Sunday, 27 July 2014

Fifth Illustration for
RNIB's Insight Magazine

I have now finished my fifth illustration for RNIB's Insight Magazine!

The theme I had to work with this time was 'Support at the time of sight loss' - so incorporated support from friends and family, a Doctor and Eye Clinic Liaison Officer (ECLO), and helpful information supplied through the internet, leaflets and helplines.

The illustration took the majority of the month to complete, whenever I had some free time as I've been so busy recently!, and was created using black fineliner and colouring pencils.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Skillstep: Week 9

I have now finished the initial 9 weeks of the Skillstep course! This marks the end of the vocational and IT work which is now all completed, in chronological order, signed off and ready to be marked for accreditation in my portfolio.

Week 9 has been a very intense few days; with 2 presentations and a mock interview to tackle!

The week began with the final session with Maureen from Trafford College. After ensuring all of our work sheets were completed, learning logs were filled in and the objectives of the course were met - it was time to present our individual presentations based on our future goals, research and preparation undertaken to achieve the goals and the barriers that we may face. After each presentation was given to the group, constructive feedback was given by Maureen and the rest of the Skillstep group as to how it could be improved.

My future goal was based on my fundraising project that I am currently in the process of completing for the Henshaws Bright for Sight campaign in October. I explained my project in detail, the preparation and research I had undertaken in the form of a questionnaire which I used earlier this year with friends, family and fellow Henshaws service users, the marketing tools I will use and the predominant barriers that I have faced and may still face in the coming months. As I have given a few speeches in the past, my technique is rather perfected and I was calm and confident in my approach to the presentation itself.

I used quite a few props and was the only member of the group to do so, which I feel helped when presenting my goal as I then had a visual item to refer to - most of which were tactile, and included a Braille leaflet I had made. My presentation was 2 minutes longer than it should have been, as we had a 10 minute limit, and I was cut off half-way through as Maureen thought my 10 minutes were up - but aside from that, it went quite well.

On Wednesday, it was time for mock interviews with Andrew Rose - a member of the Board of Trustees for Henshaws, who has vast knowledge and experience of conducting interviews and recruiting employees. Unlike the day before, I was rather nervous in regards to the interview - as I have never done an interview before and, even though I had prepared for a range of questions, didn't know how it was going to turn out. My interview was for the role of a children's illustrator, one I hope to be able to do in the future, and I brought my portfolio and CV along incase they were needed, and I received extra points for doing so! My interview went fantastically well, so much so that Andrew told me that it was the best of the day (my slot was near the end) and he had no feedback to give in order for me to improve. I was so thrilled that it turned out well and I want to say a big thank you to Andrew for donating his time to us Skillsteppers!

On the final day of the week, during Linda and Neil's session, it was time to present the PowerPoint presentations that we worked on during the previous week. In the morning, we had some extra time to finish our work and we then practiced our presentations before lunch. After dinner, we presented the PowerPoint presentations properly to members of the Fundraising & Marketing team and it was recorded by Neil to be produced into a CD for future groups to refer to and for the Big Lottery Fund to view. It was great to hear everyone else's experiences during the course and it made me really nostalgic for the start of Skillstep - but also happy to realise how the course has changed me and how I now have a new network of friends that I will definitely keep in touch with!

During the next fortnight, the group and I will be doing our individual work placements. Mine will be at Guide Dogs, which is something I was enthusiastic about and chose right at the start of the course. I have been signed up for a Guide Dog for nearly 11 months and am due to start my harness training very soon, so my placement will be extremely beneficial to me. I have found out that I will be doing things such as puppy training and grooming - so am very excited indeed to get started!

You can find out more about Skillstep by clicking here and can register your interest to the course via e-mail.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Henshaws Blog Post:
What Can I See?

My newest blog post with Henshaws Society for Blind People, as their monthly resident blogger, has now been posted to their online blog!

In my latest entry, I go into detail about my eye condition I have suffered with from birth, as a premature baby, and describe what I can see with the working 10% central vision I have in my left eye - as well as how I use it to my advantage in my everyday life.

You can view my blog entry with Henshaws by clicking here or on the thumbnail above.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Skillstep: Week 8

I have now finished week 7 of the Skillstep course! The group and I only have one more week left of vocational work before undertaking our work placements for the following fortnight!

In Tuesday's session, Maureen prompted the group and I to think of skills and qualities that make a successful employee and again for a good team player; and found that a lot of these qualities overlapped from to the other. We spent the rest of the session planning our presentation for next Tuesday where we will each be spending around 10 to 15 minutes presenting and talking about our future goals, the barriers involved, and how they meet the SMART target criteria. I have my presentation pretty much prepared for the next session - I just need to organise my props! My presentation will be focused on my short-term goal of crocheting at least 15 bunnies to sell for the Bright for Sight campaign, during October, to be displayed at the front desk of the Henshaws Manchester resource centre. I will provide more details of my goal and how the presentation went in next week's Skillstep post.

In Wednesday's session, we were visited from Nick who gave us a First Aid session for the day. We learned the ABCDE's of emergencies, how to call for help, how to give CPR, and how to put someone into the recovery position - as well as learning about conditions such as Diabetes, Heart Attacks, Asthma and Shock. It was a very informative session, and one of my favourites of the course, as it was very hands-on - we even got to practice on CPR Annie dummies! We each passed the First Aid assessments and will soon receive a certificate which will be valid for the next 3 years.

In Thursday's session, with Linda and Neil, we were introduced to Microsoft PowerPoint and were talked through the basic steps of how to set up a presentation with slides, animations and transitions and how to insert images. We were teamed up into pairs to create a PowerPoint presentation of the Skillstep course, with each slide representing a different factor of the course of our choosing. In next week's session, we will showcase our PowePoint presentations to the group, alongside giving a talk about the course using the bullet points from each slide as a prompt.

As I mentioned previously, next week is the final week of vocational work for the course - and will be quite an intense week - with 2 presentations and a mock interview!

You can find out more about Skillstep by clicking here and can register your interest to the course via e-mail.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Henshaws Sausage Run 2014

Yesterday I took part in the Henshaws Sausage Run 2014, travelling 73.7 miles from the Manchester Resource Centre in Old Trafford to the Arts & Crafts Centre in Knaresborough, Harrogate (150 miles there and back altogether!), to help raise awareness and funds for the charity. Over 25 motorbike riders took part in the event, raising more than £1,000 to support Henshaws in the work that they do for blind, visually impaired and disabled people all over the North of England.

As I blogged previously, I had my practice run last month and also had a visit from Chris, my motorbike partner, this Sunday to test the bluetooth helmets so that we could communicate en route meaning that I was well prepared for the event and very excited to get back on the bike!

The day began by being picked up by Chris on his motorbike and travelling to the Manchester Resource Centre to register to the event. After registering, having refreshments, picking up a special commemorative Sausage Run 2014 pin and claiming the tickets for our sausage butties that would be collected upon arrival to the Arts & Crafts Centre in Harrogate - it was time to set off! It must have been quite an amazing sight yesterday morning to see such a huge pack of riders all travelling together!

Using the bluetooth helmets and microphones, Chris was able to audio describe the journey for me; letting me know which towns and villages we were passing through, picking out landmarks and buildings of interest and describing them in detail and providing some backstory and facts about the places we were driving past. It was wonderful to have that extra dimension to the journey on top of having the smells of plants, flowers and food, sounds of engines roaring and birds tweeting and the feel of the wind against my face as well as the gentle vibration of the bike - painting a vibrant palette and a 360° sensory experience.

As with my two practice runs, I adapted straight away to riding pillion on the back of the blue Triumph 2012 and each movement around curved roads and roundabouts felt fluid and natural, and I felt like an extension of the bike itself. The weather was scorchingly hot, the journey to the centre was lovely and I couldn't have asked for a nicer experience!

Upon arrival at the Arts & Crafts Centre in Knaresborough, Harrogate, we were greeted by Lisa Sherratt, Fundraiser at Henshaws Society for Blind People, and Anthony Farrimond who photographed the riders as they entered the car parking space, took group shots in front of the bikes and continued to take photos throughout the day to document the event.

We were invited to the cafe to claim our sausage butties and have refreshments after our 2 hour journey. As I'm a vegetarian, the staff kindly provided me with a Quorn sausage butty! After our lunch, Lisa then invited us to have a tour of the centre and have a look at some of the work that the service users produce in the various workshops on site, as well as showcasing the sensory garden which is home to a variety of flowers and vegetables that the service users plant and grow.

Lisa showed us around the four main workshops which included textiles, ceramics and woodwork. The tactile creations were amazingly beautiful and intricate and really exhibited the art makers' creativity, skills, talents, and flexibility using a whole range of mediums and base objects.

Our tour continued on from the workshops into the sensory garden, where the service users plant and grow a variety of flowers and vegetables which are then sold in the shop and cafe on-site to the general public. The garden was absolutely gorgeous featuring a spectrum of colours, sounds and smells!  

After the tour came to an end, we made our way back through the cafe to our bikes for some final photographs. After thanking Lisa for a wonderful tour, Anthony for the photos and Glen for the fantastic opportunity to be a part of the Sausage Run - it was then time for Chris and I to make our way back home!

You can read more about the Henshaws Sausage Run 2014 through the press releases on the website here and here. An extended gallery of images from the day, photographed by Anthony Farrimond, can be viewed at his website here.

I want to say a big thank you to Lisa Sherratt and Glen Lockett for organising the event and kindly inviting me along, to Anthony Farrimond for the fantastic photographs from the day and a special thank you to Chris Goodwin for being such a wonderful biking partner and for being so accommodating!

Friday, 11 July 2014

Skillstep: Week 7

Week 7 of the Skillstep course is now complete!

I was only able to attend 2 of the 3 days this week, as I attended a conference in Liverpool at St. Vincent's School for the Blind yesterday; of which there will be a blog post very soon!

During Tuesday's session with Maureen we looked at assertiveness, decision-making and reducing stress. We started with assertiveness first and differentiated between assertiveness and aggressiveness and how they are not the same, the benefits of assertiveness in that it provides you with credibility, respect and the outcome you want and then demonstrated these new skills in a roleplay scenario which was recorded for our video portfolio for evidence in our accrediation. We looked at decision-making next, and how we prioritise tasks in order of importance to make our decisions; through exercises that involved choosing from a menu and setting up a new home. The session was concluded by looking at ways of reducing stress - through techniques such as relaxation, counted breathing and a stress journal.

Puppy Trainer with Yoda

On Wednesday's session, the Skillstep group and I visited the Guide Dogs training centre in Atherton for a guided tour around the kennels, a talk from a puppy walker and his boarded puppy Yoda - who will soon be undertaking her Guide Dog training! - as well as talks from members of staff including a mobility officer, and visiting the agility arena to partake in a blindfolded walk for harness training and a demonstration performed by current Guide Dogs in training and their trainers. We had a photo session too!

Kennels at the Guide Dogs Training Centre

Obstacle course inside the training arena

Thursday's session was focused around concluding the 29 tasks for Entry Level and Level 1 accreditation, and signing off work in both our own portfolios and Linda and Neil's portfolios to then be looked at by an examiner. During next week's session, we will be looking at Microsoft PowerPoint and using it to create a presentation to then communicate to the rest of the group in pairs.

You can find out more about Skillstep by clicking here and can register your interest to the course via e-mail.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Second Blog Post with Living Paintings

My second blog post, as a monthly blog contributor, with Living Paintings is now up on their website!

In my latest entry I talk about the birthday composition that I recently completed to celebrate John Lewis' 150th birthday, which is currently exhibited in their restaurant at the Trafford Centre, along with other pieces from service users from Henshaws Society for Blind People.

I explain how and why I selected the iconography that I wanted to use, the mediums I chose and how long it took for me to complete the piece. You can view the entry by clicking here!

Living Paintings is a charity that produces touch-to-see books for blind and visually impaired people, through a free library service providing Braille and audio as well as embossed images, covering a whole range of genres; from children's books, to history, to art and architecture.

You can search the libraryfind out more about the charity or donate to help support the fantastic work that they do!

Sunday, 6 July 2014

New Column in M44 News

Issue 25 of M44 News magazine is available this weekend!

My newest column is focused around my John Lewis composition, displayed at the Trafford Centre, to celebrate the 150th birthday of the retail store. My column details how I came up with the imagery to use in the art piece, as well as the mediums I used and how long it took for me to produce. You can read the article below:

Kimberley's View

John Lewis Birthday Composition

In February, Henshaws Society for Blind People was selected by John Lewis as the charity to produce artwork to celebrate the 150th year of the retail store, to be displayed on the community art wall at the Trafford Centre.

I was kindly asked to produce a composition of my own, being a keen artist and illustrator, with other pieces being produced by the Arts & Crafts group and Parent & Toddler group in Manchester, Henshaws resource centre in Newcastle, and Arts & Crafts centre in Knaresborough.

As John Lewis is a British institution - with their first store opening in Oxford Street, in London, in 1864 - I thought I would incorporate classic British iconography, such as a Beef Eater and the Imperial State Crown, to celebrate Britain alongside John Lewis' birthday. I also portrayed the famous Trafford Centre dome, with it being a British landmark - as well as the place where my composition will be displayed. As I primarily shop at John Lewis for gifts and toys, I wanted to include some of my favourite items from the online store; a beautiful deluxe rocking horse, in particular!

The composition was created using coloured pencils, fine liner, metallic relief paints and sequins and took over two and a half months to complete.

The birthday display will be up on the community art wall, in the John Lewis restaurant at the Trafford Centre, from June 1st until the end of July.

The July 2014 edition of M44 News is available now, being delivered to 10,000 doorsteps across the areas of Irlam, Cadishead, Glazebrook and Rixton over this coming weekend!

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Magazine Scan: July/August Edition of RNIB's Insight Magazine

I have now received the latest issue of RNIB's Insight Magazine - featuring my fourth illustration focused on sports and activities that have been adapted for blind and visually impaired people.

Young Illustrator

Our young illustrator, Kimberley writes: "My illustration represents sports and activities that can be adapted and enjoyed by people with a vision impairment such as tandem cycling, bling archery, goalball, sound ball tennis and cricket. I have an interest in blind archery and badminton."

Kimberley has kindly donated a painting, "Carousel", to the RNIB Pears Centre for Specialist Learning.

The newest edition of Insight Magazine is available now in large print, braille, audio and PDF formats. For more information on how you can subscribe - please click here.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Skillstep: Week 6

The Skillstep group and I are now at the half-way point of the course, as Week 6 draws to a close!

During Tuesday's session with Maureen, we looked at social situations that make us uncomfortable and identified the key elements of what made us uncomfortable during that particular situation. We then identified the characteristics and behaviours of the best boss / best teacher and worst boss / worst teacher we have had in our education or work careers so far - and each member of the group found that it was not their IQ, capabilities or qualifications that made them the best or the worst teacher or boss, but in fact, their social skills - or lack thereof! - played a vital role instead.

This led into the introduction of Emotional Intelligence. It is a concept that was invented a while ago by various psychologists, who realised that while some individuals will be high flyers with a high IQ and many qualifications - they won't be equipped with an EQ (Emotional Quotient) to deal with social situations and communicating with people. The psychologists identified certain characteristics and behaviours that are fundamental to successful relationships with people in the workplace and help you to have a better sense of well-being. You can improve your EQ and it can be taught and learned.

Towards of the end of the session, we looked at negotiation skills to mediate a conflict and achieve the outcome we want as part of a performance piece that was recorded for our portfolios for accreditation. The performance is part of a confidence-building process, so that we can identify what to do in a tricky situation.

On Wednesday morning, Glynis visited the group to give demonstrations of equipment that could be of benefit to us as visually impaired and severely visually impaired people. Quite a few of the aids were items that the majority of the group already owned or had heard of and some were completely new items that we had never been introduced to before. Aids and equipment that were demonstrated included: a liquid level indicator, a needle threader, a Braille ruler, a PenFriend, a Colour Identifier, Braille labeller, envelope writing guide, talking scales, talking clock, and a plastic iron guard that surrounds the bottom of an iron to prevent you from burning yourself - something I had never heard of before and really liked the idea of. This was a fantastic session and I really enjoyed being re-introduced to some items that I hadn't been in contact with in a long time, due to the advances in mobile phone technology providing apps instead, replacing the Colour Identifier aid - for instance.

On Thursday, during Linda and Neil's session, I completed all 3 of the sample assignments that were provided to me in Braille and then had my own bits and pieces to do on my iPad that kept me occupied for most of the day; sending e-mails, updating my social media profiles and writing my next contributor blog posts for Living Paintings and Henshaws - as well as preparing some future blog posts for my own personal blog.

You can find out more about Skillstep by clicking here and can register your interest to the course via e-mail.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Envision Teleconference:
3rd July 2014

The Envision Steering Group and I had a teleconference tonight, from 6pm to 7pm, to follow-up from the Campaigner's Convention that we attended recently and to give initial thoughts on the key learning points for Envision to implement into the coffee shop campaign that we are currently working on.

I have been appointed to the position of Co-Chair, as well as still being a member of the communications team, after the departure of Adele Waterfall-Brown. I took notes during the teleconference which you can read below:

Campaigner's Convention Follow-Up
Steering Group discussed initial thoughts and a follow-up to the RNIB's Campaigner's Convention. Group members all agree that it was a fantastic opportunity to meet with like-minded people and, at the same time, different in terms of their perspectives, experiences and approach to campaigning and we learned a lot from them. The social aspect was great to build our networks, both in terms of friends and campaigning. It was a very empowering event to see the impact of all of the different campaigns and to look at the bigger picture of campaigning - it does make a difference and is such a positive thing. It's vital to keep going and persevere, there is plenty of time to achieve your goals - do not rush when campaigning!

Online Portal / Learning Hub
For those who could not attend the Campaigner's Convention, the RNIB are working on an online portal where you can access the information and notes from all of the workshops and the open space sessions that took place during the convention's weekend.

Key Learning Points
Attendees should e-mail key learning points to the rest of the Steering group within the next week or so, if at all possible; providing a few bullet points of what they have learned from the Open Space sessions and / or workshops that can be of use to Envision and what skills or knowledge can be applied to our own campaigning work of the coffee shop campaign. Kimberley Burrows has written a blog post regarding the weekend's workshops and open space sessions that she attended.

New Members & Positions!
Adele Waterfall-Brown has parted ways with Envision due to her heavy workload; setting up her own business and planning her wedding. We have welcomed Naomi Stevenson from Royal Tunbridge Wells to the Steering Group, who will fill Adele's former position in the Campaigns Planning sub-group. Naomi attended the Campaigner's Convention and expressed her interest to join Envision, and has previously worked with Mohammed Mohsan-Ali from London. Kimberley Burrows, from Manchester, has filed Adele's former position as Co-Chair, alongside Tom and Nina. A list of who is in each sub-group will be circulated again, with the new members who have filled recent vacated posts.

Upcoming Teleconferences
The next teleconference, among the Campaigns Planning sub-group, will take place on July 16th at 2pm. There was discussion of Hugh Huddy possibly joining this teleconference or perhaps even some others in the near future.

Amended Mystery Shopper Survey
Signed off the amended questionnaire, which members can now distribute throughout their own networks; Action Connect, Henshaws Society for Blind People, Transport for London, etc. which can also work as a recruitment exercise; generating momentum and interest in Envision. In regards to the questionnaire, it may also be useful to add an age-bracket question towards the beginning, as it may be beneficial to ask all age groups about their experiences at coffee shops. This will gather more feedback and will tie into some of the target audiences of the other main coffee shops; Costa Coffee having a larger number of middle-aged females in the demographic of customers and Cafe Nero targeting older males. The more responses involved with the questionnaire - the louder the voice for change of accessible menus.

Wider Network
Discussion of the Facebook page, Facebook Friday and the rotor of looking after the page offering similar links of interest and updates from the group. Discussion of communication within the network, via e-mails. Perhaps quarterly main e-mails to the wider network compiling progress so far from each season, with smaller e-mails every 2 or 3 months in-between to keep them updated on everything happening Envision-wise. There are between 50 to 60 members of Envision altogether.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Professional Photos at John Lewis
in the Trafford Centre

I posted recently that I had completed my composition to celebrate the 150th birthday year of John Lewis, to be displayed on the community art wall at the Trafford Centre.

I was kindly invited by Henshaws Society for Blind People to have professional photos taken of myself and my composition last Friday morning, as well as group photos with the lovely ladies of the Arts & Crafts group, which I'm a member of at the Manchester resource centre, that also submitted an art piece in celebration.

I received the photos yesterday and wanted
to share them with you!

A huge thank you to Helen Jenkins for organising the photo session, to Gwen Riley Jones for the wonderful photographs and to John Lewis for being so hospitable to us during the session - and for the yummy hot chocolate drink after a hard morning of modelling!

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Henshaws Networking Day

Yesterday I attended the Henshaws Networking Day, which provided the opportunity to find out about the services that Henshaws provide, their aims; current and future, and marketing and fundraising strategies as well as the chance to discuss and contribute suggestions of future services. I live-tweeted throughout the event.

The event began with an introduction from Rob Cooper, Regional Director at Henshaws Society for Blind People. He began by talking about the progress over the past 18 months; the challenges, the changes and the saving of money without cutting a single service. He introduced the operating model - the Pathway to Independence - and gave more information about the concept and how it came into fruition. It isn't actually a new concept or idea within Henshaws, but they have only now had the opportunity, platform and resources to implement it properly within their service and promote it.

It is featured in various posters and mugs located throughout the resource centres in the North, and was most recently presented and accepted as an official poster at the Vision 2020 Conference in London - so much so, that people were very interested in it and were taking photos of themselves beside it!

Rob then provided the agenda and aims of the day - presenting the chance to engage with people who benefit the most from the services that Henshaws provide. It was about two-way sharing; Henshaws sharing information to attendees and, in turn, gathering feedback from the service users in attendance. He referenced the User Voice Groups that Henshaws have, which provide a direct link to the Board of Trustees; who are always looking for input from the beneficiaries.

Henshaws are looking into providing an online resource centre, implemented within their online website, that will provide a portal where VI people can take part in computer courses and programmes and learn to train and develop - all within their own home, on their own computer. They are also looking into how they can support the smaller charities and groups within the North West, through the Merseyside Vision Consortium, to look at what other VI charities and services are providing to ensure that they are supporting each other and adding value and benefit, without competing or duplicating services. They can open up a whole new level of service once they are all in contact and all connected.

Glynis Howard, Henshaws Rehabilitation Manager, took the floor next to talk more about the Pathway to Independence and how it was formulated very recently to enable visually impaired people to have as much independence as possible. The Pathway is a pictorial representation of a never-ending cycle of support. It is much like a tube map directing you from points A to B with certain processes along the way.

The first part of the pathway is How can we help you? - This can be achieved by initiating contact and talking to you directly; either via the phone or through the patient support service at Manchester Royal Eye Hospital. It can be a self-referral or a referral through professionals, friends or family - either way, Henshaws is there to ensure that you have the right support during the time of sight loss.

The next step in the pathway is Let's Make a Plan - This step is all about gathering information to suit your needs and wants, which is then passed onto an enablement officer to formulate a tailored support plan to evolve personal development.

The final steps in the pathway involve the programmes provided by Henshaws; Independence Matters and Friendship Matters - empowering VI people to live an independent life through various courses and training to develop skills, confidence and self-esteem. The social and support groups are designed to build a network of support through meeting other people in similar situations.

Mark Belcher, Community Services Manager, spoke next about services for now and for the future. He provided a reminder of some of the services that Henshaws currently provide as well as presenting 3 new ideas for services currently in the development stages. During the upcoming workshops of the day,  attendees will be grading their relevance and order of importance as well as giving feedback through short statements.

He began by running through some of the services that are currently on offer by Henshaws. Patient Support and Liaison Service (PALS) at Manchester Royal Eye Hospital, through Maggie Harrison, which has been running for over 20 years. There is also a demo desk which operates weekly, sometimes twice a week, which entices people by the items available on the table - allowing the team to then explain why they are there and give support to patients and staff, as well as to promote Henshaws. Both of these services at the hospital provide a bridge from the medical to the social, by matching the services to you and your needs. They provide further detailed information about your eye condition, in ways that the consultant doesn't, and provide information on services at the Henshaws centre helping to give you skills to continue on with your life.

The team at the hospital are one of the main referral points to Henshaws - referring between 40 and 50 new people to the service each month. Other ways of being introduced to Henshaws or referred to their service and support can be through word of mouth, by friends and family, carers and professionals, social services and even service users themselves. Mark referenced the Pathway, talking about how the triage and enablement team can then focus on coming up with an action plan and solution for the referred individual.

He then went on to talk about the Independence Matters and Friendship Matters groups, first of all the social, hobby and interest groups: the Henshaws Hikers of the Walking Group, the Tuesday Group, the Wednesday Group, the Thursday evening social group, the Braille group, the Arts & Crafts group, the Museum & Galleries group, and so on. Mark mentioned some of the more recent services of courses and training - including iPhone and iPad training and mobile IT hubs based across Salford, Trafford and Greater Manchester. There are 18 popular groups all together, benefitting 239 service users.

This led into discussion of Independent Living courses such as Living with Sight Loss; a 6 week course that presents some of the support and services that are out there, with talks from different services each week (that I was part of last summer, which worked as my introduction to Henshaws) and Skillstep; a 12 week programme helping to improve personal development as well as helping people to get back into or undertake further education, voluntary work or paid work (a course I am in the process of completing at the moment).

Mark then talked about communication with service users though e-mails and through the Hello! newsletter - which roughly goes out to around 1,500 people for each edition. While authorities will sign you off once they have seen you, Henshaws will always keep in touch and remind you of the services that they have as well as upcoming services, news and events. The newsletter is available both quarterly and annually and is there to provide information, advice and guidance through various formats including large print, audio and Braille.

Mark ended his talk by introducing the 3 new ideas that Henshaws currently have for future services. These are in the development stages at the moment and feedback would be given by attendees during the workshop opportunities later in the day.

360° Assessment
While local authorities will sign you off once they have seen you, due to the sheer amount of people they need to see, Henshaws can provide a 360° service - working closely with local authorities - to contact newly registered visually impaired and severely visually impaired people. An assessment will be booked at the person's home and other health or social factors will be looked at, as well as the visual impairment. Assessments will be made by:

- Looking at their home environment; is it safe, is it clean, does it present any risks?
- Explaining any potential health risks or underlying issues due to their age or other medical conditions. Explaining key medical messages to those who may find the information hard to reach through posters or leaflets due to their sight loss
- Looking at their social lives; are they isolated because of their visual impairment and / or other disabilities? Providing information of the events going on at Henshaws or in their local area

The 360° assessment is fundamentally about bringing the Pathway to Independence consultation to the home.

Children & Families Program
The second service suggestion, by Fiona McMullen, was the Children & Families Program. While Henshaws already provides a weekly group for parents and toddlers and a monthly group for children and families - it primarily provides outings and activities during weekends and school holidays, and does not cover the technicalities of being a parent to a visually impaired child. Henshaws want to build on this foundation by providing a service to children and families affected by sight loss through a 6 week program for young people, helping to increase confidence and independence and providing skills such as:

- Learning to cook safely and independently
- Drama workshops and confidence-building workshops
- Help with identifying and choosing clothes
- Having fun, making friends and leading independent lives

As well as benefitting the children and young people, the service will support parents who are bringing up a visually impaired child - enabling them to become more independent too.

Hub & Spoke Model
The third suggestion was of a hub and spoke model where Henshaws would branch out to smaller areas throughout Salford, Trafford and Greater Manchester to reach out to those who have difficulty reaching the resource centre in Old Trafford, for a variety of reasons - such as transport, social isolation, and mobility. Through the hub and spoke model 2 members of staff will based at each hub, on hand to give guidance, advice and training to visually impaired people. Services will include:

- iPad and iPhone training
- Computer training and IT courses
- Skills to live independently

After the three suggestions Helen Doyle, Research and Information Manager at Henshaws, spoke about the latest customer survey recently sent out to Henshaws service users picked at random. She revealed some of the findings, some of the themes - which fed into what services Henshaws are currently developing, as seen above - and some of the barriers, that will be addressed in the new services.

Henshaws changed the structure of the latest customer survey, in comparison to previous surveys, to identify the gaps in the service, look at the situation that the service users are currently in and to focus on their other disabilities and conditions that can be considered in the development of the new services.

From the customer survey it was discovered that; a quarter of people weren't referred properly or quickly enough to an Opthamologist, under half didn't understand their eye condition and what it might mean for the future, over half have not had their registration or certification explained to them, 46% of service users didn't speak to anyone after they were diagnosed, 40% never received an assessment from a sensory team and 53% had no rehabilitation from an enablement officer.

In terms of other conditions the survey found that; 41% of the service users picked at random suffered from hearing loss, a quarter had other disabilities, 67% had high blood pressure and 71% suffered from depression - the highest proportion of sufferers being in the younger age group. 80% of those surveyed were satisfied with Henshaws and their services, though there is always room for improvement - which is why the Networking Day was vital, to gather views of improvement from the attendees.

Finally, the survey identified some of the barriers that the service users face, including; transport, a lack of public awareness, accidents and safety, day-to-day life challenges such as general home admin and shopping, a lack of independence and isolation and loneliness.

To summarise, communicating with the service users and identifying their needs is vital for future delivery. All of the information can be used for counselling, developing key health messages, planning future services, identifying key areas for improvement and trying to address them, looking at the barriers that people face (transport, social isolation, loneliness, etc.) and trying to reduce them, and back up the survey by focusing on groups that register the most interest.

It was then time for the first workshop of the day. This was the opportunity to grade the 3 service suggestions that were previously mentioned, by both Mark and Fiona, as well as to give feedback on each of the services themselves. I personally really liked the 360° Assessment service, currently in development, the most. It would benefit such a large number of people, especially those who are quite isolated and suffer from loneliness, due to their recent sight loss or registration, who rarely go out of the house - missing important health messages and risks in their own home.

My second favourite was the Children & Families Program. This is something that would really have benefitted me and my mum when I was much younger as I never had the opportunity to interact with other visually impaired children or learn core skills that would have made me more independent from a younger age - rather than something that has only happened very recently, due to mobility training with the Salford Sensory Team and rehabilitation with an enablement officer based at Henshaws.

Finally, while I liked the idea of the Hub & Spoke Model, which would benefit those who encounter problems with transport and getting to the Manchester resource centre regularly, I also felt it would disperse the staff and service users -scattering them - and never presenting the chance to visit the main resource centre to meet new people and make new friends.

This was our opportunity to suggest future services that Henshaws could provide. As an avid Apple fan, I wanted to make the suggest of perhaps including Mac training to the current IT programme. While I have no problem using a Windows computer, with assistive technology such as JAWS or ZoomText, I much prefer using a MacBook or an iMac with the built-in accessibility features. This could be beneficial to service users so that they can experience both computers and have the opportunity to use their favourite - rather than just using a Windows computer.

I also suggested a Henshaws Choir or Glee Club, as I myself enjoy singing and I have quite a few friends who are very talented singers - of all age ranges. Singing is very therapeutic and will bring together the service users of varying backgrounds and ages, with songs from all genres and eras for everyone to enjoy!

My third suggestion was to have some more services aimed at young adults as there seems to be a slight gap in the current age range of those who use the Manchester resource centre. It either consists of elderly service users who visit for the social groups and outings, or the young toddlers who are a part of the Parent & Toddler group. There isn't much aimed at a young adult in their 20's, and I would love to be able to go on outings or short breaks with them to establish new friendships and gain new skills during group activities.

After lunch, attendees returned to the main conference room for talks from the Marketing and Fundraising teams regarding getting the word out and current and future strategies. To start with the promotional Henshaws film played to the room - and I even received a cheer for my cameo!

After the promotional film Debbie Cowley, Head of Marketing, took the floor to explain how the team market the services that Henshaws provide and market fundraising events to raise vital funds. She explained all of the areas that are regularly promoted through social media and the official website; further education at the Henshaws College in Harrogate supporting both residential and day students, the housing and support service that works across Newcastle, Manchester and Yorkshire, the Arts & Crafts centre in Knaresborough who provide a service to people with a full range of disabilities - as well as maintaining a cafe and shop for the students to gain work experience and retail skills, and the community services in Manchester, Newcastle and Liverpool through their resource centres.

The marketing team help to secure the future of Henshaws, showcasing the problems that service users face on a daily basis and providing a platform for the public to understand their struggles through the website with their personal stories and blog posts. Henshaws also recognise the difference that donors make and use tools to help them to act - either by giving a referral of someone who could benefit from the service or by donating and getting involved with fundraising events.

As the marketing department doesn't have a huge budget, it is important that they are very careful to reach the right people with their direct key messages as well as expanding to new audiences. The social media and promotional information is aimed at blind and visually impaired people, disabled people, health and care professionals, parents, education professionals, volunteers and possible donors.

There are many different ways that Henshaws use communication to market their services. These are through use of the official website, through their close working partnership with Guide Dogs, NHS Choices, e-mail campaigns, regular specific campaigns to professionals, through lots of printed materials including letters and leaflets around services, and building a relationship with the local media and journalists in the area for newspaper articles, radio and advertising.

Henshaws have expanded with social media over the past year - using tools such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Audioboo - to reach new audiences. They also recently launched the Henshaws Blog, providing the real Henshaws stories through service users and staff members. It boasts a whole host of topics in its entries from advice on employing someone with a visual impairment to showing how someone uses Braille in their everyday life. It provides the platform to share the emotive, powerful stories of those who have used the service and have benefitted greatly to continue on with their life.

Glen Lockett, Head of Fundraising, took the floor next to discuss current and future strategies. He explained the different types of funds and grants that Henshaws currently receive; through applications to Children in Need and the Big Lottery Fund, via legacies, by fundraising events, community events and challenges, the Henshaws Lottery - Weekly Prize Draw, and by generous individuals and volunteers.

Through legacy donations, you can ensure that Henshaws will continue provide a service to other visually impaired and blind people for years to come, and is a fundamental reason as to why Henshaws is still here today. The corporate team helps to raise money for businesses in the local area. Companies are very welcome to sponsor Henshaws as their charity of the year to fundraise for through a host of different activities and events. Harrogate and Manchester have two corporate leaders who help and advise to open doors for contacts in regards to fundraising.

Fundraising events are an excellent way to raise vital funds for Henshaws. These can be by regular annual events such as the Sausage Run, Bupa Great North Run and Virgin Money London Marathon, or through community events such as collections and bag packs. Regardless of how big or small; all income is extremely important and volunteers are always needed - even just to take a tin to the workplace or a local pub and to collect it again in a month's time. 

It's all about getting the message out to friends, family and colleagues to support the fantastic and life-changing work that Henshaws does. Service users are the best ambassadors for the charity!

In the second workshop of the day, it was our chance to suggest ways of fundraising to help benefit Henshaws and also identify the level of communication that staff of previous fundraising ventures provided and whether that was encouraging or hindering. There was a lot of group discussion around these topics, with one person who did the Race for Life constantly receiving letters - becoming concerned for the amount of money that must be spent producing these regular letters to people who may have only signed up or took part in the event once. It's important not to bombard people with too much communication, but is also important to keep that connection to let people know of what is happening within the charity.

I think that the level of communication from Henshaws is about right. I have took part in quite a few past fundraising events including a Tesco Collection, collections, raffle tickets and programme-selling at the Manchester Beer & Cider Festival, Champagne & Chocolate Evening and Henshaws Fashion Fundraiser - with the Sausage Run event coming up very soon. I have never felt forced into doing any of these events, and took part because I really wanted to give back to a service that has done so much for me over the past year. Even though I have taken part in quite a few events, I am not bombarded with constant e-mails - they are sent monthly to keep me updated of upcoming news and events, and I then choose to register my interest.

As for fundraising events, I suggested more things like motorbike rides and car racing - something I've never had the opportunity to do with my visual impairment but now have the chance to do for charity and a sighted guide! - and parachute jumping and hot air balloon riding. I want to challenge myself along the way of raising funds, and think they would make great blog posts too!

A member of my group suggested a Blind Pride Walk, in the same vein as a Gay Pride Walk, through Manchester to show how proud we our of overcoming our disability - and it was even suggested that we wear large, comical Elton John-style glasses to draw attention to our eyes! I think this is an absolutely fantastic idea and something I would definitely take part in!

After the second workshop drew to a close, we returned to the conference room once more for evaluations and closing remarks. Each attendee received a Henshaws pen and mug that feature the Pathway to Independence!

This was a truly fantastic opportunity to gain insight into the full range of current services that Henshaws offer, as well as providing suggestions for future services and for fundraising ideas. I would certainly recommend the Networking Day to any service user of Henshaws who wants to help shape the future of the charity and I look forward to the next one!