Bedfordshire Sight Loss Council celebrates impact on third birthday

Bedfordshire Sight Loss Council (SLC) and partners are celebrating their work to increase the accessibility of local services – as the SLC celebrates its third birthday.

Since 2021, Bedfordshire Sight Loss Council (SLC) has continued its work with partners to #MakeTransportAccessible across rail, bus, and air travel. They have worked to make streets accessible, as well as several other local projects.

For our priority theme of transport, we were delighted to contribute to the development and launch of the Luton DART shuttle service. SLC members were involved in the design and planning of the service, fed back on the newly built station, were involved in the testing phases prior to launch, and provided vision awareness sessions to all staff. They also provided guidance and support to London Luton’s Accessibility forum. This was to improve infrastructure, processes, procedures, and BPS people’s customer journey.

SLC members are also working with partners to trial new ways of working. For example, they are working with Govia Thameslink Railway to improve the accessibility of their services, trial apps and tailor events to the needs of BPS people.

Members provided feedback on wayfinding to a new platform at Stevenage station as well as the use of ticket offices. More recently, they were involved in the rollout of a wayfinding app at the station. They are also supporting the development of Govia’s ‘Try a train’ event at key stations across England. SLCs helped shape ‘Try a Train’ events around the needs of blind and partially sighted (BPS) passengers for the first time.

Making country parks accessible

Bedfordshire SLC has also worked with partners to produce an audio guide of a country map for BPS people, working with Forest of Marston Vale and Millennium Country Park.

They have delivered vision awareness sessions to staff and volunteers, and a workshop on audio-description. This has led to the collaborative creation of an audio described park map. They are also producing audio descriptions for all park brochures with the support of the University of Honolulu. This has been a great opportunity to engage with all staff and volunteers. We are really excited to continue this ongoing partnership.

Bedfordshire SLC members using tactile markings on the platform, whilst walking alongside the DART Shuttle train.

Bedfordshire SLC members using tactile markings on the platform, whilst walking alongside the DART Shuttle train.

Partner feedback on SLC impact

Here is some feedback from partners on some of this work.

Lindsey Marriot – Head of Operational Training, Learning and Development, Ethos Farm, said:

“When we met Samantha and Bedfordshire SLC, we knew they shared the same warmth and care toward improving inclusive service as we do.

“We asked Samantha to help us prepare our team to ensure they deliver the best possible inclusive service on the Luton DART transport system. They delivered a wonderful 3.5 hour vision awareness session and opened up the world of how blind and partially sighted people travel.

“The session was fun, insightful, and incredibly inspiring for our team. They benefitted enormously from the session, and it meant they had the confidence and competence to support people with sight loss from day one.

“As a result of this work, TPT and SLCs will deliver quarterly sessions for our teams at Heathrow, Westfield Shopping Centres, and Battersea Power Station. This has become one of our most sought after learning sessions and we look forward to working together over the coming years to improve understanding and support, and ensure we deliver an inclusive service to our guests.”

Antony Merlyn, Accessibility Engagement Manager at Govia Thameslink Railway, added:

“Working in collaboration with local Sight Loss Councils and Thomas Pocklington Trust has enabled us to further understand the barriers that can be faced by blind and partially sighted people.

“This partnership has enabled us to explore potential solutions such as Aira. We are really grateful for the ongoing support provided by Sight Loss Councils, and look forward to continuing this partnership.”

Jo Roberts,  Community Engagement Officer, Forest of Marston Vale, said:

“Our partnership with Sam and Bedfordshire SLC came about when we were contacted by Central Beds Council. They brought members of Bedfordshire SLC for a walk at Millennium Country Park and gave us valuable feedback. Following this, we met up with members of the SLC here at Marston to discuss how we could make our sites more accessible.

“Since then, Sam and the SLC have provided fabulous vision awareness sessions and delivered a audio description workshop for our staff and volunteers. This has led to us working together to audio describe our country park map for other blind and partially sighted visitors.

“We look forward to finalising this project and what happens next. We have discussed creating an audio description of the walks around the country park, which would be a very exciting next step.

“I am confident that this partnership is one which will lead to positive improvements for our vision impaired visitors in the future.”

Andrew Wright – Founder and CEO, Accessible Travel Consultancy Services, added:

‘I personally want to wish Bedfordshire SLC a happy third birthday, with particular thanks to Samantha, Bedfordshire SLC, and her colleagues at Thomas Pocklington Trust.

“Their guidance and support has been invaluable to the London Luton Airport Accessibility Forum, and we have discussed many topics over the course of the year.

“This has included improvements to our infrastructure, processes and procedures, and above all else, how to improve the customer journey for blind and partially sighted passengers.

“With support from Bedfordshire SLC, we will continue this valuable work to ensure the airport remains accessible and inclusive for all.”

Members of Bedfordshire SLC are stood with Samantha Leftwich, Engagement Manager for East England. They are stood on a platform at Stevenage train station as part of the Aira trial. They are all holding their smartphones in one hand, their long cane in the other.

Bedfordshire SLC members at Stevenage station trialling a wayfinding app

SLC celebrates its achievements with partners

Phil Rutter, a founding member of Bedfordshire SLC, said:

“One piece of work I am really proud of was our work with Luton DART. On this project, we ensured they prioritised the needs of their blind and partially sighted passengers.

“We contributed throughout the planning stage, the building program, some final adjustments prior to its opening, and trialled the service ahead of its launch.

“Being involved from the inception of this project ensured that the needs of the vision impaired have been considered within all stages of development. I consider it to have been a successful project for Bedfordshire SLC, and hopefully a blueprint for all other major local projects in the future.”

Samantha Leftwich, Engagement Manager for East England, added:

“I am hugely proud of the work that Bedfordshire SLC has done over the last three years. We have made some incredible connections, and are now starting to see real positive changes in the local area as a result of our work.

“We were delighted to be nominated for ‘Team of the year’ and ‘Project of the year’ at the 2023 Rodney Powell Awards. It felt like a true reflection of our achievements.

“We look forward to continuing our engagement with a range of service providers, and forging new relationships with those in the sport and leisure sector. Working in partnership, to create a more accessible county for everyone.

“I can’t thank each and every one of our members enough, as well as everyone who has worked with us. We can’t do what we do without you, so thank you!”

If you would like to collaborate with Bedfordshire Sight Loss Council on a project, please get in touch.

Looking ahead

This year, Bedfordshire SLC will continue to focus on accessible transport across the region. They will work to increase accessibility in the built environment, and build on their local project to make sport and leisure more accessible.

This is in response to our findings during Thomas Pocklington Trust and Sight Loss Council’s Listening Month campaign in which BPS people told us what matters to them the most.

Phil and Hubert, Bedfordshire SLC members, pictured during a walk with members of Central Bedfordshire Council's Right of Way team.

Paul Day and other members of Bedfordshire SLC pictured during a walk with Central Bedfordshire Council’s ‘Right of ways’ team

Join Bedfordshire Sight Loss Council

Bedfordshire Sight Loss Council is recruiting new members who live in the local area.

If you are blind and partially sighted and want to improve services for visually impaired people, we want to hear from you.

You’ll get the opportunity to create positive change for others, meet like-minded people, have a voice, receive training and enhance your skills. If you’re interested in public speaking or honing your social media skills, there’s something for you to get involved in.

Join us

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Publication date: 15 February 2024

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