11th December, 2015

Wakefield District Sight Aid, a charity supporting local people with sight loss, is launching a befriending service to support its members. In a guest blog Liz Champion, the project coordinator, talks of the highs and lows of setting up the service.

assets/images/old-people-main.jpgPeople living with sight loss often say they feel lonely and isolated, cut off from people and things around them. Wakefield District Sight Aid exists to help around 2,500 members of the local community who have a visual impairment, by reducing isolation and improving quality of life. After consultation with members the need for a befriending service was identified. 

Although the charity supports people of all ages, many of the members are over 75 and reported feeling lonely as a result of their sight loss. The Befriending Service aims to improve their quality of life by linking them with a befriending volunteer who contacts them on the telephone or meets with them in person.

As a small charity, Wakefield District Sight Aid relies on donations to help fund our work and services, which include home visits, advice and information and provision of specialist equipment. Inevitably, the first issue when setting up the befriending service was securing funding. 

Funding
In early 2015 a successful application was made to the Coalfields Trust providing a grant to fund the project. With a plan and funding in place, the project could get underway. A coordinator was recruited and resources were developed, including training and induction programmes. We were grateful to the support of other local volunteering organisations and their employees, who were happy to share best practice on all things befriending. 

Volunteers
In the summer the first wave of volunteer recruitment took place, with two open days. There was a lot of interest in the volunteering opportunities, with new applications for office, fundraising and befriending volunteer vacancies coming in. Things were progressing well. 

Staffing
After the initial success and highs of the project, we then faced a difficult few months as a result of staff recruitment. Our previous chief executive, David, left us for pastures new. The volunteer coordinator, Graham Bell, was appointed into the chief executive role, and a new project coordinator was recruited and started in post in autumn 2015. 

With a full team, the project could pick up pace. In October we launched our telephone befriending service and have been delighted with the client feedback we’ve received so far. Having someone to talk to on a regular basis makes a huge difference to the lives of many of our members. 

The main challenge at the moment is from the huge demand for the befriending service. To meet this demand we are starting our second wave of volunteer recruitment in early 2016, and will also be launching a visual impairment support group. We hope this group will provide an opportunity for people with sight loss to meet other people and have a chat over a cup of tea in a friendly environment. 

Learning
We’re very grateful for the dedication of our volunteers who give their time to help others. We rely on our team of volunteers. Without them we would not be able to deliver the new service and many of our existing services. Our befriending service is still in the early stages of development, and we are keen to learn from, and work with other organisations in the area who are involved in similar projects. 

Looking Forward
It’s an exciting time for Wakefield District Sight Aid. We are putting a new business plan together, which will take the charity to its 150th anniversary in 2019. We want to grow and help more people with sight loss live as independently as possible. With our team of dedicated volunteers we are much closer to achieving our goals. Our aim is to make a difference to the lives of people with sight loss. If you can help in any way, we would love to hear from you. 

To get in touch call 01924 215555 or email volcoord@wdsa.org.uk

Website www.wdsa.org.uk

Facebook www.facebook.com/Wakefield-District-Sight-Aid

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