History stems from chance meeting

Logan Anderson on the right, and retired instructor Bill Logan in the car.
Logan Anderson on the right, and retired instructor Bill Logan in the car.

As the golden anniversary of Guide Dogs in Forfar is marked this weekend, staff have reflected proudly on their achievements.

And as they look forward to the future, it has emerged their presence in the town results from a degree of chance that stems from a meeting in 1960 of Forfar Rotary Club.

Guest speaker and Guide Dogs Chairman of the Scottish Association, Dr John Gaylor, mentioned in passing that Guide Dogs was looking for a Scotland base.

Local GP James Miller and Rotary Club President Ed Nicoll were enthusiastic about Guide Dogs using Forfar as its Scottish home. They won the support of local politicians and businesses, and just as importantly, the local community.

A series of fundraising drives got underway in earnest and it can safely be said that the people of Forfar haven’t stopped supporting Guide Dogs since.

On March 26, 1962, Guide Dogs was presented with the title deeds of nine acres of ground in a traditional Scottish ceremony when a casket of soil and stones from Gallowshade was handed over.

The next landmark in the birth of the centre occurred on October 8, 1963, with the laying of the first foundation stone on the old Dundee Road site.

Upon laying the stone, Provost Renilson commented: “I can think of no other cause, and many appeals are made to us, which has so moved the people of this town and the surrounding district.”

George Cram was appointed as centre controller, while another key recruit was secretary receptionist Alma Sharp. Alma was herself a guide dog owner. In a neat parallel, visitors to the centre these days are welcomed by Marjory Hughes, with her now retired guide dog popularly known as Mr Mouse.

The local community’s hard work and enthusiasm culminated in the official opening of the centre by HRH Princess Alexandra, on July 19, 1965.

The Princess commented: “The people of Forfar have demonstrated the lively and practical concern they feel for Scotland’s blind men and women.”

Having the centre up and running spurred on local people in supporting the cause and Guide Dogs offers all its supporters, now and then, its eternal and heartfelt thanks.

A major landmark in the history of both the charity and the Forfar centre was achieved in November 1972, when Pat Miles became the first woman in Britain to qualify as a Guide Dog Mobility Instructor.

The 500th qualified dog to pass through the centre was Beauty, a black Labrador bitch, teamed with John Russell, a retired Forfar teacher.

In 1978, STV helped put Forfar on the international map with an intimate portrait of guide dog owners Margaret Pender of Falkirk and Jane Kelly of Glenrothes, with their yellow Labradors Willow and Ivy. The programme – which included a memorable sequence of the pair letting their hair down in the Queen Street Bar - was networked in Canada and Australia.

Nationwide TV exposure came in November 1992 with Sir Harry Secombe’s Highway programme on ITV.

But by the 2000s, the centre’s once modern architecture was no longer considered best practise for kennelling dogs, and a new flagship Training School was designed to provide a more relaxing, stimulating and enjoyable environment for the pups and dogs.

Fittingly, HRH Princess Alexandra again performed the honours in 2008 when Guide Dogs officially opened its Training School in the Orchardbank Business Park.

Since then, around 200 trainee guide dogs each year receive their foundation training in Forfar.

And this year the special Golden Anniversary puppy is Bridie. The Labrador and Golden Retriever cross was carefully named to represent the relationship between Guide Dogs and Forfar.

A Guide Dogs spokesman said: “There is perhaps no better way to symbolise the best of Guide Dogs than a trainee guide dog puppy. Volunteers, fundraisers, puppy walkers, and staff work together on investing an invaluable contribution in a young pup which will one day change the life of someone with sight loss.

“It is these generous relationships, between ordinary people whose names often don’t make the pages of history books, that tell the true story of the past 50 years, and is the cause of our optimism for the years ahead.”

The history of Guide Dogs in Forfar was put on record in 1995 by retired Forfar journalist Laurie Rogers with his book, ‘Forward with Forfar’.