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Putting things in place

28th October 2020

by National Lottery Good Causes

With nearly 51,000 visually impaired people in Essex, helping the blind and those with limited sight over lockdown became a major priority.

For Michelle Thompson (General Manager) and Sarah-Jane Piper (Project Coordinator) of the Blind And Sight Impaired Society, that meant making a total of more than 3,000 calls to help people who were suddenly especially vulnerable.

Michelle and Sarah-Jane are some of the amazing people who have a bench in their local area dedicated to them to celebrate their invaluable support to her community during the covid-19 pandemic.

The beginning of lockdown was particularly challenging with many visually impaired people struggling with the basics, like accessing food shopping and medicine, and with many others unable to socially distance because of their sight loss.

With nearly 51,000 visually impaired people in Essex, helping the blind and those with limited sight over lockdown became a major priority.

For Michelle Thompson (General Manager) and Sarah-Jane Piper (Project Coordinator) of the Blind And Sight Impaired Society, that meant making a total of more than 3,000 calls to help people who were suddenly especially vulnerable.

Meanwhile, special plans needed to be put in place for dozens of others who had both failing sight but were also shielding.

Michelle says: “In the beginning, we were having to identify people in crisis and literally put things in place so that they could have food and people checking in on them every week.

“It was tough not knowing how serious it was going to be and how it was going to impact the blind people in our community,” she says.

“We’re a small team so it was a challenge, but I think we did a good job of it.”

The charity is just one of the many charities supported by The National Lottery with players contributing around £30 million a week to good causes.

It was also faced with deciding how many staff could carry on working, and how they could best adapt their services in ways they had never had to consider before.

“Blind people are not all able to just jump on the internet and use Zoom, and it can be quite challenging,” Michelle says.

“It’s about putting all the right software in place to help them and assist with technology, so that was the biggest challenge.

A number of those depending on the charity were also in dire straits and feeling lonely and isolated, she says.

The charity has five staff, but have been receiving National Lottery funding for the last three years which has helped them increase the amount of training, building capacity and strengthening themselves as an organisation.

Michelle, a married mum of two, says: “Without the National Lottery funding we would struggle hugely. When you’re a small team of staff with limited resources you need a certain amount of funding to run an organisation that’s supporting over a thousand people. Our members are really grateful for that.

“It was great to hear the news this bench was being made. When there’s a lot of bad news it’s good to have something to focus on for my team and for them to feel appreciated. We’re so excited.”

Having grown up in the area all her life, she says it was great to be able to give back to the local community and make a lasting difference, particularly in response to the pandemic when people needed them more than ever.

Michelle says: “It means the world to us to be recognised for the work that we’ve been doing – but the people we work to support are always at the heart of everything we do.”