It’s a Family Affair

Volunteers are the lifeblood of many charities. Here we look at two volunteers for Southend Blind Welfare Organisation who have a very particular reason to support this local, independent charity.

For Lilian Smith, her daughter Ann Woodgate and Ann’s daughter, Alleyne Woodgate, Southend Blind Welfare Organisation is much more than a friendly local charity that offers help and support to those losing, or who have lost their sight. For them, it is a real family affair with Ann and Alleyne volunteering for the charity for many years and Lilian living in Elkington House, the organisation’s not-for-profit residential care home in Imperial Avenue, Westcliff.

Lilian, who turn 100 on 14th February 2018, has lived at Elkington House for just over three years. She had spent a busy life bringing up three children, running a home and spending time adjudicating exams in London. Originally from Barking, Lilian visited Southend when her children were young and her daughter, Ann moved to Leigh some twenty years ago.. Ann became involved with Southend Blind Charity Welfare Organisation through her daughter, Alleyne. When the time came for them to find a safe, comfortable place for Lilian to live, Elkington House was top of their list.

Upon leaving the Civil Service where she worked for a number of years, Alleyne began volunteering for the charity in 2005, having spent time helping on the Talking Newspaper in the Castle Point area. She had always wanted to help blind and partially sighted people: “I wanted to do some good, to help, to meet new people and learn new skills. I think that if you are blind, to have someone to help you to know what’s going on around you is so important.”

Alleyne first volunteered for the charity at the Eye Clinic at Southend Hospital, offering advice, support and practical help to those experiencing sight loss. She now helps in the charity’s shop in Hamlet Court Road where her mother, Ann, joins her. Ann began volunteering for SBWO in 2007. As well as working in the shop, she helps at the organisation’s clubs, guiding the members, helping with their errands and issues and joining in with the activities. She says “It’s such a bundle of fun when we get up and dance and sing.” Alleyne adds “The members are such an example to us all, never letting their loss of sight stop them from joining in and living life to the full. It is very humbling.”

Asked why they give up so much of their time to help SBWO, Alleyne said “All the volunteers help each other. It’s a real team. We also feel valued. We are listened to, and our comments and suggestions are taken into account. We get lots of praise for our efforts.” . Ann added “There’s real camaraderie. The staff are very caring and friendly, and we really enjoy everything we do.”

The Summer Fair at Elkington House is a highlight of the charity’s year and Ann and Alleyne have helped at the fairs for the last few years, before Lilian came to live at the home. To the family, Elkington House is a home from home for their mother. The manager, Sarah Richardson has worked at the home for more than 20 years and the family feel that she treats the residents as her own. Ann said “The staff are incredibly friendly and helpful. They all have great patience and a wonderful sense of humour. The residents love a singsong and we spend many happy times singing along with Mum. In fact, we usually start the singing.”

Sarah Richardson, Manager at Elkington House said: 'We have many great families and relatives involved with our residents at Elkington House which makes it a very warm and happy home from home. It's great to have the three generations of Lilian's family involvement with us. Southend Blind Welfare supports our residents and the volunteers are invaluable. When the volunteers are family members of our residents, it makes a very special bond.'

To find out more about Southend Blind Welfare Organisation, please go to To find out more about the not-for-profit Elkington House, please go to

Jules Easlea