Deaf clubs have been an important place for many deaf people, especially during the late 19th /20th century, as they gave deaf people a sense of ‘belonging’ and identity. Deaf clubs were a place to mingle with other deaf people, attending events such as day trips, bingo, church services, indoor games, parties, youth clubs, and playing sports such as football. Deaf clubs are a place where deaf people use their own language – British Sign Language – which for many people is an important feature of deaf heritage and something that has traditionally been passed down from generation to generation.
In the last 20-30 years there were some significant changes that caused deaf clubs/groups to close, for example, some deaf people decided not to engage with deaf clubs and prioritised other activities that were open to them.
However, there was a time where deaf people were more marginalised in society and faced a lot of discrimination; for these people going to deaf clubs was not an option, it was a lifesaver.
The ministers based in deaf clubs would not only hold church services, they also helped people to find jobs, helped with communication in interviews, and so on.
Their roles were taken over by social workers, advocates, and interpreters. There was no technology such as smartphones back then – deaf people would contact each other by letters, or meet up in deaf clubs to plan their own arrangements!
Better medical interventions, such as the rubella and MMR jab, meant a reduction in the number of babies born deaf; a new Act of Parliament created back in the 1970s/1980s, encouraging deaf children to go to mainstream schools instead of going to deaf/residential schools, meant that the deaf clubs that had been set up by staff from the deaf institutions to enable deaf people to meet up and socialise became less significant.
For over 150 years we have slowly seen the dwindling of the number and significance of deaf clubs, so now where can deaf people preserve their own deaf identity/values/language for future generations?
Do young people relate to deaf clubs?
Is there an opportunity to reinvent the deaf club for a new generation?
Do you have a story about deaf clubs or want to know more about or get involved with the Solar Flares: Deaf Heritage project, then email: email@example.com
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