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RNIB launch free counselling service for older people living with sight loss in Northern Ireland

RNIB NI are pleased to announce the launch of a free of charge sight loss counselling service for older people recently diagnosed or living with sight loss.

Image: Three representatives of RNIB NI holding an image of an elderly lady

The Looking Forward project was launched at an event at the Lakeland Forum, Enniskillen, County Fermanagh. The project is funded by a grant of £499,509 from the Big Lottery Fund’s Reaching Out: Connecting Older People programme which supports older people affected by issues such as bereavement, disability or long-term illness or who live in residential care or sheltered housing.

About the service

Looking Forward will provide practical and emotional support to blind or partially sighted people (aged 60 plus) at the greatest risk of isolation or exclusion. The service is free to access and will offer a programme of a minimum of six face-to-face counselling sessions and ongoing peer support to help a person come to terms with losing sight.

At present, the service is currently available throughout Northern Ireland with trained volunteer counsellors based in Belfast, Lisburn, Newry, Armagh, Fermanagh, Omagh and Derry/Londonderry. The Looking Forward Project will work in partnership with the following key organisations: British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, Western Health and Social Care Trust and the Good Morning Northern Ireland Network.

Anyone wishing to use this counselling service will be invited to an initial telephone assessment with a trained counsellor to discuss their situation and explore if counselling is the right course of support at this time.

Quotes from the launch

Speaking at the launch of the project RNIB NI Regional Manager, David Barnes, said: "This is an exciting and much-needed new service which will help prevent a lot of the isolation, loneliness and depression which often comes as a result of deteriorating sight.

"People have a lot of fears such as worrying about losing their independence, not being able to drive, socialise or work and the trained counsellor will be able to work through all these things with them. The project will provide practical and emotional support as well as highlighting the range of services we already offer such as help with benefits, training, equipment or accessing the local community."

Joanne McDowell, the Big Lottery Fund’s NI Director, said: “We are already seeing the really positive impact that the Connecting Older People programme is having on the lives of our most vulnerable older people in Northern Ireland.

“The programme is supporting a range of vital projects that are transforming the lives of older people in our communities who are at risk of isolation, depression, mental and physical ill health and low self-esteem. Our funding is supporting those older people who need our help the most.”

Elsie is one of the people who have used the Looking Forward counselling service.

"During the sessions, I attended I found the counsellor who I met was very supportive and empathetic towards my own emotional needs. I found the sessions very useful and the experience really helped me to process the thoughts I had about my sight loss. I felt isolated and alone and cut off from my family and loved ones and it helped me to cope better with my condition. I would strongly recommend this Looking Forward service to other people my age who need to know they need not face this emotional journey alone."

Find out more

To find out more about Looking Forward, contact the team on 028 9032 9373 or email [email protected].