“The power of lived experience” – Sight Loss Council Conference 2023

On 8 and 9 October, we held our third annual Sight Loss Council Volunteer Conference in Birmingham. The conference was supported by Navilens, and this year’s theme was ‘The Power of Lived Experience.’

Over 80 blind and partially sighted (BPS) volunteers from 20 Sight Loss Councils (SLC) came together to explore this theme through a series of workshops focussed on SLC priority areas.

These priorities included volunteers using their lived experience to make transport and streets accessible so everyone can travel independently and safely. They also explored work to increase the accessibility of healthcare, shopping, museums and galleries, and sports and leisure facilities – including listening to a talk by David Clarke OBE, Chief Executive of the British Paralympic Association.

Sight Loss Councils have had many successes in all these areas, some of which were celebrated at the Thomas Pocklington Trust (TPT) Rodney Powell Volunteer Awards held in the evening.

Anna Baldwin, York SLC member, being guided in-between workshops.

Anna Baldwin and Lesley Robinson, North Yorkshire SLC members, arriving at the 2023 SLC Conference

Day one

Emma Hughes, Director of Services at TPT, opened the conference.

During her opening, she said:

“The Sight Loss Council conference is an opportunity for all of us at TPT to say a huge thank you to all of you for your commitment, enthusiasm, and passion in driving and influencing change for blind and partially sighted people.

“People may have heard the term ‘nothing about us, nothing without us’, but SLCs take it one step further. You help others to experience what you experience every day. You work positively with partners, ensuring that they listen to and understand your needs, and work with them to remove barriers to deliver truly inclusive services.

“We will only make the world accessible if BPS people are involved at every stage. This is what you campaign for in your roles as SLC members, and we will be celebrating this throughout the conference.”

Emma Hughes, Director of Services for Thomas Pocklington Trust, during her opening address.

Emma Hughes, Director of Services, Thomas Pocklington Trust, during her opening address

Making Transport Accessible: Through the Power of Lived Experience

Sight Loss Councils across England are prioritising making transport accessible. This is because sixty-five per cent of BPS respondents told Thomas Pocklington Trust and Sight Loss Councils that accessible travel was most important to them. (Listening month, 2022).

At the conference, we were joined by a panel of travel operators, including representatives from Rail Delivery Group (RDG), Transport for West Midlands, Stagecoach, and Brighton and Hove Buses.

Each gave updates on their approaches to make transport more accessible and future plans, before a question-and-answer session.

During the session, Dominic Lund-Cohen, Accessibility and Inclusion Manager at RDG, said:

“Train journeys are an emotional thing. We need to meet you where we say we will meet you and make it seamless for customers. If something doesn’t work, please tell us it doesn’t work because we don’t want it to happen again.

“If you need us to do something to get you there [on your journey], please ask us.”

From left to right: Dominic Lund-Cohen, Accessibility and Inclusion Manager at Rail Delivery Group, Victoria Garcia, Accessibility and Communities manager, Brighton and Hove buses, Tom Jones, Campaigns Officer at TPT, David Harris, Transport Strategy Planner for Transport for West Midlands, and Gemma Toolan, Head of Customer Experience for Stagecoach.

From left to right: Dominic Lund-Cohen, Accessibility and Inclusion Manager at Rail Delivery Group, Victoria Garcia, Accessibility and Communities manager, Brighton and Hove buses, Tom Jones, Campaigns Officer at TPT, David Harris, Transport Strategy Planner for Transport for West Midlands, and Gemma Toolan, Head of Customer Experience for Stagecoach.

Engagement Managers shared examples of their work with transport operators across the country to make transport accessible. This includes their work with:

  • Govia Thameslink Railway to trial an app that connects BPS people to a remote advisor to improve assistance in railway stations.
  • West Midlands Trains to create an ‘Accessibility Matters’ training video for all staff.
  • TIER and Lime Bike to promote parking etiquette.
  • TIER to develop a universal shared acoustic alert for e-scooters.

Volunteers were then put into breakout groups to generate further ideas on how transport operators can harness the power of lived experience to improve accessibility.

Laura and Ella, Worcestershire SLC members, pictured with Jagdeep, Birmingham and Black Country SLC member. They are seated at a table and Ella is talking into a microphone. Members of staff are pictured, seated, in the background.

Laura and Ella, Worcestershire SLC members, with Jagdeep, Birmingham and Black Country SLC member

Making the Built Environment Accessible: Through the Power of Lived Experience

“None of us are against street cafes. What we want is proper equality impact assessment done so they are safe. We need a safe environment to get around. We are going to our councils and local authorities to make our voices heard on this issue.”

Iain Mitchell, Senior Engagement Manager, North England

Our second session focused on SLCs’ work on the built environment to make our streets accessible for BPS people. Senior Engagement Managers shared regional activity, before volunteers discussed successful outcomes of this work.

Volunteers looked at ways SLCs can collectively develop new ways of working to maximise our impact.

Discussion points included:

  • the development of a three-point strategy. This asks local authorities to adopt the Social Model of Disability, employ an Access Officer, and implement a street charter. This is currently being trialled by our Yorkshire SLCs.
  • working collaboratively and encouraging the police to work with us on the barriers BPS face
  • working at a grass roots level to increase awareness of challenges BPS face
  • collaboration is key. Sharing knowledge and communication of what is working
  • continue to build positive relationships with stakeholders, working in partnership to build trust
  • create a template to work with local mayors has proven successful in some areas
  • implement an ‘Accessible City Strategy’
  • accountability.

David Parfett, SLC Coordinator for the North West, reading from a large sheet of paper with notes on it at a table of delegates during a session at the SLC conference.

David Parfett, SLC Coordinator for the north west, reading notes from a large sheet of paper with delegates

Rodney Powell Volunteer Awards

In the evening, Tricia Sail, one half of the winning team on the BBC1 series Race Across the World, hosted the Rodney Powell Volunteer 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.

Tricia Sail, host of this years RPA awards, talking into a microphone.

Tricia Sail, host of the 2023 Rodney Powell Awards.

Learn more and about our winners

Day two

Local project sessions

Day two started with our volunteers heading into our local project sessions. SLC members came together to collaborate, share good practice, and influence future work around our local projects.

These projects focus on increasing the accessibility of arts and culture, health, sport and leisure, and retail.

Millie Hayter, Worcestershire SLC member, talking into a microphone during the SLC conference.

Millie Hayter, Worcestershire SLC member, speaking into a microphone


Our accessible health session was led by our West Midlands and South West England Sight Loss Councils.

We were delighted to be joined by Alex Evans, Patient Experience and Engagement Lead, at Birmingham Community Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust.

Alex detailed his work with Birmingham SLC, before updating on the changes made as a result.

This includes:

  • implementing a passport system. This is a document where all patients’ needs are recorded and shared with anyone involved in their care.
  • vision awareness sessions with 1000 nurses. An additional 40-50 community teams having access to this learning.
  • NHS Always event. This is an NHS England initiative which focuses on the things that ‘should always happen’.

West of England SLC then shared details of their work with North Bristol Trust, and Universities Bristol & Weston Trust.
Highlights of this work includes:

  • their work on the Accessible Information Standard, which includes: creating a video to promote the AIS, sitting on AIS steering groups, participating in an AIS roadshow, producing an e-learning package, and implementing ‘ward champions’ for accessibility
  • numerous simulation spec walks which simulate eye conditions and vision awareness sessions
  • working with patient partner and experience groups.

SLC volunteers then discussed some of the barriers they encountered and ways to overcome them. The session closed with delegates discussing what good practice and advice they could pass on to other SLCs and how to measure their success.

Anela Wood, West of England SLC member, talking during the Health project session at the 2023 SLC conference. She has an air pod in her ear. Other delegates are shown listening to her.

Anela Wood, West of England SLC member, speaking during the Health project session

Arts and culture

In this session, delegates heard from each SLC on the work they are doing to make arts and culture more accessible.

They shared key considerations and requests when forging new relationships with theatres, museums, and galleries, and developing resources to support this work. Delegates also discussed tactile displays, including through using 3D printing.

“It’s not just about a description anymore, it’s about how we get drawn in. How do we make it immersive; how do we take people on the journey?”

Iain Mitchell, Senior Engagement Manager for North England

Iain Mitchell, Senior Engagement Manager for the North, speaking into a microphone. A SLC banner is behind him.

Iain Mitchell, Senior Engagement Manager for North England, talking into a microphone


In this session, we were joined by Oran McAllister, Client Engagement Manager at NaviLens, and Paul Gallagher, Global Accessibility Lead, Proctor and Gamble.

It was an engaging session. SLC members tested the NaviLens app to identify products, and Proctor and Gamble showed volunteers a range of their products with tactile markings on them.

In breakout groups, delegates discussed their current retail projects and how they can drive forward their future work with supermarkets.

South west London and London SLC members pictured during the retail project session. They are all looking forwards. On the table in front of them is a selection of products which are compatible with the naviLens aop.

Delegates during the retail project session. Products with the NaviLens code on them are pictured on the table

Sport and leisure

The sport and leisure project session included passionate conversations about improving opportunities for BPS people to be active.

SLC members explained it is evident that there is more that could be achieved to highlight the activities that exist and get people moving a little more. Volunteers emphasised the importance of a multi-channelled approach to signposting to opportunities.

Volunteers highlighted the importance that key professionals and services play in identifying activities that could improve physical and mental health. This includes health care professionals, local authorities, care workers, social prescribers, local leisure and sport providers, and local sight loss organisations.

Volunteers felt that this, backed with positive, lived experience messaging, would further strengthen the case for people being more active. This could be delivered through case studies and social media activity.

Belle Whitely, SLC coordinator for Yorkshire and Humberside, pictured talking to Matty Bolam, SLC member, jack Moffat, Engagement Manager for the north east, and Becky, a support worker who is taking notes, during the sports project session.

Belle Whitely, SLC Cordinator for Yorkshire and Humberside, Matty, Northumberland SLC member, Jack Moffat, Engagement Manager for the North East, and support worker Becky, who is taking notes during the sports project session

Keynote speaker

We were delighted to welcome David Clarke OBE, CEO of Paralympics GB, as our key note speaker.

David spoke of his early childhood and rejections from universities, early career in banking, and his journey into sport.

He spoke of the need for communication and education with our sighted peers. He also described the importance of aspirations from an early age. David explained that we should make sure we have challenging conversations with all stakeholders, including parents, to ensure young people are empowered and inspired to succeed.

He added:

“Its hard work being a trailblazer. Change can be slow, so I take my hat off to you for taking up the challenge. It has been fantastic to hear the issues being discussed this weekend.

“So many of you have the desire and passion to make change happen. I encourage you to have the energy and fortitude to carry on. If you keep knocking on doors, they do eventually break down.

“My thank you is to you, for the incredible work that you are doing to make change for people like me, for people like you. You are making this incredible change.”

David Clarke OBE, and Charles Colquhoun, CEO of Thomas Pocklington Trust. They are stood together against a wood panelled wall, smiling at the camera. David is wearing a white SLC hoodie.

David Clarke OBE, and Charles Colquhoun, CEO of Thomas Pocklington Trust

Delegate feedback

“I am enjoying the access and opportunity [at the conference] to diversify and broaden our horizons between different Sight Loss Councils and acquire valuable information to progress the VI community.”

Edward, Worcestershire SLC

“I had a great time at the Sight Loss Council conference. There is so much amazing work going on across the country. It was great to take the time to share and celebrate it with my fellow volunteers”

Vicki, West Yorkshire SLC

“I am enjoying networking and socialising, building new relationships, and discussing all our different projects.

“The panel speakers were great – it was a really informative session. I am learning so much about what is out there, and I can take this learning to other people in a similar situation.”

Nikki, South West London SLC

Nikki, Jennifer, and Lilian, South West London SLC members. They are stood outside Aston Conference centre upon arrival at the 2023 SLC Conference.

From left to right: South West London SLC members, Nikki, Jennifer, and Lilian

“I have been to all sorts of conferences over the years. Never have I felt so comfortable, so relaxed and as welcome as I was at this one. Thank you everyone.”

Chris, West Yorkshire SLC

“It’s been a great weekend of networking and seeing our friends from other Sight Loss Councils.

“It is great to come together to find out what other people are working on and hear their progress and positivity around their work. It’s a great opportunity to share and learn from each other’s successes.

“I love being an SLC volunteer because it enables me to help improve the lives of BPS people and increase the independence of people with sight loss.”

Steve, Birmingham and Black Country SLC

Steve Keith, Birmingham and Black Country SLC member, pictured with his hand in the air whilst smiling during a workshop

Steve Keith, Birmingham and Black Country SLC member, laughing with his hand raised

“I have loved meeting everyone and making new friends this weekend. I have spoken to so many new people and have so many ideas to take back to our Sight Loss Council.

“There are some great campaigns which keep coming up. It is great that we can be together, to take inspiration from each other and the work other SLCs are doing. It is invaluable that we can take this learning back.

“I like the idea of Sight Loss Councils uniting in their work on a bigger scale so we can achieve even more than we already do.”

Yahya, Gloucestershire Sight loss Council

Julie Stephens, her husband Stuart, and Yayha Pandor. Gloucestershire SLC members. Julie and Yahya are seated, with Stuart standing behind them. Julie is looking at Yahya, smiling. Yahya is smiling in the direction of the camera.

Julie Stephens, Gloucester SLC member, pictured with her husband Stuart, and Yahya, Gloucestershire SLC member

“I have loved meeting people in the same position as me. I am new to sight loss, and it is a lovely feeling, meeting everyone. Their positive attitudes have given me a real boost.

“It is comforting to know that I am not in this alone, and that we are all trying to improve things for people in a similar situation.”

Alan, Nottinghamshire SLC

“I’ve really enjoyed networking with other SLC members this weekend and listening to their work across different projects.

It is my second SLC conference, and it has been great to see that other SLCs are learning from our work. We, in turn, can learn from theirs. That’s how we create real changes in society.”

Rachael, Greater Manchester SLC

Gill Currie, Kelly Barton, Rachael Foley, photographed laughing together during the retail project session.

Gill Currie, SLC member, Kelly Barton, Engagement Manager for North West England, and Rachael Foley, SLC member

“I loved being able to network with SLC members, both old and new, to celebrate the work we have all been doing throughout the year.”

Taz, Birmingham and Black Country SLC

“Thank you to Lucy for inviting me to attend my first SLC conference. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet so many others who, like me, want to make a difference to others living with sight loss. It was an excellent weekend, really well organised. Thank you again.”

Harry, South West London SLC

Leanne Best, Vicky Blencowe, and Harry Meade, from London Sight Loss Councils, seated at a round table laughing.

Members from our two London SLCs. From left to right: Leanne Best, Vicky Blencowe, and Harry Meade

“Connection, collaboration and consolidation are three words I keep being drawn to after our most recent SLC Conference around the power of lived experience.

“We are better together, and networking with other SLC Volunteer members this weekend has shown me even more how important our work is as we continue to represent SLCs and TPT.

Sharing outcomes with each other is truly inspiring. I was proud to hear all we’ve achieved, individually and collectively, notably through professionals who have come to view us as important allies and positive influencers.”

Paul, Birmingham and Black Country SLC

Paul Hopkins, Birmingham & Black Country SLC member, pictured with Louise Connop, Senior Engagement Manager for Central England

Paul Hopkins, Birmingham & Black Country SLC member, pictured with Louise Connop, Senior Engagement Manager for Central England

Thank you

As ever, we would like to say a huge thank you to all our Sight Loss Council members, guest speakers, volunteers, staff and sighted guides who made our third #SLConference such a great success.

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Publication date: 20 October 2023

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