Behind scenes of Norwich civic charity

Standfirst: The Rotary House for the Deaf in King Street, Norwich is the new civic charity, and reporter DAVID BALE went behind the scenes to find out what they do and what the honour means to them.

The Rotary House for the Deaf in Norwich - which provides accommodation for 19 tenants with hearing difficulties - is unique in being the only privately run, non-profit- making organisation of its kind in the country.

But plans to expand and build four flats costing �100,000 each on the site have been scuppered by lack of money and fundraising opportunities during the recession, despite planning permission already being approved.

That could all be about to change though, as the charity in King Street, which has been providing support to help deaf and hard-of-hearing people live independent lives in the city since 1977, is the new civic charity.

The new Lord Mayor Tom Dylan and Sheriff Derek James picked the Rotary House for the Deaf as their civic charity last week and will raise money for the cause during their year in office.

Mr Dylan, who was born deaf in his left ear, and Mr James have also pledged to learn sign language during their year in office.

Angi Goldsmith, who is the manager of the charity where she has worked for 16 years, said the news was fantastic.

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She said: "This is the biggest thing that has happened to us in my time here. Words cannot express what it means.

"We started fundraising for the new homes about two years ago and have raised about �14,000, so we are desperate to get financial help to help satisfy the increasing demand for services such as ours for deaf people.

"Hopefully, being the civic charity will help us at least raise �100,000 during the year to pay for one of the new purpose-built flats.

"Apart from fundraising, the only revenue we get at present is from rents coming in from the tenants, which has to pay for two full-time staff and a part-time cleaner, and there's no spare money."

Rotary House has 19 tenants living in 14 single bedsit flats with bedrooms, kitchens and bathrooms, two one-bedroom flats and three one-bedroom houses, ranging in age from early 20s to 60s, and with varying degrees of hearing difficulties.

But what was thought to be suitable accommodation in 1977 is not nowadays and the charity has started a programme of updating and modernising the facilities.

And with an ever-increasing waiting list, Mrs Goldsmith said: "The four new two-bedroom flats, which will take up largely unused space at the back of the site, will allow us to widen the doors to a different client base.

"This could include single parents who have custody of children on the weekend, married couples, or deaf people who need live-in carers. It will help fill that void."

Staff are on hand at the charity 24 hours a day, seven days a week, are competent in British Sign Language, and available to help with all day-to- day living skills and to encourage independent living, from applying to jobs, helping with letters and money management, to using public transport and other facilities in the area.

Mrs Goldsmith said: "Some tenants have been here 30 years, but they tend to be the older generation while the younger tenants come here and then move on. The younger generation are better off and more independent because they can use their mobile phones to text their friends."

To make tenants feel safe at all times, Rotary House has a door entry system plus flashing fire alarms with vibrating pillowshakers, and flashing door alerts.

Both Mrs Goldsmith and her deputy Tim Tufnail-Clarke also know what being deaf means, as they were both brought up in deaf families.

Mrs Goldsmith added: "We both know what it's like to live in the deaf world. My parents are both deaf and so are Tim's."

Len Hedges, chairman of the charity, said being picked as the civic charity was an honour, and added that the extra accommodation was desperately needed.

He said: "Rotary House is a small charity, and we hope this year we will be able to raise much-needed funds for four new flats.

"Many of our residents have been deaf from birth and are not able to speak either. It is not easy for them to make their way in the world. Rotary House is the only charity of its kind in the country and we are delighted to be this year's civic charity."

� If you can help with fundraising, contact Rotary House on 01603 626170, 07986 614242, or email