Diane Jones tells the BDN why she felt it was important to have a hub for deaf people in her town and how she and her daughters worked together to establish the Harlow Deaf Society.
Fifteen years ago Harlow’s OK Club for deaf people was forced to shut down after the local council’s lease came to an end. With no help from local advisories, the club slowly disintegrated and local deaf people were left with nowhere to attend.
Enter Diane Jones who decided it was time for someone to make a stand and start afresh. “My late husband Trevor who was also deaf always stressed that there were no facilities for deaf people in the town. I could see we needed a base for deaf people to come together, a place where we could be ourselves for an evening without the barriers we have to overcome on a daily basis.”
With the help of her daughters Emma Somerville and Tamara Hudson, Diane started looking into how she could set up a new club. The trio set up the Harlow Deaf Society, established in memory of Trevor – the society’s thumbs up logo is a nod to Trevor as he was known for giving people the thumbs up. The Harlow Deaf Society applied for funding to run a club. They are still waiting to hear whether these have been successful. But, in the meantime, they received generous donations from local residents who wish to remain anonymous. This allowed them to lease a reasonably priced hall in Old Harlow on the first Saturday of every month. Emma tells the BDN: “We are thankful for this donation as it really gave us the incentive to make this work – we were able to kick start the process while waiting to hear back from our grant applications.”
A Facebook page was set up to get the word spreading about the new club. “We also had to rely on word of mouth as not everyone is technically-minded and may not have access to internet or social media pages,” says Tamara who does PR for the club. “We were a bit apprehensive about the opening night – we knew this evening would mark the future of the club but we weren’t too sure on the number of attendees.”
But clearly word did spread because the first evening was a huge success, the turnout so big the organisers were preparing to turn people away. Tamara says: “We couldn’t believe the amount of people queuing up; the room started to fill up and more and more chairs and tables had to come out. People obviously felt the need for the club as much as us and we were over the moon to know we had done something right.”
One thing that made Diane and her daughters determined to make this new club work was hearing news of other clubs up and down the country facing closure. “We think that these clubs are unfortunately heavily reliant on funding and the use of a hall from a major source and once that source’s pot is empty, the club has no say. At that point, it’s too late to repair the damage. This is where we are different. We are in control of our own club, we pay our own way and run it like a business/charity building up our own destiny,” says Tamara.
They are hoping that word continues to spread and that Harlow Deaf Society continues to grow with plans to hold quizzes, parties and other fun events at upcoming meets. “We are a family friendly club that is open to all – young and old, deaf or hearing. This was always our focus point – to be able to create a bridge between people without a sense of discrimination.”
Harlow Deaf Society is on from 7pm-10.30pm the first Saturday of every month at Old Harlow Women’s Institute Hall CM17 0AT. Admission starts from £1.00.