GUIDE Dogs, which celebrates its 90th anniversary this October, is paying tribute to Leamington for playing a vital role in the creation of its iconic guide dog service.
The first four guide dogs in the UK, Flash, Folly, Meta and Judy, were trained in Wallasey, Cheshire, in October 1931.
After this, a temporary centre in Wallasey, known as ‘The Cliff’ was used, but when this site was requisitioned during the Second World War, the search for a permanent home for The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association began.
Several areas were considered including Manchester, Derbyshire and Surrey, but Leamington was considered the best location due to the rural and urban areas it offered for dog training, its central location and its road networks.
On July 27, 1940, Edmondscote Manor became the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association’s first permanent home, receiving its first blind students in 1941.
Since then, Edmondscote Manor, now known as the Guide Dogs Midlands Regional Centre, and the town of Leamington, have remained essential training locations for Guide Dogs.
Graham Kensett, Head of Canine Assisted Services for Guide Dogs Midlands and East, said: “Without Edmondscote Manor and the town of Leamington, Guide Dogs would not be the organisation it is today.
“Establishing our first permanent training centre in Leamington was a key turning point in our history, allowing us to develop our guide dog service and grow as an organisation, which today provides a range of services to people with sight loss.
“We now have over 100 staff members based in Leamington and around 200 potential guide dogs are trained on the streets of the town each year.
“Just as when the centre was purchased, Leamington and the surrounding areas still offer fantastic training environments for our dogs, with a good mix of urban and rural spaces.”
When the Covid pandemic hit, around 70 trainee guide dogs in Leamington had to take a break from their training.
Dogs were boarded full-time with local volunteers and guide dog training stopped for three months.
Graham added: “We are so grateful to all the local volunteers who’ve supported us during the Covid-19 pandemic and over the decades.
“Every day, 250 more people join the 2million in the UK already living with sight loss, and our services remain highly in demand.
“We look forward to delivering our life-changing services from Leamington Spa and across the country during the next 90 years and beyond.”
A guide dog begins its formal training at around 12 to 14 months old.
In normal circumstances, most dogs qualify as working guide dogs by the age of two.
To find out how you can support the Guide Dogs 90 Appeal this October visit www.guidedogs.org.uk/guide-dogs-appeal/