• Libby

Transcript - Living with Sight Loss:Support in Southend, with Catherine from Southend in Sight, Ep13

Libby: You are listening to Constellations, the community podcast connecting charities, communities & causes in the two unitaries of Thurrock & Southend. In today’s episode we are speaking to Catherine, the Community Fundraiser for Southend in Sight.

Southend in Sight is the only charity in Southend which provides support for those living with sight loss. They offer technical guidance, IT advice, emotional support, regular social activities and much more. If you live in Southend you may well have seen their fabulous charity shop which is located on Hamlet Court Road.

As in some of our previous interviews, we recorded this episode at the lovely Havens Community Hub in Westcliff - it’s one of our favourite places to go in Southend because it is warm, welcoming and is always bustling with friendly faces and activities! We apologise, however, because this means that there are a few bumps during the recording, as well as the hum of chattering folks in the background as it was particularly busy when we visited!

Without further ado, let’s get stuck in!


Sharen: Welcome, Catherine. Thank you for joining us today.

Catherine: Thank you for inviting me.

Sharen: So could you tell us a bit about Southend in Sight and what services you offer?

Catherine: Yes. Southend in Sight is a small, independent local charity supporting people with sight loss. We started out as Southend Blind Welfare Organisation back in 1958, the home for the blind. And then in the nineties, we developed an equipment and information centre. Uh, we started social activities and a help desk at Southend Hospital Eye Clinic. Uh, we were based at SAVS for a while and then we moved to our current premises on Hamlet Court Road, 12 years ago. And since then we've gone from strength to strength.

Uh, we are the only charity in Southend that supports people who are living with sight loss. But we do work closely with other sight loss charities across Essex. We've got a partnership called Essex Vision. So we've joined the other, obviously, South East Essex. But there's a basis in Basildon Essex sites and support for sight there. The other side of charities working across Essex.

We offer sightless advice over the phone or through an appointment to help people remain independent in their own homes. This includes support with magnification, lighting, cooking AIDS, talking books, access to work, school support, benefit forms, phones and IT advice. We also operate a full time eye clinic liaison officer service at Southern Hospital, to signpost people at the time of their diagnosis. We offer emotional support to visually impaired people of all ages to ensure they're not living alone with their sight loss through our talk and support service, and during normal times, we organise activities for all ages. We have coffee mornings for our older generation, walks and quizzes for our working age group and fun activities for children and young people. In 2021 we supported over 500 local visually impaired people through phone calls and appointments.

Sharen: Wow.

Libby: Wow!


Sharen: So do you have, an actual centre where people can go in?

Catherine: Yes, we do. It's based just down the road from where we are today at um, 117 Hamlet Court Road, and we have uh, an appointment service there, so staff are sort of based there and can offer support over the phone. Uh, but if you want to come in and see us, it's best to book an appointment because we need to make sure that the right person is available.

Sharen: Okay, that's great. And how do you get referrals? Where do they come from?

Catherine: They mainly come from our eye clinic liaison officer who's based over at Southend hospital. She normally refers people into us. We also get referrals from other charities, from GPs, opticians, from sort of local social subscribers, people like that. So we don't actually have a list of people. It's just people know about our services, and we hope that they, you know, they feel that they can come to us if they are living with sight loss.


Libby: Children and young people, teenagers. What sort of things do you offer for them?

Catherine: We only just started our um sort of services for children and young people just before the pandemic, so we're quite new to it. But we've started out, we've had a few events, and we, we took a few, we took about 10 families to the panto before Christmas

Libby: Oh lovely

Catherine: So that was good. And we've had some park and beach meet-ups.

We find the families need more education and advice and help with their schools and support at school. And they quite often need tech advice on what sort of equipment’s out there for their children. So they, a lot of them are using sort of, smartphones and computers, but they need help with the sort of voice over technology, that kind of thing. So that's where we come in to help them.

Yeah, during lockdown, we sent out some craft packs and things like that to keep them occupied. We’re, we’re growing that service, I would say, and we're still learning along the way. And we're trying to, sort of make contact with lots of local families. And we're asking them more what they need from us, rather than saying,

Libby: Yeah brilliant

Catherine: Here's what we've got come along because the children are different ages their sort of from six months up to obviously 17 18 and what they want from us is totally different.

Libby: Best to meet them where they are

Catherine: Yeah, so it's offering the right support in the right way and with the, the resources that we've got.

Libby: Fantastic

Sharen: You work with the local schools as well, then?

Catherine: Uh, yes, we work with Kingsdown School. They've got, I think they've got the centre based over there. There's obviously vision impaired Children who are still in mainstream school as well.

Sharen: Yeah

Catherine: So they're the families that we mainly have on our books, and then we work with the sort of the unit at Kingsdown as well. So yeah.

Libby: You mentioned the packs in the pandemic?

Catherine: Yes.

Libby: What else did you do to support people during the pandemic?

Catherine: Well when the pandemic first started, we called, I think it was over 500 people that were on our books that were, called the most vulnerable first of all. So those that were over 70 that were perhaps shielding, perhaps living alone, isolated, some of them not with not very much family support.

So we called all of them just to check in on them. We split it up between all of us from home. And then from that sort of core list, probably about 100 that we then were calling on a regular basis to check in with them. And that helped to form our talk and support service - we check in and have a chat. Quite a lot of singing goes on, a lot of asking about children and dogs and pets and that kind of thing, but it just gives them something to anchor to and someone to chat with, really.

Lots of our volunteers are vision impaired themselves. So when you're chatting with someone that's got the same sight loss as yourself, it’s, you find that the same problems are occurring and they find they can help each other. It worked really well.

Sharen: So do you have a bank of volunteers then? Have you got lots of?

Catherine: Yes, we have, in total, we've got about 70 volunteers on our books who help us in our charity shop, when we have events, they help us with our events as well.

Some of them ring 10 people and some of them only ring a couple, they’ve, but some of these phone calls last an hour, so, you know, asking people to give up, its quite a lot of their time, isn't it to give up, but some of them are formed friendships and met for coffee, and it's been really nice. It was nice for the volunteers because many of them were wanting to help me stuck at home, and this was a way that everyone could do it safely but also help us as well.

Libby: That’s really lovely to hear

Catherine: So that's good. Yeah, it was a good I think it was something that we're very proud of. You know, lots of people have written into us and said that sometimes we were the only call that they received all week. And you think that it's awful to hear but good that we were there

Libby: Yeah

Sharen: Yeah made a difference

Catherine: To support people, really, because there are people that slipped through, slipped through the net and don't have any support - if you haven't got a family member looking out for you.

Libby: Yeah definitely

Catherine: Or perhaps they don't live locally and they're not able to come and visit you or. We did some doorstep visits as well, made some deliveries. We delivered a lot of equipment around to people as well, if they needed stuff that would help them with their sight loss during the lockdowns, we were out and about in our cars.


Sharen: And you mentioned that you supported, I think it was over 500 people last year?

Catherine: That's right. Yes.

Sharen: So what plans and events have you got?

Catherine: We resumed coffee mornings towards the end of last year. So we're hoping to make those a bit more regular. For our sort of newly diagnosed people to meet up so that they can chat to people that are in a similar situation to themselves. We are hoping to get back events for our working age people. So they normally have pub meet ups and walks and quizzes. And then we’d we’d like to do some more events for our children as well. Yeah, we'd like to get back to a sort of full rota of events.

Libby: Were you able to do any fundraising during the pandemic?

Catherine: We applied for quite a few emergency grants, so that was quite helpful. There were a number of those around, but it was literally every day applying for different grants and hoping that some of them came through. We were lucky that we have established good connections with quite a lot of trusts and funds already. So they were the people that we called, first of all, and they were very good to us and able to give us some funds to help keep us running. And we tried not to furlough people only really our sort of our shop manager, and a few people that want that were shielding that were um furloughed so we tried to keep our services running really?

Libby: Is the shop where the centre is?

Catherine: Yes, our um, the building on Hamlet Court Road. Sort of part of it is our charity shop and then the other part is our centre. And then we've got our offices at the back, and we've got some more upstairs as well with the meeting room. So, we're quite lucky we were left a legacy. It was about 15 years ago now, and we bought the premises even though they're old and leaking and


Catherine: They provide us with a good centre. Visible, we’re quite close to a bus route and the train station. So it's good for us.

Sharen: And is the shop successful you get quite a good turnover?

Catherine: Yes. Yeah, we are, we are lucky. Our charity shop - we never want for donations. We always have lots of people, dropping off donations to us. Got a brilliant creative shop manager who does lovely windows. We've been very lucky with the charity shop, it probably brings in um I would probably say about a third of our sort of income that we need.

Libby: Lovely yeah

Catherine: So it's, it's a good, good turnover for us.

Sharen: So if we've got anyone listening that would like to get in touch. Can you tell us how they can do that?

Catherine: Um Yes. We have um a website which is southendinsight.org.uk. We are on Facebook - just search up southend in sight. Again the same on Instagram - Southend in Sight. They can also call our offices - it's a Southend number 342 131. Can ask us for further information.

Libby: Brilliant.

Sharen: That’s great, so thank you so much for joining us today and for your time.

Catherine: Thank you for having me.

Libby: Thank you!


Libby: Thanks so much for tuning in!

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