I’m in a reflective mood as I am just about to complete my first year working for Thomas Pocklington Trust (TPT) as its North West Engagement Manager, tasked with setting up and overseeing Sight Loss Councils (SLCs) in that region.

 

Joining the SLCs

I remember seeing the job advert and thinking “interesting” which quickly turned into “how exciting, what an opportunity to make a difference.” Previously, I worked in social care with adults with autism and learning difficulties.

SLCs offers a new, innovative and creative opportunity for blind and partially sighted people to come together ensuring the voice of blind and partially sighted communities could be heard. By raising awareness and influencing change on the issues that affected them the most in their local area, they are able to make an impact. To achieve this, SLCs work collaboratively with local providers, councils, health professionals, local businesses and services operators.

I thought “was all this too good to be true?” Certainly not. There are excellent examples of SLCs such as in Birmingham, which is working in partnership with bus companies, the NHS, and Purple Tuesday. It shows how this could be rolled out to other areas of the country.

Image shows Iain Mitchell.

Iain Mitchell.

 

Recruiting volunteers and networking

As soon as I started, the reality of what was involved hit home. Not only did I have to recruit a group of volunteers interested in our work, we also had to find a way of to ensure we were able to sit on committees and forums to make sure our voices were heard.

It takes time to form an effective network as it’s not just about gathering contacts it’s about building trust, getting to know each other and understanding how you can benefit each other, how they can assist you and how you can benefit and feed into the work they do. It’s a symbiotic relationship and over time will bear fruit, but it does need time to nurture.

Volunteers are our lifeblood

Of course, the most vital part of the Sight Loss Council are the volunteers. In Merseyside, we have some amazing people who are experienced, talented and above all else are dedicated to the work and the projects of the Sight Loss Council. All of them have sight loss in some form, and all have their own lived experience, but it is their uniqueness that enables them to have the insight of knowing how best to approach each challenge that arises. We don’t campaign as such, rather we champion the abilities, talents and experience we all collectively have as blind and partially sighted people. We don’t just identify problems; we positively work at finding solutions.

What have we done so far?

The Merseyside Sight Loss Council had its first meeting in May this year. Since then we have:

  • Helped develop a Merseytravel Passenger Charter, with the Merseyside Transport Committee.
  • Contributed to NHS procedures on the reasonable adjustments to visually impaired patients accessing services.
  • Advised the city’s Employment and Skills Council.
  • Had an active role in the Corporate Access Forum.
  • Sat on the Sensory Group for Sefton NHS Trust.
  • Became a member of the Merseyside Vision Consortium and VISPA, which is actively involved in VI sports.
  • Started working with the Apple Store in Liverpool to provide a dedicated training session for visually impaired customers to learn how to use the accessibility features on their iPhones and iPads.
  • Organised our participation in Purple Tuesday at St John’s and The Croft’s Shopping Centres on 12th November.
  • And finally, we have established a partnership with a number of employment groups to deliver an Employment Engagement Event called Bridge the Gap to be hosted at Anfield by Liverpool Football Club early in 2020.

So, I will raise a glass to the first year and look forward to a productive second which will see a Sight Loss Council being set up in Manchester. Personally, this has been a fantastic year, as I have met and worked with some incredible people and been supported by a great management team at TPT, but above all else it is the work of the volunteers who have made this year a special stand out year. Thank you all, there are not many jobs that are as rewarding as this one.

Find out more about the Sight Loss Councils on their website.