mason accepted chairmanship of the newly-formed organisation.
That summer, membership had risen to 36 and the group ran its first bus trip to a fete at Stewart House, in Cove.
Charlie said: “The founder members had ambitions to improve the general wellbeing of their families in many different aspects, such as education, employment and social inclusion, which was an issue at that time.
“But the group wanted their own premises, and fundraising continued unabated until 1968, when a contact at British Airways told of a timber building which was available at the old Renfrew Airport.
“A piece of ground had become available in Craigilea Road, Renfrew, and a group of volunteers dismantled, moved and rebuilt the timber building.
“The project cost around £600 and took many months of hard work to complete.”
But disaster struck just days before the grand opening ceremony of Enable Renfrew’s new HQ.
Charlie explained: “Sunday, January 14, 1968 is a day that will live long in the memory of everyone connected with our organisation at that time.
“It was when Hurricane ‘Queenie’ hit – and completely destroyed our new headquarters!
“After the initial shock, and the fact that we were NOT insured, branch members knuckled down and started fundraising again.
“We had just £55 in the bank at the time, but that was quickly added to by holding back-court concerts, afternoon teas in people’s houses and the mass production of homemade tablet!”
Charlie added: “After that, we were allowed to use the Silver Wing Club in Glendee Road, Renfrew. It was a nice size but whoever was in first on a Thursday had to rattle doors and stamp their feet to chase away the mice and rats!”
In 1968, a young man, John Mackay, offered to take along his record player to supply music, and the following year was voted in as vice chairman. His support lasted for 40 years.
Another long-serving member was Jim Tod. The Renfrew man answered an advertisement in the local paper for a volunteer driver, and was to use his car as a taxi for the next 42 years.
Charlie insisted: “Enable Renfrew is full of people who have come in to help out for a short period and stayed for many, many years – and I hope that never stops.”
Charlie added: “In the early 1970s, members were desperate to have their own clubhouse.
“I had an engineering background so in 1973, I was asked to prepare detailed drawings for a new hall.
“It proved timely, because even though we were happy enough at Glendee Road, we were soon unable to use the hall after mindless vandals trashed the place.
“In June of the same year, we were granted permission to build our own hall at 20 Sandy Road, which was the site of the old tennis courts.
“So many people – businesses and individuals – came together to help out and we finally moved into our new premises in October, 1974.
“And you know what? We have had some great times ever since, running bus trips to the four corners of Scotland, holding our popular annual fairs and generally just giving our members a great place to feel like they belong.
“And long may that continue!”