By Louise Norgate – Project Co-ordinator
Two chilly March days marked the exciting arrival of the very first of OPTiC’s empowerment courses in Stafford last month.
Our course was created as a kind of ‘capsule’, delivering the essence of both RNIB and Action’s work to date by offering group-based, confidence building programmes to allow people with sight loss time to talk, share experiences and learn from others. Our aim is simple: for attendees to end the programme feeling better equipped with the tools, knowledge and networks to help them live the life they want to, their way.
So, Friday 8th March saw our 9 participants arrive at the venue (thanks to the Hurricane Premier Inn for looking after us!), some from close by in Stafford and others from neighbouring districts – the very first to participate in this kind of programme within the County. In true partnership style, we were ably facilitated by Jeff Page (Finding Your Feet Programme Manager at RNIB) who put everyone at ease with brief introductions and an overview of the two days… and then we were off.
We began with an interactive icebreaker to give the group some early ownership of the two days: making The Rules! Agreeing some boundaries and expectations as a group certainly got people talking, and was followed by some individual stories as everyone shared a little about themselves, their experience of sight loss and their hopes and expectations for the two days. The rest of the day seemed to fly by as we were joined by Marian Tague (Visual Impairment Rehabilitation Officer with Staffordshire & Stoke-on-Trent Partnership Trust) for two very thoughtful and practical sessions on reading, writing and recalling information and mobility. We ended with a session on money, finance and the recent changes to the benefit system, and with the help of Paul Sims from Action’s Stoke team and Niall McMurtry of RNIB there was plenty to discuss to bring the day to a close.
This day began on a very different note, looking at the emotional impact of sight loss in a session sensitively facilitated by RNIB Counsellor Toni Hoskins, who was on hand for support as participants opened up about how they personally had dealt with their loss of sight. After a breather, we continued looking at local support and talked about the OPTiC project in more detail, to get people thinking about their individual skills and what they have to offer. Our penultimate session on healthy eating and nutrition from Bav Heer (a member of the British Association of Nutritional Therapists) gave us some very literal food for thought, and we closed on a positive note with some thoughts on goal-setting from Jeff.
Did we achieve our aim for the two days?
Our participants certainly thought so, and we were delighted to receive overwhelmingly positive feedback on each session and on the programme as a whole. One of the most valuable outcomes was in evidence by Day 2, as we saw participants forming friendships and planning to remain in contact. Already, some have branched out to engage with Age UK locally to try out new social activities on offer through OPTiC. Others who discovered they lived close by have subsequently met up… in other words, peer support in action! Not that we’re complacent; this is the first of 9 courses due to run during the project and we will be following participants over the longer term, to understand their experience over time and how they feel they’ve benefitted from being involved.
The last word for the moment, however, goes to Stuart. After he attended the course, I asked him for his summary of how he found the experience; you can hear his thoughts in the audio clip below.