"Our response to the crisis could be summed up as assess, inform, consult and support.”
With a main focus on groups, classes and social support, the impact of social distancing and isolation was substantial for the Forth Valley Sensory Centre. However, the charity took note of the way other countries had dealt with COVID-19 and made plans to continue to support people with sight and hearing loss across their local area.
Centre Manager Jacquie Winning explains: “It was clear from what was happening across Europe that lockdown and isolation was only a matter of time. People with sensory loss are among the most vulnerable and isolated under normal circumstances.
“Examples include avoiding social gatherings because of hearing loss, or not being able to communicate with hearing people because of a language barrier, specifically British Sign Language which is not in common use outside the Deaf community. People with sight loss can also find it hard to get out and about. Fear of falls keeps people indoors and they often need help to shop. This just isn’t possible with social distancing rules in place.
“During the week prior to lockdown I took the decision to keep our Centre open for several reasons. Firstly we wanted people to be able to meet up, safely, so they could exchange contact details with one another to enable them to keep in touch when groups and classes were suspended. Additional cleaning was carried out throughout the Centre with all surfaces disinfected several times a day. Social distancing was put in place and face to face meetings were kept to a minimum.
“Secondly, we wanted to make sure people had access to the right information in an accessible format. We brailed copies of Coronavirus information and distributed this to people who prefer this format. We liaised with our NHS FV Partners to provide a BSL talk on the virus for local deaf people, which included an explanation of the importance of hand washing and social distancing.
“It also provided an opportunity to let Centre Users know how we would continue to support them. We quickly moved to a telephone, text, email and video call based befriending service, staying in touch with people in the best format for them.”
The Centre has made the most of digital communication to keep in touch with Centre Users and staff with the Facebook page and website becoming communication channels for deaf and blind alike as well as a fundraising platform.
Jacquie explains; “Social media has played a vital role during this period. One significant impact of Covid-19 was to shut Newsline, the Talking Newspaper service in Falkirk which has existed for over 30 years. Centre Users reported they were really missing this trusted local news source. We moved quickly to replace it with our own Centre podcasts which have been gratefully received. Sight loss organisations RNIB Scotland and PK Vision worked with us to help get our Podcasts up and running. We are also working closely with holistic therapist, Shirley McCorquodale who has been creating ‘Mindfulness Monday’ meditation videos for us to share.”
Help has not been restricted to emotional support. The Centre is still helping people manage funds by cutting their energy bills. Jacquie added: “One of our staff team, Kirsty Banks delivers our ‘Making Sense of Energy Saving’ project, funded by the Climate Challenge Fund. Kirsty continues to provide accessible energy saving advice online, over the phone and by email to people facing higher energy bills due to people being at home for longer periods.
“All in all our response has been coordinated, connected and calm. Our response to the crisis could be summed up as assess, inform, consult and support”, Jacquie reports.
“We continue to focus on submitting funding applications so that we can come out of this strong and resilient. Like everyone, we are keen to get back to what we do best, helping vulnerable people with sensory loss stay independent and active.”
Forth Valley Sensory Centre has remained dedicated to providing support to those they work with at a time when people are at their most vulnerable. The essential services that developed swiftly in light of COVID-19 are a lifeline for people with sensory loss in the community. Again, the third sector has been shown to be nimble and innovative in working under difficult and complex circumstances.
This article was contributed by Forth Valley Sensory Centre.