My Margate Experience with Beyond Sight Loss

We traveled as a group to Margate on Thursday 28th June.  There was very good community spirit among the members.  Each of the members had a different experience of the outing because of their childhood memories of visiting the beach town.

The weather was nice and sunny, and you could feel the cool breeze.  It was nice to walk along the beach front.  I really enjoyed it!

For lunch, we ate at a fish and chips restaurant on the promenade.  The food was reasonably priced and was cooked fresh.  I thought the customer service was fantastic as all the staff were very friendly and attentive to the group’s needs.

As I spoke to each of the members individually, I learned that some of the older members were slightly disappointed that their memories of Margate have been eroded over the years, but I didn’t let this dampen their spirit.

When I finished my lunch, I decided to explore the old part of the town.  I was pleased to see the old-fashioned sweet shop I used to visit had survived, so I bought a few treats to bring back home for my family.  Also, I came across graffiti art of the Trotter family from the comedy show ‘Only Fools and Horses’, which I loved watching.  The art was big and the colours were bold enough for me and some of the members with sight to appreciate.  It was a very nice piece of art work!

We had split into several groups as there were so many of us, and at the end of the day we regrouped and shared what we had done on our visit.

I enjoyed myself and would like to say thank you to all the organisers and volunteers who work hard to keep us safe and arrange the outings.

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Photo of the Beyond Sight Loss members eating fish and chips at a seaside restaurant in Margate.
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Photo of a mural (wall art) featuring the Trotter family from the TV comedy show ‘Only Fools and Horses’. The mural features Del Boy, Rodney and Grandpa who are all characters in the TV show.

Written by Christine Maker, ELVis member

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My Training for the Peak District Challenge

I have given up my social life over the last 8 months training for the Peak District 50k Challenge taking place this September.  I and my Look Who’s Walking team members are hoping to be the very first blind and sighted group to undertake such an exhaustive challenge and to complete it in the allocated 12 hour time frame. The Look Who’s Walking team consists of Bhavini, Saul, Ian and myself.

I would consider myself reasonably active with a good base level of fitness due to my joy of seeking out adventurous activities, as well as regularly taking part in tennis and other sporting events.  I started the year by doing short walks of 5k three or four times a week, and over the months I have increased the distance I walk.

Most recently, I completed my longest walk of 24 miles. My fitness levels were certainly stretched!  With the final 3 miles being a struggle, the idea of jumping on the train at Cockfosters was extremely inviting.  However, I persevered and hit the 24 miles.  It isn’t every day that I’ll be able to say I’ve done 57,000 steps!

Personally, one of the biggest challenges has been finding people to guide me as part of my training during the evenings for a couple of hours and longer walks on a weekend to ensure I am well placed to complete the challenge. It highlights how an activity that is taken for granted by most people can instantly become inaccessible for blind and partially sighted people.  I am extremely grateful to my family and friends who have walked with me and supported my training efforts over the past 8 months, and are continuing to do so leading up to the event.  If it wasn’t for their support, I wouldn’t have built up the stamina to undertake such a challenge.

It has also encouraged me to step outside of my comfort zone and seek walking opportunities elsewhere. This has led to me attending a Meetup walking group, which for me was a huge deal to pluck up the confidence to not only be guided by someone I didn’t know, but to also walk with people I hadn’t met before. However, they were all super lovely and I’d happily walk with them again in the future even after my challenge. I believe mainstream activities such as walking should be inclusive, and I want to remove the need for vision people to only attend VI events.

Moreover, as part of my training, I’ve started making my own energy snack bars to eat during my walks. My speciality is a date-based bar.  They have become my pick-me-up when the energy levels are dipping.  After our 12 mile training day in June in the Peaks with terrain of various degrees of difficulty and the energy quickly disappearing, I can see myself chomping through several of my homemade creations on the big day.

For anyone wishing to sponsor my Peak District walk with the Look Who’s Walking Team, you can do so on our JustGiving page, or if you fancy walking with myself and Bhavini for the final few weeks, please contact us via the Look Who’s Walking website at https://www.lookwhoswalking.org/.

Hopefully my next update will be on the success of the challenge and how we all got on.  See you soon!

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The Look Who’s Walking Team high up in the Peak District during a practice run of the challenge.

Written by Masuma Ali, ELVis CEO

Beyond Sight Loss Fundraising Event Success

Just wanted to share with you what a great time I had when I attended a fundraising event.  The event was hosted by and in aid of Beyond Sight Loss which is a peer led support group for visually impaired people living in Tower Hamlets.

It was an excellent evening.  There was music being played in the background and lots of raffle prizes were won by the members, which included high street vouchers, teddy bears and exhibition tickets.  Beyond Sight Loss are very grateful to the individuals and organisations who donated their prizes to the group.  Moreover, prizes were handed out to members who were able to give correct answers to ‘Guess the Weight of the Cake’ and “How Many Sweets in a Jar”.

Members also enjoyed their three-course meal.  It included samosas for starters, Undhiu (a variety of unusual vegetables, prepared slowly with small mildly spiced dumplings), served with naan and raitha for the main course, and mango sorbet for desert.  The food tasted fresh and was very delicious to eat!

Towards the end of the evening, everyone was in a great mood.  The members were dancing on the dance floor and having a fantastic time.  What can I say?  The fundraising event was a success and I’m already looking forward to next year!

Well done Beyond Sight Loss for putting on such a great event and to chairwoman Ashrafia Chouldhury for making it all possible.  Congratulations!

Written by Christine Edmead, ELVis Administration and Information Officer

Why Social Groups are Important for Vision Impaired People

Let me tell you how I’ve become involved with East London Vision.  I became a member of the Hackney Vision Impaired group at the beginning of 2018.  I found out about the group through a Hackney-based organisation called Outward, and they referred me to the Low Vision Impairment Forum at Thomas Pocklington Trust, who then referred me on to ELVis.

Before joining ELVis, I felt completely isolated.  After graduating from university, a year ago, I couldn’t find work, so that led me to feel like I wasn’t doing very much and spending most of my time on my own.  It was a really depressing time for me.  When I spoke to Bhavini at ELVis for the very first time, she invited me along to the Hackney VI group, and I literally felt alive and hopeful that I would be back and part of the community again.

I started coming along to the Hackney group in February this year, and ever since then I’ve attended ELVis-supported events like the ten-pin bowling in Stratford, which I enjoyed very much.  The outings mean a lot to me and the rest of the group because it allows us to visit new places that we wouldn’t normally go to because ELVis always does a great job at making sure they’re accessible for vision impaired people, and that’s great!  We also have meetings with guest speakers like Graham from ELVis who gave us a demonstration of the Amazon Alexa and the Google Home speakers.  The group members find these meetings extremely useful because they’re informative and we learn about technology or services that can enhance our independence.

I feel really blessed to be part of the Hackney VI group.  I feel a sense of security knowing that there’s a group where I can meet other people who live with sight loss.  It has helped boost my confidence as I have more things in life to look forward to.  Also, social groups in general are important for vision impaired people because it gives us the opportunity to make new friends, exchange vital information and make a difference in the community.  I hope everyone who reads my blog post and isn’t part of a social group is encouraged to get out there and find one. Alternatively, if you live in Hackney, why not get in touch with East London Vision to sign up with our group.  I hope to meet you very soon!

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Photo of Tolga holding a bowling ball at a ten-pin bowling event with ELVis at Westfield Stratford City.

Written by Tolga, member of the Hackney Vision Impaired Group

ELVis Collecting Donations on Geranium Day, Friday 18th May

Everybody knows that the symbol of the poppy represents those who have fought and died in military conflict, but how many people are aware of the symbol of vision impaired people in London?  For those who don’t know, it is the geranium, a five-petalled flower that blooms from springtime to early autumn.  While it’s uncertain as to why this particular flower was chosen to represent people with sight loss, the symbol was first used in the early 1920s and was the brainchild of newspaper magnate Sir Arthur Pearson.

Pearson, the founder of the Daily Express, was an early campaigner for vision impaired people.  Having lost his sight through glaucoma, he spent a large part of his life raising awareness of the difficulties that VI people could face.   Pearson was frustrated by the barriers faced by vision impaired people who not only had to go about their daily lives in a society that was largely unaware of their needs, but who also had to contend with post-war poverty, which often had a greater effect on their lives than it did on the lives of their fully-sighted friends and neighbours.

He therefore decided to spearhead a publicity campaign that would encourage the public to donate money to causes that would help to support the vision impaired population of London.   Just before his death in 1921, Pearson organised a ‘Geranium Day’ appeal to raise funds for the blind and partially sighted people of the capital, having used his contacts to gain a royal patron, Princess Louise.  From the funds raised through this, the Greater London Fund for the Blind was born.

Geranium Day continues still, and is a time when sight loss organisations and charities have the opportunity to raise money on public property across London.  This year, the London-wide collection day will be on Friday 18th May, and East London Vision will be using it as an opportunity to raise funds for our own projects.  The whole team will be out and about, and as well as collecting money we’ll have the opportunity to talk to the public about sight loss as well as about the work that we do to help provide support to the vision impaired community in East London.  We’ll be spread out across the region, with groups at Liverpool St. Station, outside Westfield shopping centre in Stratford and at Canary Wharf, and we’ll be around for most of the day between 8am and 5pm.

So if you’re free next Friday, then come along and say hello!  It’ll be great to see as many of our friends as possible.  And if you’d be interested in joining us and helping us collect money for part of the day, then you’d be more than welcome.  Please phone the office on 020 3697 6464 if you’re interested.

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Portrait of Sit Arthur Pearson

Written by Nicola Stokes, ELVis Service Development & Delivery Manager

Raising Awareness of Vision Impaired Passengers at Becontree Bus Garage

Recently, myself and Masuma visited Becontree Bus Garage to talk to a group of TfL bus drivers about the challenges blind and partially sighted people face when travelling on buses.

We gave them spectacles to wear which simulated 6 common eye conditions: macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, tunnel vision with cataracts (RP), hemianopia and cataracts.  Then, we asked them to read bus numbers, locate seats, and get on and off the bus.  They all agreed that the tasks were very difficult to do with the simulated spectacles on.

Next, we demonstrated various canes- the long cane, which is used as a mobility aid, the symbol cane, which is shorter and thinner, and used to highlight that a person has a visual impairment, and a long, red and white cane, which is used by people with both a hearing and visual impairment.  The bus drivers explained to us that when they see a person with a cane or guide dog waiting at a bus stop they are obliged to stop regardless if the person has their hand out or not, and they would let them know what bus number it is.

We then discussed an important issue for a majority of VI passengers- when multiple buses arrive at a bus stop it becomes very difficult to see the busses at the back.  Because of this, VI passengers often get left behind.  Therefore, we suggested that subsequent buses behind a trail should wait at the bus stop to allow passengers to find out what the bus numbers are.  Moreover, we mentioned that it’s not always easy to locate the Oyster card reader, as well as find an empty seat.  The drivers said that passengers with a freedom pass do not have to tap the reader.  They can show it to the driver, or the driver will know by seeing a white cane or guide dog.   Furthermore, most buses have mirrors that allow the driver to see the entire bus, so they asked if it would be helpful if they should inform VI passengers where the empty seats are.  Lastly, we also advised the bus drivers that if a bus is re-routed/diverted or stopped short of its destination, then it is helpful to have an audio-announcement.  Without one, a vision impaired person does not know where they are on their journey and can leave them feeling lost and disoriented.

Overall, the outcome of the meeting was very positive.  The drivers who participated in our vision awareness training were glad they attended.  It’s always a pleasure to work with organisations like TfL to help improve the quality of travel for people living with sight loss.  Before you go, I would love to hear about your experience of travelling on public transport so we can give feedback at future training sessions.

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Photo of Bhavini and Masuma with a bus driver who is wearing a simulated spectacle.

Written by Bhavini Makwana, ELVis Activities Coordinator

Edited by Ray Calamaan, ELVis Communications Coordinator

ELVis Self-Defence Sessions Are a Success!

Not all, but some blind and partially sighted people can feel more vulnerable when out and about and knowing how to defend themselves can be a real confidence booster as we have been learning.  Thanks to funding from the Primary Club we are in the process of holding a 10 week self-defence course with self-defence experts 1Touch project.

On week 6 of the sessions, we took the opportunity to speak to attendees to hear of their experiences so far.

We caught up with Aqua from Newham who has now been coming along to the classes for a while.

“I’m feeling very empowered and a little bit secure about myself when I go out.  It shows me that if anyone came after me then I’d have a chance to get away from it.”

Umit from the 1Touch Project who is running the sessions for ELVis comes from a boxing background.  He lost his sight around 10 years ago and teaches self-defence to blind and partially sighted people.  He explains how the ‘1Touch’ concept works.

“We teach people movements they can use in a one touch position- they can touch and feel what’s happening without needing to be able to see.”

Neil from Waltham Forest, who is another one of our attendees, has also been benefitting from the classes.

“Self-defence can be challenging with lots of moves to remember.  We have been learning various escape and attack positions.  I do feel confident in defending myself and hopefully should be able to remember the techniques, as long as I keep up the practice.”

Deniz has been assisting with the classes and thinks participants are doing great:

“Throughout the programme the participants have been progressing amazingly.  I know a few people that have come along not knowing anything from the start to becoming one of the best in the class.”

I’ve had the opportunity to take part which has been great.  I feel I’ve learned a lot in a short time.  The challenge for me really is to be able to retain the techniques should I ever find myself in a situation requiring them.  However, I’m hoping this won’t be the case.

Neil feels that he would be somewhat more prepared should he ever get attack, although, we all hope this doesn’t ever happen to him.  Also, Aqua has started to feel strong in herself as a result of the sessions and hopes to do some more classes to build her confidence further.   We are certainly looking forward to having Aqua, Neil and all the other attendees join us for the remaining 4 sessions.

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A photo of Masuma practising self-defence with ELVis member Neil.

Don’t forget to watch our YouTube video of our members participating in a recent self-defence class.

Written by Masuma Ali, ELVis CEO