First blog entry from Bhavini Makwana ELVis’s Activities Coordinator

Hello and welcome to my first EVER Blog! Firstly, let me introduce myself, my name is Bhavini Makwana and I am the new Activities Coordinator and started mid April 2016. Prior to this I volunteered for RNIB as a Telephone Facilitator, the RP Fighting Blindness Charity as one of their Helpline Assistants and as an Eye Clinic Support Services Officers at one of Moorfields Satellite sites. I also founded and created SocialEyes – a social group for Vision Impaired people in Barking and Dagenham. So you can say I am very passionate about providing support, information and promoting services and opportunities to those affected with any form of sight loss. Encouraging those who need guiding into being independent and showing them different ways of how this can be achieved, for those who are ready. Having being diagnosed with /Retinitis Pigmentosa for the past 19 years, I can definitely relate to the issues, barriers and hurdles Blind and Partially Sighted people have to face. Raising awareness and promoting accessibility is very important to me.

I love to organise events, trips, activities and gatherings/parties and have lots of experience in this. So I guess you can say this is the perfect job for me and I definitely agree. Liaising closely with the 7 Boroughs of East London that ELVis look after, a challenge that I am overcoming is travelling independently on public transport. The thought of getting too close to the platform edge or getting on the wrong train or bus and arriving at an unfamiliar destination, would certainly worry and panic me. Inevitably, travelling is part of my daily routine and sometimes to more than a couple of destinations a day.  I am quite ecstatic to share that I am travelling and conquering one of my fears, I have come to learn that the train staff at Underground and Overground stations are fabulous in assisting Vision Impaired People.  For those who have never used the assistance before, let me describe what a typical journey would be like.

Arriving at my 1st station I will make my way to the sound of the bleeps of tapping Oyster Cards at the barriers. A member of staff will approach you or a kind passer-by by asking if you need any help. Informing them where I would like to travel to, they will plan the easiest route to your final destination. Calling up ahead to the station that you will be arriving to, they will let the staff know what train I am on, what time it left my current station, what time the train will arrive at station I am travelling to and what carriage I am in. Once I arrive, a member of staff will already be there waiting for me to either help me out the station or repeat the process if I need a connecting train. I have found this service really valuable and reassuring and has definitely made me more confident in travelling independently. Some of the staff I meet regularly have come to know me and are extremely helpful by walking me out the station and to the nearby bus stop that I need.

I have also come to discover the acts of kindness of random strangers from simply asking me “Do you need any help?” by helping me cross the road, finding me directions, and some even getting me into the train station and waiting with me until a member of staff is available.

Well I hope I have given an insight into how terrified I was about going out and about on public transport alone but now I am not only travelling in my area, but across East London and occasionally throughout the Capital. Why not give it go with a family member or friend until you can do it independently, it will certainly boost your confidence and help with not relying on others and waiting for them to take you out.

Well look out for my next blog where I will share what activities the groups have been on since I have been with ELVis, but in the meantime you can contact me if you would like to find out more about the Social Groups near you.


Thank You for reading!

Bhavini Makwana
Activities Co-Ordinator
East London Vision
Supporting people with sight loss

T: 020 3697 6464
M: 07976 448824
Charitable Incorporated Organisation number: 1154207


First blog by Karice, new addition to team ELVis

Learning, Guiding and Stephen King

“Barking & Dagenham, City and Hackney… D, E, F, G, H… H… Havering…”

This is me trying to memorise each of the boroughs that ELVis covers.  Mas said it’s easier to remember them alphabetically so that’s what I do – well, try to do.

There are a lot of things to remember: names, faces, places, travel routes… It’s all part of the process of being a new member of staff in a new organisation.

Being a Volunteer Co-ordinator isn’t new to me, I’ve been doing it for about 6 years now for a variety of charities.  Each charity is, of course very different, with different aims and objectives and approaches to volunteering programmes but essentially the role itself is the same: recruit, induct, train and line manage volunteers; ensure that they feel a part of the team and that they are just as committed to the cause and we are; support and motivate them and make try to make the volunteering experience as enjoyable and rewarding as possible for everyone involved.

It’s a great role, I get to meet a diverse range of people and learn about different situations and conditions.  My first month- and-a-bit at ELVis is no different.  Being vision impaired myself, I thought I had a good level of knowledge about what it is to live with limited sight.  Turns out, I don’t know as much as I thought I did! I’ve learned loads, including how to guide which, having never done it before I was absolutely awful at doing.  Here’s the thing though, everyone – including my long-suffering colleague who has borne the brunt of my tragic guiding skills – has been very patient and have all helped me to improve.

Even though I’ve had almost 6 weeks to settle in, I’ll be lying if I said I wasn’t still a little nervous.  Our work is important and, as someone who has some understanding of what it’s like to live with limited sight, I understand some of the challenges that can sometimes present themselves so feel a personal connection to the role.  That said, the support that I have received and the opportunities I have had to learn and develop have been invaluable.

Gaining some understanding of what

Of course, I am more than just a Volunteer Co-ordinator.  I have other interests, my biggest passion being writing short fiction – horror to be exact.  My plan is to follow in the footsteps of Stephen King and be the reason generations of people are scared to close their eyes at night!  I’m also in the process of rediscovering my love of the performing arts.  I have a love of all things creative so try to engage that side of myself wherever possible because I genuinely believe that engaging in creative activities has a positive impact on all aspects of our personal and professional lives.

So that’s me, the new Volunteer Co-ordinator who loves her job; has dodgy eyesight and a penchant for all things creative.  I’m looking forward to my journey with ELVis and, for those of you who may be interested in volunteering with us, don’t be put off by the Stephen King thing, I’m a sweetheart really!

London Marathon update by Masuma

Hello lovely people, this week I want to tell you all about Ryan Jones’s London Marathon Success.

On a rather chilly Sunday morning on 24 April, Ryan Jones, our vision impaired London Marathon runner, put his running shoes on and placed his many months of dedicated training in to practice when he took on the huge challenge of running the 26.2 miles for the London Marathon to raise funds for ELVis.

The ELVis support team were ready and geared up to cheer Ryan on at Tower Bridge in their ELVis t-shirts and blue painted eyes on their cheeks. Thanks to Paresh our handy artist on the day. We spent the time before the race promoting the work of ELVis, collecting donations and giving out the newly arrived ELVis merchandise to the general public.

With the goal of raising £2,000 almost in reach before the start of the London Marathon, we are delighted to report that Ryan has exceeded his target and raised over £2,400. There is still time to donate to Ryan’s Virgin Money Giving page and show your support. Your support would be much appreciated, the more money we raise, the more people living with sight loss we can help.

With around 40,000 people running the 36th marathon and the clock fast approaching 10.00am for the start, we took our place by the barriers on Tower Bridge, along with other spectators to cheer on the runners. Ryan made an excellent kick off across the start line and set himself a superb pace and ran the first 5k in 27 minutes.

We caught up with Ryan later to ask how he was feeling whilst waiting for the marathon to begin, Ryan said: “At the start, I was just really excited to get going and the buzz around the start line with the atmosphere throughout was amazing. It felt a real community amongst the other runners striving to achieve the same goal of finishing the marathon and raising money for their chosen cause.”

Ryan was flawless and kept up the pace for the entire 26.2 miles, reaching the halfway point in 1:57:13. With 12k to go and running at a great speed we made our way to Horse Guards Parade to congratulate Ryan on his fantastic run across the capital’s streets and over the finish line in 3:54:38.

We spoke to Ryan a few days after the marathon: “I was delighted to get to the finish as after around 24 miles my hamstrings seized up so I knew my legs were struggling, although I still felt great but was relieved I was near the end point as the adrenaline pushed me through those last couple of miles, although my hamstrings were saying something else to me. It was a real pleasure to run for ELVis as I know what amazing work you guys do and the difference it makes to the service users, so please keep up the amazing work.”

Finding out we were successful in the charity ballot for the 2016 London Marathon was fantastic. Ryan has done a fabulous job in raising much needed funds for ELVis, in order for us to continue to deliver services and support blind and partially sighted people. Ryan should be extremely proud of himself and especially for beating his previous time. Many congratulations to Ryan and huge thanks for all his efforts over the past 6 months.

Please donate generously to Ryan’s Virgin Money Giving page. Every penny we raise goes towards improving the quality of life of Vision impaired people in East London!

Catch you all in a few weeks.

Masuma 🙂


Marathon Scores and position
ELVis and supporters at the marathon
Team ELVis at Marathon
Team ELVis at Marathon
Runners at Tower Bridge
Runners at Tower Bridge

Last blog from Sharon Schaffer, time to reflect

3 Years Forward

As the Vision Strategies move into their next stage I shall be taking a step back from directly facilitating each group, and immersing myself more into addressing and influencing the gaps in services that the Strategies have highlighted across London.

With this pan London, rather than east London, perspective this will, therefore, be my last blog for ELVis (!!), so I thought I’d get a wee bit reflective….

It’s been 3 years since I first began work on the Vision Strategies across the 7 east London boroughs and 2 years since the Action Plans were agreed and activated by their respective groups.

So… what have the Vision Strategies done for us?

Well, I am pleased to say that

  • Each borough now has a tangible record of Eye Health and Sight Loss, and related issues, in its borough – something that many had no idea of before the Vision Strategies were produced
  • The Vision Strategy Group in each borough has good, cross sector representation, enabling networking and link-up opportunities across the whole breadth of the Sight Loss Pathway
  • In partnership with Social Services, the Register of Visual Impairment has been updated, in 6 of the 7 boroughs…. and we are working hard on the 7th!
  • There are, or commitments are in place, to include Vision in all 7 boroughs’ Joint Strategic Needs Assessments (thereby ensuring that commissioning for VI services remains on the agenda).
  • 25 events and activities were held in the ELVis region as part of National Eye Health Week 2015
  • The Chairs of each borough’s Vision Strategy Groups are now meeting regularly to share best practice and look at regional possibilities.
  • One of the Chairs said, “The status and credence which (chairing the Vision Strategy Group) brings has given me the opportunity to make the reality of my sight loss an issue which can’t be dismissed, can’t be ignored, and can’t remain unseen by the local decision makers”.

Furthermore, through the mapping of current service provision detailed in each of the Vision Strategies, ELVis has been able to identify and fill some of the most needed gaps. This has resulted in

  • The ELVis Vision Awareness Training Programme: which was launched at the end of 2014 and has delivered awareness training to Leisure Centre staff, Library staff, Health professionals, Thomas Pocklington Trust staff, and even primary school pupils! Plans are now underway to train up a group of vision impaired people from each borough to deliver further training, thereby reaching more frontline staff, as well as providing new skills and income to the trainers.
  • Technology Advice: In October 2015, ELVis appointed a Technology Advisor, Graham Page. He has already advised around 60 people in how to set up and use computers, tablets, smartphones and email
  • Volunteer Coordinator: who will be developing a pool of volunteers to help provide assistance with transport, shopping needs, appointments, outings, etc, as well as sight support in eye clinics.
  • Outings and Activities: ELVis plays a key role in helping its members take part in outings and activities that they may not have been able to do alone.  One of our members said, after a summer boat cruise down the Thames, “It was very exciting being on the boat and the weather was lovely. Thanks for a great experience.” After a trip in Southend another said, “It was such a great day…I really enjoyed being with this group, as well as being able to do my own thing.” It’s this opportunity to meet new people and to build relationships that has really been the strength of our local societies. In this way, not only have we extended the range of things people can do, but also the number of friends they’ve been able to make.

It is with these achievements and models in mind that I shall be looking at provision across London and seeking to learn from and influence best practice and optimum services.

See you on the campaign trail!


National Organisation of Spanish Blind People!

Whilst away recently on holiday in Spain (don’t worry, this blog isn’t going to be a gloat about my getaway to sunnier climes), I was interested to investigate a little into the treatment of VIPs in the country. Through this, I discovered ONCE (Organización Nacional de Ciegos Españoles, or the National Organisation of Spanish Blind People), which is an organisation which predominantly employs VIPs to sell lottery tickets. In most cities, I saw kiosks selling ONCE lottery tickets as well as several VI people in the middle of high streets or walking from restaurant to restaurant selling tickets to locals. Furthermore, whenever I told sighted Spanish people that I work for an organisation that supports VIPs, they would always say “Oh, we have an organisation like that here in Spain: ONCE.” Clearly, then, ONCE is a very well-known organisation that a good proportion of the Spanish population, both VI and sighted, is aware of.

Upon doing a little further investigating, I managed to discover just how well-known ONCE is. The entire organisation currently employs 23,000 VIPs and other people with disabilities to sell their lottery tickets. From 1989 to 2003, ONCE sponsored one of Spain’s leading cycling teams, and has even received support from the Spanish royal family, with Princess Letizia presenting awards at an awareness-raising event. The organisation itself covers several different aims outside of the provision of employment, including providing an online support network and helping to eliminate communication barriers for VIPs.

Clearly, this is fantastic service which provides not only support but a likely avenue of employment for VIPs across the country. However, this raises interesting issues, particularly when looked at in contrast with the UK. In Spain, of the VIPs who are in employment, 80% of them are involved in the selling of lottery tickets for ONCE. It is believed that these ‘reserved occupations’ are beneficial to VIPs as they provide a relatively sure channel of employment. In contrast, in the UK, it is believed that VIPs should be integrated into wider society and as such there is nothing comparable to the employment channel that ONCE provides. However, as we are all aware, finding employment in the UK for VIPs is rarely easy, and it will probably come as no surprise to hear that the unemployment level of Spanish VIPs is lower than that of VIPs in the UK. However, does this method of keeping specific jobs predominantly for the VI community pigeon-hole VIPs? Does it mean that they are less likely, or less encouraged, to find employment elsewhere, in other fields which may interest them more? Or is the fact that VIPs in Spain find it easier to get any work at all more important than this? Does it mean that, ultimately, VIPs are less integrated into the wider community, or is the opposite the case and are VIPs actually more visible in Spain owing to ONCE’s success? These are tricky issues that I don’t have any answers for, but I certainly think it’s always worth looking at the different ways of doing things in other countries, and to learn any lessons that we can. And next time you’re in Spain, look out for ONCE, and maybe buy a ticket. You never know when you’re about to strike it lucky!

An events update from Chris

I would like to let you know about some of the activities that some groups in East London have been up to and that I have been very lucky to have attended.

The Chess Club for visually impaired people  has been meeting since January this year once a week on a Friday for two hours were people have been learning how to play chess everyone who has attended have found the game interesting, had a great time and have learned what moves different pieces can make, and how to play the game.

I believe we might have some chess champions in the making.  There are so many strategies, tactics and rules that make the game exciting.   You have to try to plan not only your moves but what your opponents moves might be.

At Waltham Forest there are gentle exercise classes taking place, which teaches you to move to music which everyone attending is enjoying and using muscles that they never knew they had.

Beyond Barriers in Tower Hamlets have started to have quiz nights to help the group to raise funds.  The first night was a success where the quiz was challenging and it allowed people to meet and socialise, have a great night out.  Fun was had by all.

A brief update on all things ELVis!

Hello to all you lovely people. This week I’m going to give a short update on what I have been up to over the past few weeks and what’s new in the wondderful world of ELVis. So a part of that involved relaxing in warmer climates, but I won’t bore you with that, feels somewhat cruel considering how cold it is out here.

We held the ELVis Board away day towards the beginning of February, it isn’t as exciting as it sounds!! We started to look at projects for 2016-2017. Thank you to the United Bank of Switzerland in Liverpool Street for hosting us for the day.

Following our previous couple of years success of working with NCS the challenge as part of their summer programme, we met the East London staff team to do it all again this year. We hope to work with them as part of the autumn programme as well this year. We also held interviews for the activities coordinator post and are looking forward to having a new addition to Team ELVis.

Thanks to a grant from FreeSport our “Get Fit For Spring” project started in February. Through the grant we are running  8 week chair based exercise classes in Waltham Forest for vision impaired women and older people who are currently undertaking no physical activities.

We are pleased to report that we have recently received a grant from the Primary Club, which will enable us to deliver our “Young and Intrepid” project. This will involve holding a number of more unusual physical activity days. So if you are a bit of an adrenalin junky like me, this will be right up your street. Huge thanks to the primary club.

Catch you all in a few weeks time.