• Sun. Jun 23rd, 2024

North East Connected

Hopping Across The North East From Hub To Hub

Northumberland Charity Bringing Vision Impaired People Together With Newcastle Building Society Grant Support

(from left) Suzanne Wood, head of compliance and conduct risk at Newcastle Building Society, and Lee Willis, manager at the Society’s Morpeth branch, with Vision Northumberland chair Mala Janes and chief officer Julie Boyack (from left) Suzanne Wood, head of compliance and conduct risk at Newcastle Building Society, and Lee Willis, manager at the Society’s Morpeth branch, with Vision Northumberland chair Mala Janes and chief officer Julie Boyack

Dozens of people across Northumberland with visual impairments are enjoying more social time together thanks to the work of a county charity and new funding from Newcastle Building Society.

Vision Northumberland set up its Chatter Box community café 18 months ago as a way of giving vision impaired people from across the county a safe and welcoming place to go, after the restrictions of the pandemic had left many of them stuck inside for months at a time.

The café is located at the charity’s Reiver House sensory hub on Staithes Lane in Morpeth and opens on Tuesday and Thursday mornings.

It has around 30 customers visiting every week, with some being brought there by the charity’s team of volunteer drivers from as far afield as Berwick and Hexham, as well as from closer local communities.

The charity is now using a £1,500 grant from the Newcastle Building Society Community Fund at the Community Foundation to provide its customers with free hot meals, tea and coffee to ensure that the impact of the cost of living crisis doesn’t prevent anyone who’d like to visit the café from visiting.

The grant is being provided through the Newcastle Building Society Community Fund at the Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland, which offers grants to charities and community groups located in or around the communities served by the Society’s branch network.

Vision Northumberland, which was formerly the Northumberland County Blind Association, provides advice and support services to vision impaired people to enable them to gain the knowledge, confidence and skills necessary to increase independence and fulfil life potential.

The purpose-built Reiver House hub houses a wide range of low vision aids and equipment that are available to visitors, while the charity also has a number of other outreach centres around the county.

The charity’s work is supported by a team of over 160 volunteers across the county.

There are estimated to be over 18,000 vision impaired people living throughout Northumberland.

Julie Boyack, chief officer at Vision Northumberland, says: “We know that many vision impaired people experience feelings of social isolation and exclusion at the best of times, which can impact on their general health and well-being.

“The pandemic really magnified the problem, leaving many of our service users unable to get out of the house for several months, and as the covid situation has eased, there’s been an understandable nervousness for some of them about stepping back out into a much-changed world.

“We set up the Chatter Box café as a way of encouraging vision impaired people to get out into the community again, but we’ve been increasingly conscious of the impact of the cost of living crisis on our customers, especially as many of them are living on a very specific fixed income and don’t have much spare money.

“Being able to take away the worry about paying for food and drink at the café has made an amazing difference to the work we’re able to do – and what’s really special is being able to hear the laughter and chatter coming from the café every time we’re open.

“Newcastle Building Society’s support is having a big positive impact of people living right across the county and we’re really grateful for their help.”

Suzanne Wood, head of compliance and conduct risk at Newcastle Building Society, who recently visited the charity, adds: “Vision Northumberland recognised an emerging local need and put together a terrific response which is making a real difference to the lives of many people across the county.

“I was blown away by the commitment of the volunteers at Vision Northumberland and the stories Julie shared about the work the charity carries out in the region.

“We’re really pleased to be helping them increase the community impact that the café can make and hope it continues to go from strength to strength.”

Since its launch in 2016, Newcastle Building Society’s Community Fund at the Community Foundation has also contributed over £2.3m in grants and partnerships to a wide variety of charities and projects across the region, including the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation and the Prince’s Trust.

The grants are so far estimated to have had a positive impact on more than 151,000 people.