Shop RNIB Donate now

Final words from Need to Talk

A celebration has been held in Belfast to mark the end of a unique initiative which has helped over 1,300 people living with sight loss.

The Need to Talk project supported adults and young people who are blind or partially sighted, as well as professionals supporting a person with sight loss, to face the future with confidence.

The six-year project was a cross border counselling and confidence building project, delivered in partnership between the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) in Northern Ireland and Scotland, and Fighting Blindness in Ireland, later delivered by the National Council for the Blind of Ireland (NCBI). This project was made possible by €1.8million funding from the European Union’s INTERREG VA Programme, which is managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB). Match-funding for the project has also been provided by Departments of Health in Northern Ireland and Ireland.

It was made up of two main strands; counselling and wellbeing support sessions and practical ‘Living Well with Sight Loss’ courses.

Across the project regions, 746 service users completed Living Well with Sight Loss sessions and 587 benefited from counselling and wellbeing support. Need to Talk also provided 381 Health and Social Care professionals with specialist training to help create a better understanding of sight loss.

On 28 September those who funded, delivered and participated in the project came together at the Clayton Hotel in Belfast to look at the highlights and success of the initiative and to celebrate its legacy.

Speakers included Amanda Hawkins, Head of Mental Health and Counselling Services at RNIB. The audience will also heard first hand from Heather Owens, who benefited from the project.

Heather, from Belfast, has been blind since birth and lives with her husband Alan, who is also blind.

Heather said: “I have always been very strong and positive, but I was dealing with so many things at one time and it all got too much. I was the primary carer for my mum, who had Alzheimer's, as well as going through health problems of my own.”

In an effort to get some extra support, Heather endured countless assessments but each time, was refused help. Depression took hold and Heather admits to being in ‘a very dark place.’

She added: “I really thought I was going to have a breakdown. I heard about the Need to Talk counselling service and I had eight weeks of counselling with a wonderful lady. Need to Talk saved my life. There’s no doubt about it.”

Minister for Health in Ireland, Stephen Donnelly, commented: “I want to acknowledge the benefits of this partnership between the Royal National Institute of Blind People in Northern Ireland and Scotland, the National Council for the Blind, Ireland and Fighting Blindness, Ireland. This partnership encouraged people affected by sight loss to live confidently and independently through the provision of counselling and confidence-building services, underpinning the value of this EU funding. My Department is committed to deepening cross-border health collaborations into the future via the Health and Social Care area of the new PEACEPLUS programme.”

Peter May, Permanent Secretary for Department of Health in Northern Ireland, added: “The Department of Health recognises the contribution the cross-border, EU-funded Need to Talk project has made to improving the lives of individuals within Northern Ireland, Ireland and Scotland who have been adversely affected by sight loss. The Department welcomes the positive impact of joint working between the Royal National Institute of Blind in Northern Ireland and Scotland, the National Council for the Blind, Ireland and Fighting Blindness, Ireland in helping people affected by sight loss access counselling and confidence-building services to support independent living. The Department looks forward to further developing existing joint working on cross-border health collaborations via the new PEACEPLUS Programme.”

Also commending the project, Gina McIntyre, CEO at the Special European Programmes Body, said: “The Royal National Institute of Blind People in both Northern Ireland and Scotland, Fighting Blindness Ireland, and latterly the National Council for the Blind of Ireland, are all to be commended for their collaboration, which has driven the tremendous success of the Need to Talk programme.

“Even throughout the challenging context of the pandemic, this important initiative helped so many living with sight loss across these islands, helping them to live independently and face their futures with confidence and therefore reducing the inequality of access to mental health and wellbeing services.

“The legacy of PEACE and INTERREG funding is how many citizens have benefited from the projects. There remains much more work to do and the newly launched PEACEPLUS programme will allow us to continue providing vital funding directly into communities where it will effect the greatest change.”

Speaking about the impact of the initiative, Amanda Hawkins from RNIB said: “Need to Talk has been so welcome, especially as during duration of the funding we have experienced a worldwide pandemic which left blind and partially sighted people even more isolated than they would have normally been.

“To be able to offer a mental wellbeing session or a course of counselling went such a long way in helping people during a really difficult time.”

Kevin Whelan, Head of Foundation at NCBI, added: “Need To Talk has been a really positive and impactful project for both NCBI and RNIB and we are grateful of the opportunity to partner on such a worthwhile initiative.

“At the heart of the service were those people who used it and it’s brilliant to hear about the positive outcomes that were achieved over Need To Talk’s lifetime. While it is sad to see the end of the project, we are delighted to celebrate its success and we wish those people who used the service all the best in the future.”

RNIB will continue to offer emotional support for blind and partially sighted people through its Sight Loss Counselling team. The service is accredited by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy and is completely free and confidential. Call 0303 123 9999 or email [email protected].