Royal National College for the Blind: Wikis


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Royal National College for the Blind
Large text "RNC" on blue and red fields, over text "life, learning, opportunity" in smaller font, over a red bar.
Established 1871
Type Further education college
President Jessica White[1]
Principal Geoff Draper[2]
Staff 175 teaching, 56 student support[3]
Students 200 (approx)[4]
Location Hereford, United Kingdom
Campus College Road, Hereford

The Royal National College for the Blind (RNC) is a co-educational residential further education college based in the English city of Hereford. Students who attend the college are blind or partially sighted. Alongside regular further education subjects and vocational training, the college offers training in independent living and personal development. There are approximately 200 students whose ages range from 16 upwards.

Founded in 1871 in London as The Royal Normal College and Academy for the Blind, the college had a number of homes before moving to its present campus in Hereford, adopting its present name during the late 1970s. It is regarded as a leader in the education of visually impaired students and has been awarded Beacon Status. RNC is the home of the England blind football team, and will host the 2010 World Blind Football Championships. It will also have a role in the 2012 Paralympic Games. The National BlindArt collection is housed at RNC, and the college is actively involved in the development of assistive technology to help visually impaired people in their day to day lives.

The college is a registered charity, its current Patron being Charles, Prince of Wales. There are also several high profile supporters. The college's Mission is 'to lead, innovate, develop, promote and deliver world class learning, products and services, driving standards for excellence'. Its Vision is for 'RNC to be the first choice for all people with a visual impairment'. RNC is the subject of a 2007 documentary for the Channel 4 Cutting Edge documentary strand which was the winner of a 2008 Royal Television Society Award.

RNC has had thirteen principals since it was founded, the present being Geoff Draper, a former Colonel in the British Army who was appointed to the position on 7 December 2009. The appointment comes after a controversial period in the college's history, and following the resignation of the previous incumbent in 2008. There are a number of notable people among its alumni, including former Home Secretary David Blunkett.



A large brick building with a sign saying "RNC"; a fence and some trees in the foreground.
The Royal National College for the Blind

The RNC was established in 1871 by the Victorian philanthropist Thomas Rhodes Armitage and the American anti-slavery campaigner Francis Joseph Campbell, who lost his sight as a young boy.[5][6] Campbell had originally planned to establish a college for the blind in the United States, but was persuaded by Armitage that London would be a more suitable location.[7] At the time English schools for the blind did not provide their students with the skills to become independent, and dissatisfied with this situation, Armitage dreamed of establishing a school whose emphasis was on music and which would prepare its students to become organists, piano tuners, and music teachers.[8]

With donations of £3,000 and the support of the nobility,[8] the college opened for business on 1 March 1872 with two students.[9] At the time of its founding it was called "The Royal Normal College and Academy for the Blind", the word "Normal" being an American expression referring to the training offered by the college.[5] It was originally located near Crystal Palace in London, later moving to Upper Norwood.[5] In its early days, the college was considered very progressive and experimental in its approach to education.[9][7][10] The curriculum was advanced for its time, and emphasis was placed on physical activities such as swimming, cycling and roller-skating.[10] Students even took part in a morning of tobogganing following a heavy fall of snow.[10] By the end of the 19th century, the college had over 200 students.[9] For many years the college admitted school age students, and it was not until 1945 that the principal of RNC and head master of Worcester College for the Blind came to an agreement that Worcester would provide secondary education and RNC would take students over the age of 16.[11]

The 20th century saw the college move location several times before settling in Hereford. The first of these moves occurred at the beginning of the Second World War, when the college was evacuated from its London site and moved to a mansion named Great Maythem in Rolvenden in west Kent.[10] However, because of the threat of a German invasion, the authorities soon advised another move,and this time a temporary home was found in Dorton near Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire.[9][10]

The college never returned to London because the Upper Norwood site – which was being used as a hospital – was bombed during the Blitz.[5] The college had to close temporarily, until a permanent new home could be found, but eventually it relocated to Rowton Castle near Shrewsbury.[12][9][13] This accommodation had limited space, but plans to enlarge the site were seriously affected when, in 1953 fire destroyed much of the buildings and 38 pianos and organs.[9] The alarm was raised by one of the students,[14] and everybody present was evacuated to safety.[9] Training was able to continue after Henshaw's Institution for the Blind took students and staff as a temporary measure.[9]

RNC remained in Shropshire for many years, gradually acquiring more premises in and around Shrewsbury. However, in 1978 more suitable accommodation was found that would enable RNC to consolidate its teaching and residential accommodation into one campus, and the college moved to its current home in Hereford.[9][10] The site is a former teacher training college.[9] 1978 also saw the college adopt its present name of The Royal National College for the Blind.[15] RNC received an official opening at its new campus by Prince Charles, who arrived in Hereford by helicopter to perform the ceremony in 1979.[16]

In the early 2000s the RNC's halls of residence underwent an extensive £1.5 million upgrade.[17] The blocks were originally built when the campus was being used as a teacher training college during the 1960s and were updated to include modern facilities such as larger student bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms and space for televisions and computers, and improved social areas.[18]

Following an OFSTED inspection in 2005 RNC was one of only eight colleges in the UK to be awarded the prestigious Learning and Skills Beacon Status in recognition of the outstanding quality of its teaching.[19] It is presently the only college for visually impaired students to have Beacon status, which is only given to educational establishments which have received a first-class OFSTED inspection report.[19][20] RNC was again praised by OFSTED in 2009 for its continued good progress when Inspectors graded the college as 'outstanding' across all six areas inspected and said it had gained ground since its last inspection in 2006.[21] In 2006 the college announced an extensive expansion of its campus, including new halls of residence, a sports and complementary therapy building and a new outdoor floodlit sports pitch.[22] The £21.5m sports development will host the 2010 World Blind Football Championships.[23] A £10 million fundraising campaign, Building Brighter Futures, was created to raise the funds required to complete the project, and construction work began in the summer of 2007.[24] The complex, thePoint4, which also includes a bistro and conference facilities, opened in April 2009 with plans for it to receive an official opening in June.[25] The facility was officially opened on 24 June by BBC sports presenter and Daily Mail columnist Des Kelly.[26][27] In 2008 the college was nominated as one of the sites for the 2012 Paralympic Games and will act as a pre-Games training camp for paralympic athletes.[28][29]

RNC was the subject of a 2007 documentary for the Channel Four series Cutting Edge, which followed three young students (Steve Markham, Daniel Angus and Selina Litt[30]) during their first term at the college.[31][32] The film examines their individual journeys towards greater independence as they encounter the unique challenges that being visually impaired presents.[33] as well as how they deal with the every day issues that affect all teenagers, such as sex, relationships, partying and their future plans after graduation.[30] The documentary, Blind Young Things, was first aired on 30 April 2007,[33] and won a Royal Television Society award for Channel Four and the Cutting Edge team in 2008.[34]

In September 2009 the college became the permanent home of the National BlindArt Collection, a collection of paintings, sculptures, installations and other works of art designed to engage all the senses and to provide people who are visually impaired with greater accessibility to art.[35] In November 2009 RNC announced that it had been forced to send a third of its students home following an outbreak of swine flu on campus.[36] During the heavy winter snowfall of 2009–2010 the college's sports facilities were utilised by the Hereford United team for training after the bad weather conditions made using their own grounds difficult.[37]

In January 2010 two students from the college appeared with the fashion consultant Gok Wan in an edition of the Channel 4 series How to Look Good Naked...with a Difference, where they took part in a photo shoot. The series sought to highlight confidence issues among people with disabilities.[38] In February 2010 the college secured a £90,000 grant from the Learning and Skills Improvement Service to install a music video production studio which will enable bands to record material and showcase their work.[39] In March 2010 it was reported that RNC would launch a drive to attract visually impaired students from the Middle East and North Africa region to study at the college.[40]

Assistive technology

The college has been actively involved in the development and use of assistive technology to aid visually impaired people in their everyday lives. For example, working with a US software engineer, RNC produced the T3, a touch sensitive device for interpreting tactile images such as diagrams, charts and maps.[20][41] The device was sold on the international marketplace with the help of the UK Trade & Investment's passport initiative – a scheme which gives new exporters the training, planning and support they need to succeed in overseas markets.[42]

RNC is involved in the Robobraille project which allows visually impaired Internet users to have text translated into braille and MP3 audio format via email.[43] The Mountbatten braille writing machine was pioneered and developed at the college by Ernest Bate, while two RNC lecturers invented the Hoople, a mobility aid for blind people designed for use in a rural environment.[44][45][46] RNC lecturer Nigel Berry designed the Fingerprints braille course,[47] which was first published in 1993 and is now widely used to teach adult beginners to touch-read and write grade 2 braille.[48]

ClearText, which enables visually impaired users to browse the web more easily, was developed in conjunction with the college.[49] In 2009 RNC lecturer Tony Sales developed Vinux, an accessible version of the Linux operating system for the visually impaired.[50]


The RNC provides both full time and shorter courses in vocational and academic subjects for approximately 200 students aged 16 and above.[3][51] There are no formal academic requirements for entry into RNC, but potential students are invited to attend an assessment at the college before being offered a place in order to determine the level of support they will need during their studies. The assessment typically includes an evaluation of a person's level of vision, their mobility and independence skills, any residential support they may require, basic literacy and numeracy skills tests, and an interview with the leader of the course they wish to take.[52]

Courses are designed to prepare visually impaired students for progression into further education, university or employment.[3] The development of independent living and personal skills is also encouraged.[3][53] The college is divided into several different areas of study:[54]

  • Leisure, Therapies and Sport (including courses and qualifications in massage, complementary therapies, and sport treatment and management)
  • Music, Media, Performance and Art (including courses and qualifications in music technology, media and art)
  • Information and Communication Technology (including courses and qualifications in office skills and the European Computer Driving Licence)
  • Business, Administration and Customer Service
  • GCSE, AS and A Level qualifications
  • Skills For Life (including Braille reading)

Traditionally courses in piano tuning and piano technology were also available at the college. However, these have been significantly reduced in recent years due to a decline in the number of students studying the subjects. There has also been a reduction in the number of A levels available for study due to changes in the types of courses education funding bodies supporting students at RNC are willing to provide funds for.[55][56]

RNC began to offer its first Higher education qualification in January 2010 with the launch of the Certificate in Higher Education: Working with People with Visual Impairment programme. The qualification is offered in collaboration with St Joseph's Centre for the Visually Impaired in Dublin and the University of Worcester.[57]


The RNC has four traditional halls of residence, three of which (Armitage, Campbell and Dowdell) have been updated in recent years to include modern facilities in accordance with Care Standards and Disability Discrimination Act requirements.[58] However, because it was not possible to upgrade Gardner Hall, a new state of the art block, Orchard Hall, was built to replace it.[56] Gardner became an assessment centre for prospective students.[59] In September 2009 Gardner was made available as a venue for hire for functions such as weddings.[60] In addition to the halls of residence, the college also owns several houses both on and off campus which enable students to gain a greater level of independent living.[61]

On-campus facilities include a gym, sports hall, a floodlit all-weather football pitch and tennis courts. RNC's thePoint4 complex offers sporting, leisure and conference facilities, as well as a bistro, and is open to both students and members of the general public.[62] The facility is used to help train students wishing to work in the leisure industry and was designed with visually impaired people in mind, with tactile landmarks on the stairwells, floors and skirting boards to help students navigate their way around.[63] Other facilities at RNC include the Flexible Learning Centre which features the latest assistive technology and learning resources and which is open seven days a week,[51] a licensed student social club named The Dog and Cane and a student common room.

The college has an active Students' Union which plays an important role in college life, being responsible for organising leisure activities both on and off campus.[3] Its members have representatives on committees at all levels within the college.

In December 2008 the Hereford Times reported that the college would be home to a sculpture by the Herefordshire based contemporary artist Walenty Pytel which he would create using an original drawing produced by an RNC student.[64] The piece, depicting a man running in the Futurist style and titled the 4Runner was unveiled in September 2009 and stands on a 14 feet (4.3 m) plinth outside the entrance of the sports and leisure complex.[65]

Extracurricular activities

RNC is the home of the first football academy for visually impaired players.[66] The Football Academy was officially opened in August 2008 by former England footballer Sir Trevor Brooking and offers visually impaired students the opportunity to include football as part of their study programme with a view to playing the game at a national level.[66][67] The college is the home of the England blind football team, which is supported by the Football Association and coached by former professional footballer Tony Larkin.[68] RNC is helping to develop a national blind football league.[69] As well as football, blind cricket is also played at the college, and RNC has its own cricket team,[70] which competes in the British Blind Sport (BBS) National Cricket League.[71] The college also features acoustic shooting,[66] a sport which uses air rifles fitted with photoelectric cells which convert light reflected from targets into sound.[72][73]

As well as football, cricket and acoustic shooting, students at RNC can participate in a wide range of other sporting and athletic activities, including horse riding, swimming, ten pin bowling, weight training, circuit training and martial arts.[74] Away from sport, the Students' Union organises regular events such as karaoke, pub quizzes, cabaret and live bands.[74] There are shopping excursions and trips to cinema, theatre and Premier League football matches, while clubs and societies include a Dining club and the RNC choir.[74]


The late 2000s saw RNC undergoing some significant restructuring as it responded to changes in the world of employment and therefore the courses that it offered its students.[55] However, some of the college's changes provoked criticism from staff and students who argued these were not in RNC's best interest.[56] There was some controversy over the college's decision to reduce the availability of courses in piano tuning, traditionally regarded as a secure profession for visually impaired people, while fears were expressed that the decrease in A Level subjects would lead to RNC becoming a sport rather than an academic orientated college.[28][55] Responding to these concerns in July 2008, the then principal Christine Steadman told In Touch, the BBC Radio 4 news programme for visually impaired listeners; "It's about what the local authorities, what the learning and skills council, what the Welsh Assembly for government will purchase from us. And at the moment we are reducing a small number of A Level courses but at the same time we're extending other courses, for example we've got level 3 Braille being taught for the first time at the college, we're not cutting A Levels, we're just responding to the needs of the learners that are coming through our doors."[55] In an interview in January 2010, current principal Geoff Draper said that piano tuning would be taught at the college if there was a demand for it, and suggested RNC could look to bringing in international students to fill places.[75]

The changes led to significant department reorganisations within RNC, with several staff members being summarily dismissed in the process. A number of former college employees made complaints regarding the manner in which their employment was ended.[55][76] In July 2008 the college lecturers union, the University and College Union called for greater consultation between management and staff at the college.[77] However, traditionally RNC has not recognised trade union membership among its staff, and UCU members who worked at RNC complained that their union had been left out of negotiations.[77] The UCU said the need to represent RNC staff had increased because the college was making changes that had left staff in fear of redundancy, and students uncertain about their future.[77] Speaking in a 2009 interview with In Touch Ian Pickford, who was brought in as interim principal following Christine Steadman's departure, was at pains to point out that the atmosphere of the college had changed and issued a challenge to any student or member of staff who was still unhappy to meet with him to discuss their concerns.[78]

Financial concerns were raised with the opening of the new leisure complex and because of a reorganisation of student funding from the Learning and Skills Council to Local Education Authorities. The college was facing a shortfall of at least £500,000 in 2009 and its auditors expressed doubt on RNC's ability to continue as a going concern.[78] In response Ian Pickford said that much of thePoint4's costs had been paid for through donations and that the shortfall issue was being addressed through cutbacks, including some redundancies.[78] Of the auditors concerne he said; "I think post the banking crisis a lot of auditors are incredibly nervous about making bland statements in terms of the future of organisations and therefore they frequently now put those sort of caveats in to protect their position going forward."[78]


RNC's Mission is 'to lead, innovate, develop, promote and deliver world class learning, products and services, driving standards for excellence'.[79] The college has a number of core values at its centre. These are to;

  • believe the individual is at the centre
  • recognise, value and include everyone
  • lead, promote and share specialisms
  • collaborate with the wider community to develop opportunities
  • promote continuous improvement and the highest quality in all we do[79]

The College's Vision is for 'RNC to be the first choice for all people with a visual impairment'.[80]


As well as being one of its founders, Francis Joseph Campbell served as RNC's first principal from 1871 until his retirement in 1912.[9] He was knighted as a Knight Bachelor by King Edward VII in 1909.[6][81] The honour was bestowed on him for his services to blind people.[8] He was succeeded by his son, Guy Marshall Campbell, and following his death in 1929 Guy's widow, Louie Bealby Campbell took over the position.[9] The role of principal passed outside the Campbell family for the first time upon Louie Bealby Campbell's retirement in 1934.[9] Since then a number of individuals have held the position. Lance Marshall was principal at the time the college moved to its Hereford campus in 1978.[10] In the late 2000s Christine Steadman oversaw the college's restructuring during her tenure as principal of RNC, which proved to be unpopular with staff and students.[56] She tendered her resignation in November 2008.[82] The present incombent is Geoff Draper, a former Colonel in the British Army who was appointed to the position on 7 December 2009.[83]

Years Principal
1871–1912 Francis Joseph Campbell[9]
1912–1929 Guy Marshall Campbell[9]
1929–1934 Louie Bealby Campbell[9]
1934–1937 William Stone[9]
1937–1966 Dr Langdon[9]
1966–1976 Alfred Lidster[9][84]
1976–1991 Lance Marshall[84][85]
1991–1992 Dr Michael Semple[85]
1992–1999 Dr Colin Housby-Smith
1999–2006 Roisin Burge[86]
2006–2008 Christine Steadman[87][82]
2008–2009 Ian Pickford (acting)[2]
2009–present Geoff Draper[83]

Notable people and alumni

The college is a registered charity,[88] and has a number of high profile supporters.[89] Charles, Prince of Wales is the current Patron, a position he has held since 1997.[90][91] The current president is the Hon. Mrs White,[89] and there are several public figures who serve a vice presidents. These include the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop of York, the Archbishop of Westminster, Countess Mountbatten of Burma and Michael Buerk.[89] Others who hold vice presidential positions at RNC include the Lord Mayor of London, Paul Keetch, MP for Hereford and the Master of the Worshipful Company of Musicians. These last three are ex-officio positions.[89]

Lady Darnley, the current Lord Lieutenant of Herefordshire and her predecessor Sir Thomas Dunne both became Appeals Patrons for the college in 2008. 2008 also saw the BBC sports presenter Gabby Logan and Daily Mail columnist Des Kelly both become Patrons of the England Blind Football team.[92] The film financier and manager of the National Film Finance Corporation Sir John Terry was a Governor of RNC between 1980 and 1985.[93]

Graduates of the college include David Blunkett, British Labour Party politician and former Home Secretary,[94] and Alfred Hollins, English composer and organist.[95] Giles McKinley, who starred in a groundbreaking television commercial for Sauza Tequila during the 1990s, is a former RNC student.[96] The blind actor Ryan Kelly, who plays the role of Jack 'Jazzer' McCreary in Radio 4's The Archers,[97] and the Paralympic cyclist Anthony Kappes also attended the college.[98]

See also


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