Opinions

Making sense of COVID-19 supporting deaf and blind people through a pandemic

Written by: Martin Allen, Fundraising Manager, Forth Valley Sensory Centre

Published: 26/08/2020

Read about how Forth Valley Sensory Centre has been able to use the Wellbeing Fund to implement a befriending system for Centre users.

The human animal is a social one. Generally speaking, we like to have others around us, we form close bonds and we like to move within different groups. Importantly, we like to spend time with others who have similar experiences, feelings and emotions as ourselves.

When we are not able to be part of a social group we become lonely, isolated and our mental health can suffer. We are less confident, less independent as fear of the unknown stops us from living our normal lives.

At a basic level, this is the situation Forth Valley Sensory Centre (FVSC) has been addressing for the last 14 years. The Centre is an inclusive place helping people with sight or hearing loss (and often both to varying degrees). Importantly, FVSC is not a medical centre; we offer no cure for sight or hearing loss. Instead, we focus on the help and support needed to enjoy life to the full.

With groups and classes each weekday, outings, trips events and our social enterprise Café, the Centre is a safe place for people with sensory loss to meet other people with sensory conditions as well as get help and advice from our many partner organisations.

Then, along came the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown.

Initially, information was not available in accessible formats. In the early days, just prior to lockdown, we helped NHS Forth Valley colleagues share information with the deaf community, putting on Covid-19 information sessions with a BSL interpreter. These sessions covered everything from social distancing to handwashing. We made large print and braille information available for people with sight loss.

Lockdown was catastrophic for the centre and those who use it. Groups and classes had to stop, cutting off vital social interaction and support. Our Café was forced to close and at the time of writing is still not open. Our halls, usually a hive of activity and a major source of income, were empty and our sensory room and sensory garden, beloved by so many people with various support needs and challenges were shut.

For those without sensory challenges, lockdown was isolating. It was amazing to see so many initiatives to try to combat this, such as clap for carers and many facebook groups provided a way for people to rally round and support each other.

However, for those with sight or hearing problems, often some of the most isolated people in society before the pandemic, their world stopped.

One of the ways blind people demonstrate their independence; shopping, was gone in an instant. For deaf people, phone conversations can be hard already so to rely on this as the only form of communication was impossible. Keep in mind that many people have age related sight or hearing loss, may not be tech savvy and have other health challenges due to age.

Recognising this, FVSC took a two pronged approach. The first was to identify funding that would enable our charity to remain open. The second was to implement a befriending system, where Centre users were called by staff and volunteers to check on their wellbeing and identify any support needs.

The Wellbeing Fund helped with both of these. While the Centre still has a projected £33,000 budget shortfall, the Wellbeing Fund money at least provided some relief and let us know that opportunities were there and we could cover those crucial first few months.

Our approach was careful and considered. We knew food was not the issue so did not look to provide parcels. Instead, we have sought funding for sensory packs, with games, advice and information to help people stay healthy and even save money. We have also supported the local third sector response, coordinated by CVS Falkirk, to make sure that people with sensory loss did not fall through the gaps in available help.

You can see our work on social media, look up @FVSensoryCentre on Facebook and Twitter and you can support our cause (this link will take you away from our website) on our website (this link will take you away from our website).

Our member

Our Member

Forth Valley Sensory Centre

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