"It is relaxed and informal, you are among friends and people who get what sight loss is all about."
Phil Richardson of the Low Vision Centre team
There couldn’t be a better year to resolve to ‘see’ what local sight loss support charity N-Vision has to offer - the clue’s in the name, Twenty Twenty!
While many of us enjoy 20-20 vision others live with sight loss significant enough to profoundly affect so much the rest of us take for granted.
N-Vision, the Blackpool Fylde and Wyre Society for the Blind, supports 2500 people living with sight loss.
And while assistive tech plays its part along with a Talking Newspaper coming up to 43 years old this year – also the charity’s 110th year – and there’s an eye clinic liaison service and support groups and sports and so much more one of the greatest allies in the fight for quality of life is … a cuppa.
It’s not so much the restorative power of tea or coffee that works its magic here – but good company, a chat in pleasant surrounds with others who just ‘get’ what sight loss is all about.
Cake helps too. And that’s why the setting is all important for N-Vision’s network of six café clubs across all three local boroughs covered.
The man behind the development of the café clubs in recent years – Phil Richardson of the charity’s Low Vision Centre team – says the secret is location, location, location.
The Blackpool café club meets in the magnificent Mazzei café at the Winter Gardens, all opulent gilded swags and drapes as befits the namesake designer who used to create film sets.
The St Anne café club meets in the Pavilion Café at the entrance to Ashton Gardens, one of the parkland gems of the Fylde Coast.
The Fleetwood club meets at the historic North Euston Hotel which stood at the end of the railway line from London Euston – and the port itself could be on track for a revival of its rail link.
The Cleveleys café club meets at The Tramway, a pub and eating house named in honour of – well, guess what?
Two of the café clubs meet at Booths cafes – at Poulton and Garstang.
The aim, says Phil, is to place the café clubs at the heart of local communities … right in mainstream society. Café society.
Phil explain: “We think it’s important we meet at places in the heart of the community – it’s all about inclusion.
“There’s a risk of increased social isolation with sight loss and the clubs are a great way of getting people out and about, into their town centres, meeting and making new friends, catching up with us, too, if they have any concerns, or need updates.
“It’s relaxed and informal, you’re among friends and people who get what sight loss is all about.”
The charity’s HQ is based at Bosworth Place, Squires Gate, Blackpool, not far from the end (or start) of the Fleetwood-Starr Gate Starr Gate-Fleetwood tramline.
CEO Ruth Lambert, who lives over Wyre herself, knows the trip to the Low Vision Centre, or the many activities on site at social hub Sharples Hall, can be a stretch for those reliant on public transport, taxis, or a partner or friend running them in.
She’s pressed for a café club in Garstang for some time. “We have clients in Garstang and over Wyre area. The new club will make it so much easier for them to keep in touch with us and enjoy a good cuppa and a chat.”
The café clubs act as social satellites for the charity and beyond being a great way of making friends – some of those who are severely visually impaired or partially sighted become volunteers themselves – and enable clients to catch up with Low Vision Centre staff to share updates, any concerns, get the latest on assistive tech or other developments, ask for benefits advice and so much more.
The very first café club for N-Vision’s clients in Garstang and area was held at Booths Café this month – and proved a huge success.
From here on in, it wlll be held the second Thursday of every month from 11am to noon. (Don’t forget your shopping bags…)
“Great turn out” Booths social media team tweeted in response to the pictures – and the charity’s own team had nothing but praise for the Booths staff at the café too.
“We were impressed with how helpful they were,” said Phil. “Nothing was too much trouble and they made us, and our clients, feel really welcome.”
“It shows it was needed,” says another member of the Low Vision/Community Services team Caron Woods – who took the picture above this article.
“It was really well attended and has generated quite a lot of community outreach work, too.”
One of the unexpected dividends of the charity’s café club circuit is that they encourage others to travel beyond their borders to explore new places with new friends.
“We’re not territorial, or cliquish,” says one café club regular, who includes Fleetwood, Poulton and Cleveleys on her monthly rounds. Socialising has become a piece of cake, in every sense.
“It gets you out – and really improves your confidence.”
As for the latest addition to café society for the charity? The story of Booths began in Blackpool – at The China House in 1847. The retail empire we know and love today was founded on a teenage entrepreneur’s zeal for tea and desire to serve the best. It wasn’t long before Edwin Henry Booth visited France and added coffee to the winning business blend, too, and then came the cafes which have proved such a charming cornerstone of so many of the stores.
N-Vision may not be quite as historic, but it must be doing something right to be celebrating its 110th birthday - by having a ball on the 10/10/2020.
Wake up and smell the coffee? N-Vision already has… we'll need even more on the 11/10/2020!
For more information call the Low Vision team on 01253 362696 or follow the charity on social media @N_Vision_NW (Twitter) and nvisionnw Facebook for regular updates. The café clubs, times and locations, are also featured every week on charity’s Talking Newspaper’s society news, distributed by digital audio plug to several hundred subscribers, or available via https://soundcloud.com/user-108409203