South West London SLC celebrates first anniversary

This time last year, volunteer members from the boroughs of Croydon, Merton, Sutton and Wandsworth got together to launch South West London Sight Loss Council (SLC). This month, it celebrates it first anniversary and key achievements.

Since its inception, South West London SLC has been incredibly active and also gained membership in Kingston on Thames. Members have got fully involved in a variety of campaigns and activities. To mark the first anniversary of the South West London SLC, we decided to look back on some of the highlights of the past 12 months.

Highlights of the year

The first highlight was chosen by SLC volunteer member Haren Thillainathan from Wandsworth. Haren cites his work establishing and developing the SLC’s relationship with Wandsworth Borough Council and its impact. He explains:

Head shot of SLC volunteer Haren“This has provided a platform for us to engage Wandsworth on several key built environment issues. Achievements include persuading Wandsworth to cancel planned floating bus stops and to commit to the principles of our E-bike charter. Furthermore, I, along with my SLC colleagues had a ’walkthrough‘ session with the council’s engineering department. This enabled us to provide direct feedback on walkway and cycle lane design options, which received a positive reaction from one of our local Members of Parliament, Marsha de Cordova.”

Exploring assistive technology

Keeping with the local focus, we recently visited Sutton Rail Station. This was to support the launch of Aira, the versatile guiding app. Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) partnered with Sight Loss Councils to install this app in a number of its stations. SLCs have supported the testing, launch and promotion of the technology to BPS people.

SLC member from Sutton, Vicky Blencow, was really pleased that her nearest station had been chosen to be one of those to have AIRA. Vicky said:

Head shot of SLC member Vicky“It was great to be able to trial Aira at my local station, Sutton.  Members of the Sutton Vision Working group kindly offered to come along and try the app.  They enjoyed a good experience using the app to find the shop, train details and the appropriate platforms. All reported a feeling of empowerment and independence that the assistance guidance brought to them. GTR has extended this trial to 12 stations across London and the south-east. This expansion of the initiative is truly fabulous and we need to raise awareness. This is so that blind and partially sighted (BPS) people regain independence when accessing railway stations and onward travel.”

From strength to strength

Activity has extended beyond south-west London too. Volunteers travelled to Southwark and Westminster to look at revised walking routes between bus stops, as part of the Central London Bus Review.

Returning to the theme of navigation apps, volunteers from south-west London also visited Dockland Light Railway (DLR) stations, including Cutty Sark and Canary Wharf, to trial and report back on the NaviLens app.

Harry Meade further developed the relationship with Transport for London (TfL). He also attended a meeting with the TfL Engineering Fleet Renewals Team and gave a short presentation. He said:

Image shows South West London SLC member, Harry Meade. He has his head turned to the camera and is smiling. he is standing in front of a door, smiling.“Part of the meeting was focused on how they, as engineers, could improve the travel experience of disabled people. It was clear to those of us present that the engineers were really keen to do whatever they could when renewing their fleet of rolling stock to make it as accessible as possible.

“I was able to draw on the many conversations we had had within both the Transport sub-group and the SWL SLC in making my suggestions. They certainly seemed to take our ideas, such as good colour contrast, on board. Let’s hope they are incorporated when the time comes.”

SLC national conference

In October 2023, our volunteers from south-west London went even further afield when they attended the 2023 annual conference in Birmingham. SLC volunteer Mary Cox found it particularly rewarding. She said:

Head shot of SLC member Mary“It was great talking to so many people from across the UK. We found people who shared common interests and desires to bring about improvements that will make positive changes for visually impaired people. Exchanging ideas and experiences encouraged me. It reminded me that we are contributing to bigger projects than can be achieved by solitary campaigners.”

Lilian Danquah, a Croydon-based SLC member, has found the experience of volunteering has helped with her own personal development too. She added:

Head shot of SLC member Lilian“Since joining the SLC in June, I have gained valuable skills and knowledge to better navigate life with vision impairment. Through training, I now understand different cane types and use voice typing for ease of computer use. I also learnt about apps like NaviLens, AIRA, Wayfinder, Be My Eyes and Lookout to assist with independent travel to shops. The Sight Loss Council conference in Birmingham also connected me with others, sharing activities and ideas.”

Looking forward

South West London SLC has now grown to nine volunteers and is looking forward to further pursuing its objectives of building relationships that will lead to improvements in all areas. These areas include transportation, the built environment and retail for the community it represents.  Many happy returns.

South East London volunteers needed

Do you live in South East London and would you like to join our South East London SLC? We are currently recruiting for our South-East London SLC and are keen to hear from blind and partially sighted people in the boroughs of Lambeth, Bromley and Bexley.

Learn how you can join us

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Publication date: 05 April 2024

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