‘A perfect world’ – Sight Loss Council Conference 2022
From 7 to 9 October 2022, we held our second annual Sight Loss Council Volunteer Conference in Birmingham.
Members from fourteen Sight Loss Councils (SLC) and 64 volunteers came together to network, collaborate, and celebrate their achievements. Their feedback of the event includes “diversity, energy, networking, creating change together, new projects and growth”.
The theme of this year’s conference was ‘A Perfect World’. This was explored over the weekend through guest speakers, workshops, and presentations.
“The perfect world would be waking up, knowing the right support is out there.”
Elliot, Young Voices
SLC members arrived on Friday afternoon to settle in. They also had the option to attend our drop-in social media surgeries to support their campaign work.
Darren Paskell, Head of Technology at Thomas Pocklington Trust, and Bristol Sight Loss Council member, Emma, were on hand to give practical advice and tips on how to maximise their use of social media platforms.
“It was fantastic to run the social media accessibility workshops, introducing Twitter to some of our wonderful volunteers. We have seen already their confidence grow and we are enjoying following their work online.”
Darren Paskell, Head of Technology, with Bristol SLC member Anela
The conference was officially opened on Saturday morning by Emma Hughes, Director of Services, at Thomas Pocklington Trust (TPT).
Special guest, Member of Parliament, Marsha De Cordova, delivered an inspiring keynote speech to our SLC members. She spoke of the challenges she experienced growing us as a blind person and shared the work she is doing to ensure a more inclusive world for blind and partially sighted (BPS) people.
“I want to see a world where blind and partially sighted people can flourish. A world where we have the same opportunities as everyone else. Where we can participate fully. I admire the people who have paved the way for me, and I want to do what I can, to make it easier for those who come behind me.
“We need to be the agents of the change we want to see. As we push for a society that includes us, we need to stay determined and not give up.”
Marsha De Cordova talking to delegates following her keynote speech
A Perfect world – according to Young Voices
We then had a video presentation from members of Young Voices, a group of volunteers aged 11-18, from across England. They shared why volunteering is so important to them.
Young Voices member, Yousef, said:
“It has allowed me to voice my opinion a lot more. It brings me out of my comfort zone and has given me a lot of confidence.”
“It has been a dream of mine to volunteer since I was a little boy. It gives me a chance to have my voice heard and shares a piece of me that I was once anxious to let out. It has improved my mental health as well and brings a weight off your shoulders. It can give you a real purpose in life.”
“I volunteer because I love helping other young people who are blind and visually impaired people try to achieve what they want to achieve.”
“I have always been passionate about raising awareness about visual impairment. Young voices gave me that chance.”
Elliott and Khansa went on to share what a perfect day, in a perfect world, looks like to them.
Khansa shared how a perfect world would be one in which others did not grab hold of blind or partially sighted people without permission.
“A perfect day, in a perfect world, would be feeling comfortable and not feeling discriminated against. Knowing that I will be given the support that someone who is visually impaired needs.”
Getting ready for Listening Month
The theme for Listening Month is ‘What matters to you?’ and focuses on reaching as many blind and partially sighted people as possible. There will a national survey, complimented by a variety of events and activities across the country. Feedback will be used across the sector and beyond, to inform government departments and sector partners about what matters to you. It will offer a great opportunity to talk about our work.
Image shows three delegates, relaxed and smiling
Sight Loss Council members then delivered workshops on a variety of topics. These were insightful and informative, sparking many lively conversations.
‘Linking the mental health and sight loss pathway in the NHS’
Hazel, Tyne and Wear SLC member, and Jeff Watson, Engagement Manager, North-East, delivered this powerful workshop. They shared details of their work to-date in this area, from running Visual Impairment (VI) Forums for blind and partially sighted people, to working with NHS providers. They also discussed what the perfect world could look like in terms of mental health services for blind and partially sighted people.
Conversation evolved to awareness of what support is available following sight loss, touching upon the time lapse between diagnosis and getting professional support. Hazel shared that less than 5 per cent of people with a visual impairment talk to a VI trained councillor.
Delegates observed that there needs to be a better link between GPs, Eye Care Liaison Officers (ECLOs), councillors and sight loss charities. Several volunteers shared how the lack of infrastructure and communication tools also affects their mental health.
Emma of Bristol Sight Loss Council said:
“We are individual people with individual needs. Listen to how we communicate and how to help us. That will help our mental health enormously. I am not a tick box, and tick boxes are the problem.”
‘Making retail more accessible’
- deliver VI Awareness training to staff
- create accessible maps and audio guides
- offer feedback on existing practises
- provide resources for staff away days
- create a ‘Top tips for retailers’ resource, set to be rolled out nationally on Purple Tuesday 2022.
Delegates were invited to share examples of positive and negative shopping experiences before conversation moved onto what the ‘perfect world’ looks like in retail. Consistency in store layout, a concierge or host to make yourself known to, and tactile maps were just some of the ideas shared.
Image shows delegates clapping their hands during the ‘Make Retail Accessible’ workshop
Paul, East Sussex Sight Loss Council member, said:
“We need to help retailers understand what we need and communicate this to staff. We need to be polite, chat to staff and be open. When they do something well, let them know. We need to have the confidence to make ourselves heard and this will give staff more confidence too.”
‘What’s next for the Accessible Information Standard (AIS)?’
Tom Jones, Campaigns Officer for Thomas Pocklington Trust, updated delegates on one of our most recent campaigns, The Accessible Information Standard (AIS).
In 2021, Bristol SLC wrote to the NHS Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), asking them to produce a report to show how the AIS has been implemented so far. Since this, they have had huge success in their work with local hospital trusts on the AIS.
Play the following videos to learn more:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JtNLsV-ffRw (Make AIS Work)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xJXDWgIdk5U (A Strategic Perspective on the AIS)
Nationally, we have had huge success too. Picking up on Bristol SLC’s work, we campaigned for the government to review the AIS. We then campaigned for them to deliver five key things to improve the standard.
- We want to see every NHS Trust, GP practice and health body required to have a local accessible information policy with clear monitoring measures.
- We want all NHS staff to receive core training in accessible information and how to communicate with patients and service users appropriately.
- We want all NHS bodies to be required to consult with blind and partially sighted service users on local implementation of accessible information and to seek regular feedback on the effectiveness of their systems.
- We want NHS England to monitor the implementation of the accessible information standard and produce an annual report on engagement with it.
- We want the Care Quality Commission to take on a specific responsibility for inspecting AIS compliance as part of their standard review programme.
The government has agreed to implement all five points.
Delegates sitting around a table during the AIS workshop
Other workshops included:
- ‘Getting your voice heard through a partnership group’ – Anela Wood, Bristol SLC member, and Alun Davies, Engagement Manager for Southwest.
- ‘Diversity and inclusion awareness’ – Sarah Stephenson-Hunter, Simply Equality
- ‘Working effectively with Eye Clinic Liaison Officers’ – Renu Jas, London SLC member, and Lucy Williams, Senior Engagement Manager for the South.
- ‘Planning an effective event’ – Verity Peat, York SLC
- ‘Bringing national campaigns to life locally’ – Tom Jones, Campaign Officer, for TPT.
Rodney Powell Awards
Our Sight Loss Council members and Engagement Managers then donned their finery for the 2022 Rodney Powell Awards.
These awards recognise and celebrate the huge contribution volunteers make to both the lives of blind and partially sighted people and the work of Thomas Pocklington Trust.
Judith Potts, trustee of TPT, opened the award ceremony. She said:
“We are not only hugely impressed by the work that you do, but so very grateful as well.”
The evening was hosted by Venetia Blind who is Wales’ first visually impaired drag queen. Venetia was funny and fabulous, none more so than when heckled by a disgruntled guide dog in the room.
Venetia Blind during her performance at the Rodney Powell Awards
“It is so clear to me that you are working towards changing the world. It is a great inspiration to be here with you all tonight.”
Image shows people sat during the Rodney Powell Awards, clapping their hands
‘Volunteer of the Year’ – Julie, Merseyside SLC
‘Team of the Year’ – Merseyside SLC
‘Campaign of the Year’ – Greater Manchester SLC
‘Outstanding contribution to volunteering’: Meena, Black Country SLC
Merseyside SLC standing together after winning their award
We also remembered, and paid tribute to three special people, who are sadly no longer with us.
- Gary Tunny from Greater Manchester Sight Loss Council.
- Shelagh Austin from Bristol Sight Loss Council.
- Frank McFarlane from Merseyside Sight Loss Council.
The commitment, contribution and dedication to their work was exemplary. Each working so hard to make a difference to the lives of blind and partially sighted people. We are grateful to have had the honour of working alongside them and they are dearly missed.
“We are tenacious, and our sphere of influence is greater than we think. We grow each day. We get stronger and better, and it is important to remember that. We are inspirational.” – Davinder, London SLC member.
Perfect World Presentations
The conference continued the next morning with presentations from several Sight Loss Councils.
York SLC shared their involvement on the ‘Reverse the Ban’ project. Aiming to help York reopen to blue badge holders, they have collected over 2,600 postcards signed with 600 people’s comments, detailing the impact the ban has BPS people.
Gloucestershire SLC went on to share details of their highly successful sim-spec walk with twenty councillors and officers from Gloucestershire councils.
Essex SLC shared their work with Essex Police, developing a protocol so BPS people can identify a police officer at their door. The new procedure involves using a one-time memorable password agreed between the caller and call handler at 101 or 999.
Birmingham and Black Country SLC went on to discuss their ongoing work and VI Awareness training to #MakeTransportAccessible. This has also included the production of a video on VI awareness and sighted guiding.
Merseyside SLC shared details of their hugely successful VI Forum with Metro Mayor. Over 80 blind and partially sighted people came together to discuss key issues that are most important to them.
Student Voices then gave a video presentation, sharing details of how they help inform and shape Thomas Pocklington Trust’s Student Support Service through their first-hand insight and experience. They explained how their work is growing and the work they have been involved in, including speaking at Parliament with Young Voices. They also shared the benefits of volunteering as a young person.
The last presentation was from Northumberland SLC, who discussed their partnership work with Newcastle Airport. They trialled the use of Apple AirTags in the baggage area, in a bid to make air travel more accessible to blind and partially sighted people.
“As a support worker, it is inspiring to see what is going on here. I am getting so much inspiration from the people here. It is something quite special.”
Vinnie – Support worker
Speed of Sight
Sunday closed on a high, with Mike Newman from Speed of Sight sharing his story.
Mike Newman, Speed of Sight, talking to two people
Mike is a nine times World Record Holder, and currently the fastest blind man on land and water on the planet.
He founded Speed of Sight to offer racetrack driving experiences a wide range of people across the disability spectrum, including blind and partially sighted individuals. The vehicles are all named after Mike’s guide dogs. They are also specifically designed with dual controls and twin steering wheels.
On hearing the presentations from Sight Loss Council members, he said:
“I’m truly inspired by Sight Loss Councils’ positive energy and the work you do to create positive change for others.”
After his presentation, SLC members got to try out one of his race cars for themselves outside the conference venue. Mike was also on hand to ask any questions, and members had the opportunity to have their photo taken in the car as a memento of the day.
SLC members are standing either side of one of Mike’s ‘Speed of Sight’ race cars
“Don’t let anyone tell you that you cannot achieve amazing things.” – Marsha De Cordova
Mary, Greater Manchester Sight Loss Council member said:
“It has been a very moving weekend, inspiring and rewarding.”
Rachael, Greater Manchester Sight Loss Council member, added:
“It is my first SLC conference and I have had a great weekend. I have learned lots, met some amazing people from other Sight Loss Councils and have taken a lot away.”
Hillary, West Yorkshire Sight Loss Council member, said:
“I found this event motivating. There is also such comradery and support of each other to create positive change.”
Belle, West Yorkshire Sight Loss Council member, added:
“We are meeting a lot of people at the conference and can empower each other. We are able to exchange many ideas.”
Greater Manchester SLC member, Anthony, said:
“I am loving this conference even better than last year. Being able to speak to people from a range of Sight Loss Councils who all have their own specialisms and are working in a different way is really important.
For example, some are strong on sport, and others retail, and others have run very successful events focused on audio description. We will be looking at taking this learning back to our own Sight Loss Council and, on the back of York SLC’s work, may look at implementing our own sports event.”
We would like to say a huge thank you to all our Sight Loss Council members, guest speakers, volunteers, and staff, who made our second #SLConference such a great success. We cannot wait for 2023.
Left to right: Louise Connop, Senior Engagement Manager, Central region, Iain Mitchell, Senior Engagement Manager for the North, and Lucy Williams, Senior Engagement manager for the South are raising a glass of bubbles to the camera
Publication date: 07 December 2022