"Forth Valley Sensory Centre is set to emerge from the pandemic, stronger, and more adaptable than ever."

Forth Valley Sensory Centre has been supporting people with sight or hearing impairments in Central Scotland for over 15 years. The Centre features a Social Enterprise Café, Sensory Garden, Sensory Room, Technology Hub and meetings spaces which are all open to the public. Importantly, the Centre is not a medical facility, although NHS Forth Valley are one of several Centre partners. RNIB, RNID, Falkirk and Stirling councils, BVUK and Sight Scotland Veterans also provide services from our Centre. Our charity provides added value support through groups and activities that build confidence and increase independence for people with Sensory Loss.

We pride ourselves on being dynamic and flexible. Our initial response to the pandemic, pre-lockdown, was to provide information sessions on social distancing, masks, hand sanitiser and other safety measures for the deaf community as this was not readily available in BSL at the time. We also translated information into braille.

Whilst the building was closed to the general public, important services continued.  The Centre became a PPE store for essential services. NHS FV carried out emergency paediatric audiology appointments and immunisation clinics to reduce hospital footfall.

This meant we still had the same building running costs but normal income streams, (Café and Room Hire) were no longer available. Initially we furloughed non-essential staff, however it became clear that Covid was set to continue, staff were redeployed to enable us to adapt and deliver services.

Having Sensory impairment can make it much more difficult for some people to utilise online services. We provided digital training for some who, thanks to RNIB, received Amazon Fire Tablets but were struggling to get online. We made use of the Connecting Scotland iPad initiative. This enabled deaf children to communicate with friends for the first time in months. We made befriending calls to Centre Users, who were shielding due to age or other health challenges. We delivered sensory wellbeing packs with puzzles, technology and healthy recipes. We re-introduced groups in an online format and whilst not for everyone, some groups have thrived as a result. E.g. our book group has doubled in size since the start of the pandemic.

We are extremely grateful to have received support for core costs via different COVID-19 funding streams such as Scottish Government, Thomas Pocklington Trust and TNL. These have proven to be vital to ensure our sustainability.

In essence, Covid has proven to be a challenge. However, like many, we have adapted and brought our Centre Users along with us on the journey. Pre-COVID-19, we spoke about the increasing use of accessible technology, however, the need to adapt was not there. Lockdown helped to focus attention on technology so that people could understand the benefits and rewards of being online e.g. to work or stay in touch with family. As a result, Forth Valley Sensory Centre is set to emerge from the pandemic, stronger, and more adaptable than ever.

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