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!