Early last year, RNIB redesigned the way staff deliver services, to ensure they meet the specific needs of the communities they serve. NB spoke with Ceri Jackson, Head of Networks at RNIB.
In spring 2017, RNIB set up 12 Networks, each sitting within one of four overarching Areas in the UK. Through becoming closer to communities of people with sight loss, the RNIB Networks will gain a deeper insight into the changing issues that people with sight loss face every day. RNIB plans to harness this deeper understanding to deliver impact where it’s needed and ensure that we are responsive to the needs of blind and partially sighted people across the UK.
The four Areas are:
Scotland, North East and the North West of England,
Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man,
Wales, South West England and the West Midlands
London, South East of England, East Midlands, East Anglia and Yorkshire and Humber.
While the priorities of each Area and Network could develop to be as varied as the communities they work with, there are a number of aims and objectives that guide the work. These include:
ensuring that change in RNIB and the wider sight loss sector is led by blind and partially sighted people,
building relationships with partners in local areas,
influencing local, regional and national political decision making,
streamlining both RNIB’s work and partners' services.
Ceri Jackson, said: “The role of the Networks is to give blind and partially sighted people a voice – and not to speak on their behalf. We want to work to establish relationships with blind and partially sighted people, to galvanise partners both inside and outside the sight loss charity sector, and of course with people in the wider society.
“Networks will be guided by blind and partially sighted people on the ground, they will connect people, provide opportunities for volunteering, campaign for change and work to improve referral pathways to services. Ultimately, everything we do will facilitate connection for blind and partially sighted people now and in the future”.
Each of the Networks includes a Network Manager and four Network Facilitators: a Community Facilitator, Volunteer Co-ordinator, Area Fundraising Manager and Regional Campaigns Officer. In Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, additional functions are in place to ensure effective working with the devolved administrations.
The Networks are supported by the wider organisation and central volunteering, community engagement, regional campaigning and community fundraising teams. These specialist teams help the Networks to:
identify potential resources and supporters,
understand the impact of their work through capturing data and evaluation,
and to develop nationwide campaigns – in addition to developing organic, grassroots-led campaigns.
Progress to date
Since launching last year, the Networks have made progress in a number of areas.
The South West Network has developed a relationship with Devon and Somerset and Bristol and Avon Fire Service around supporting people with sight loss to ensure their homes are safe.
In the East Midlands, the Network brought together seven local and national sight loss organisations to coordinate a challenge to the recent decision to remove Low Vision assessments in Lincolnshire.
The South West Network organised a number of Network and ECLO awareness days in various Eye Units to link newly diagnosed patients to ongoing support.
The Networks have supported an Exeter-based volunteer campaigner to sit on a National Institute for Health and Social Care Excellence advisory panel.
Priorities for the future
RNIB Networks’ aims and objectives for 2018 will be informed by the relationships they’ve built over the past year.
In Scotland, the Network will be engaging with all 32 Scottish local authorities to highlight a looming shortage of Qualified Teachers of Children and Young People with a Vision Impairment in schools.
The Network in Northern Ireland will focus on an accessible health information standard. This follows findings that 22 per cent of people surveyed said that they had missed an appointment due to information being sent in an inaccessible format.
And in the North East and the North West of England, Regional Campaigns Officers and Volunteer Campaigners will be working in partnership with local societies to challenge the development of ‘Shared Spaces’ and new cycle paths.