Matt Dixon: How York’s Deaf community has become split in two (BSL)

Posted on November 4, 2014

York Deaf club is somewhere I would consider to be my second home, especially when growing up.

In the 80’s and 90’s the place was always heaving, Saturday nights were always a social night where deaf people from far and wide would come and visit their friends, have a drink, a natter and play bingo.

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In the 90’s my mum ran a very popular youth club in the sports hall every Friday night, we played indoor hockey, basketball, football and in the summer months we went outside to play sports.

It was a lifeline for the deaf youth of York, and the youth club had in excess of 12 deaf kids all coming along. Now, that doesn’t sound like many people but when they had somewhere to hang out, play sports and chat about their week it was an extremely important night in the dairies of these kids, including myself, and  all of us are still friends some 20 years later.

Then things changed for some reason. Over time, the atmosphere died and people generally lost interest and moved to other deaf clubs like Hull and Leeds.

In recent times, a new social group called Jorvik connections (JDC) has been established. The group is made up of younger members who say they no longer feel welcome at York Deaf Society anymore and decided to move on and set up their own club.

The building which held York deaf society was the society’s main asset, a beautiful Georgian grade II listed building called Bootham House which is situated in the centre of York.

It has four floors and a sport hall connected to the rear of the main building. Unfortunately the financial situation got so dire that the club needed to be sold. Efforts were made to keep the club going, however it proved impossible and the decision was made for the building to be sold.

After a short time of being on the market it was sold for a substantial amount of money. According to members of JDC the York Deaf Society’s committee decided that they would look for new premises and have purchased a three bedroom bungalow in a residential estate outside of York city centre, currently they have housed themselves within a temporary building which unfortunately does not permit people under the age of 16 entering.

Members of JDC feel they are not being provided with information, they feel they can no longer approach the committee nor can they dissuade them purchasing this three bedroom bungalow, even though the majority of people I spoke to say that the new building is not suitable for their needs.

JDC members say they have tried to approach the committee numerous times in an attempt to open negotiations but feel they are not being listened to and as such decisions are being made on their behalf.

JDC’s membership has grown rapidly, you can find them on Facebook and twitter, the group meets every other Friday in a family friendly pub. The group already has in excess of 40 active members, having spoken to them they are clearly not happy with the decision being made on ‘their behalf’ and have called for York Council to investigate the funding provided to the York Deaf Society.

The JDC members explained that they have serious concerns that the new premises would not be able to accommodate the wider Deaf community, especially children, and that this current course of action being undertaken by the Society completely disregards the needs and requirements of the wider Deaf community. They also say that York Deaf society are focusing solely on the wishes of a very small cohort of Deaf people who are the current members.

JDC have set up a petition and open letter to York council asking for them to investigate this matter. On Thursday 9th October 2014 JDC’s Chairman Danny Dorney attended a Public participation meeting at Guildhall York and gave a presentation to Council representatives asking for the council to investigate York Deaf society (see the YouTube clip by clicking here, and going to 22.47 mins in) The result of which is that the council have agreed to investigate their financial situation.

I contacted York Deaf society and this is their response:

Unfortunately, due to the Deaf Society’s inability to maintain the cost and running of Bootham House, there was a collective decision by the Executive Committee to put it on the market. The sale was considerably delayed due to Nat West, originally National Provincial Bank, having mislaid the Deeds and so a new one had to be drawn up.

On 13th February 2014, prior to the sale in March 2014, members of the Deaf Society and non-members from the Deaf Community were informed by letter or through Facebook, and were consulted of the new premises the Society wished to purchase.

There was a majority vote and in April we made an offer. Early September 2014, after a delay with the Land Registry, 376A Huntington Road was finally purchased. As from February 2014 to September 2014 the Society’s Executive Committee never received any correspondence whatsoever from those who wished to dissuade them from purchasing the property.

The Social Club, initially for a short period of time, rented a room at the Acomb Conservative Club, which unfortunately does not allow children, for a few nights each month and to meet socially once or twice a month at the Carlton Tavern, Acomb, which does allow children before 8,00pm, but this stretched out with all the delay of the new deeds and the Land Registry.

Both the Society and the Social Club have never intentionally excluded children and in fact, the property was purchased with them in mind because of the back garden.

It must be remembered that the younger people left York Deaf Social Club some years ago, possibly due to the lack of sporting facilities and joined Leeds Deaf Club.

The older members were disappointed but accepted the situation. When Leeds Deaf Club closed and upon hearing Bootham House was to be put on the market, they returned, initially under the impression that their presence would save the day.

Anyway, they were made welcome as it was like the old days with the children running around, which evoked happy memories for the older members of their children who once played at the Club.

Not a mention has been made of the Resource Centre for Deafened People, a part of the Society for well over twenty years, which carry out a valuable service for those who are deafened or are becoming deaf.

The Society believes strongly that inclusion is of paramount importance and the Deaf Community can only grow and develop if all factions of the Deaf Community work together.

We hope that Jorvik Deaf Connections will be able to bear with the Deaf Society whilst the premises is renovated in order to accommodate the needs of the wider Deaf Community particularly the young, families and their children.

Matt Dixon is a campaigner for the rights of sign language users, a sign language interpreter and a member of the Spit the Dummy and Campaign for BSL Act Campaign Team. You can find out about Matt’s business by clicking here or follow Matt on Twitter @foreverbsl

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