FEATURE: Charity make Sheffield safer for the blind and partially sighted

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For over 155 years, a charity has been making Sheffield a safer and better place for people with a visual impairment.

Sheffield Royal Society for the Blind (SRSB), one of Sheffield’s oldest independent charities, provides opportunity, support, friendship and services to over 3,600 blind and partially sighted people in and around the city, helping them to achieve whatever they wish to do and whatever they aspire to be.

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The charity, whose Patron is the Earl of Scarbrough, offers a wide range of services within the community, from their Mappin Street Centre and Cairn Home facility, meeting the needs of blind and partially sighted children and adults of all ages.

Since 1939, there has been a centre for blind people on Mappin Street. The centre, originally called the Assembly Hall, provided an excellent base from which to provide support and entertainment from. The building remained in use in its original form for almost 70 years, until it was demolished in 2007 to make way for the modern facility which the local charity operates from today.

Each week, in excess of 300 people visit the centre to meet with friends, go out on visits to local attractions and learn new skills within various activities and groups, including singing, swimming and writing to name but a few, all supported by volunteers.

Abi’s son Finlay attended the Little Sparklers, a weekly preschool playgroup held at the centre on Mappin Street. Abi said: “Having a child born with albinism and visually impaired and not really knowing much about it was very daunting. However SRSB were life savers. From attending Little Sparklers when Finlay was just a few weeks old, to the advice and support provided by staff, to nipping in for a coffee and a chat. It’s like having that one friend you always can turn to and rely on. Knowing Finlay will have this support in place as he grows up is reassuring.”

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The charity also runs a residential care home for elderly people with a visual impairment, Cairn Home, in the Crosspool area of Sheffield, providing seven day care for residents along with a variety of activities to keep them physically and mentally active.

SRSB employs a team of six community advice officers who offer a comprehensive support service visiting visually impaired people in their own home, offering support to those who require assistance and providing a full needs assessment for newly registered blind or partially sighted people, helping them to maintain as much independence as possible.

Steve Hambleton, SRSB general manager said: “We are frequently complimented on how we address the needs of the person as an individual, not the eye condition. We always consider how best to support people with all their requirements and we have a saying “If we can’t help you ourselves we almost certainly know someone who can.” This is applied to every aspect of someone’s life, not just their sight problems as it is important that people’s general wellbeing is improved.”

Volunteers also run a variety of support initiatives for the charity’s clients and their families. ‘Tele-friends’ is one of these initiatives, providing invaluable contact for people who are isolated and unable to easily get out of their own homes. A team of volunteers, some of whom have a sight problem themselves, telephone people on a weekly basis, offering a friendly voice and someone to speak to.

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SRSB also supports their clients’ families and friends. Often the spouses, parents, children and friends of those with a sight problem can worry about leaving them alone, so when clients visit SRSB’s activity centre and the various groups available, this allows carers to go out and do the weekly shop or visit friends without worrying about leaving their loved ones at home on their own without support.

The local charity receives no government funding and relies on public support through fundraising events and donations from individuals, groups and companies in order to finance the day to day costs of providing and developing services. If you’d like to support the Sheffield Royal Society for the Blind, there are lots of ways you can get involved. For more information please call Sue or Jane on 0114 272 2757 or email fundraising@srsb.org.uk

As one client, Hayley, explained: “You can imagine the effects physically and emotionally being told you are losing your eyesight. I want to stay positive and SRSB helps me do that and maintain my independence. I know if I need anything, I can pick up the phone or visit the centre. The impact that SRSB has is life-saving, for me and many others like me.