Building a community that sees differently in County Down

Post date: 
Tuesday, 5 April 2022
Northern Ireland

Anyone affected by sight loss, whether themselves or through a friend or family member, are being encouraged to reach out for support available through sight loss charity RNIB’s (the Royal National Institute of Blind People) Community Connection team.

RNIB’s Community Connection team facilitate community-led groups which can provide a safe environment for you to talk openly, connect with others who are blind or partially sighted to share interests, experiences and support each other.

In response to increasing calls for support from the area, a Newcastle Community Connection group has started up this year, with the next meeting on Thursday 31 March, 11am to 1pm. New members, of all ages (18+) are very welcome.

From Thursday 7 April, a technology support hub will also be in operation, with the ability to book an appointment for advice on useful technology for anyone with sight loss – from phones and tablets to accessing audiobooks and online shopping.

For further information, contact Fiona Joyce, RNIB Community Connection Coordinator on [email protected] or 028 9033 4105.

Angela Allen, who lives in Ballynahinch, is encouraging anyone affected by sight loss in the south east to get in touch with RNIB’s Community Connection team and come along to some of the events and activities being organised in the Newcastle area.

Angela was born with an eye condition called Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP). ROP occurs when the retinal blood vessels in the eye don’t develop normally and this can affect vision.

In 2012, in her early 50s, Angela experienced a retinal detachment that led to sight loss. Angela said,

“That really did change things. I ended up leaving work, found it more difficult to get out and about, and found my social life diminishing.

Thankfully, my local sensory support team got me started with white cane training, and in touch with RNIB’s Community team.  I got speaking to a lovely lady called Olive who introduced me to other people and I got involved in some of the groups going on, like a history group, book club and creative writing which I’ve really enjoyed.

There are so many different groups and activities on offer. I don’t really do the sporty stuff but if that’s what you’re into, there’s something for everyone, of all ages, and since the pandemic there’s a range of online or face to face meetings.

It can be nerve wracking that first time, but listening to and speaking with other people living with sight loss, particularly those who have been living with it for longer, is so good for building your confidence. It can be very isolating initially.  Getting those tips and that encouragement, we’re able to help each other out and build each other up. It’s something to look forward to, and helps give structure to your week.

Having just moved to Ballynahinch five years ago, RNIB’s Community Connections team was great for getting to know people in the area and I soon found out I could get the door to door bus if I needed to to get to things.

At the minute I join a book club on zoom on friday nights, that’s people from all over Northern Ireland, but we’ve hopes to start a face to face one locally with the Newcastle library. We also recently had an information session on useful technology from RNIB. Alongside that, we hope to get out more walks, and organise more informal meet ups, say in a coffee shop or the pub.

The more the merrier. If you’re considering getting in touch, I’d say take small steps. Even focus on one thing you’d like to try, whatever you’re most comfortable with. And who knows what that might lead onto when you’re ready.”

To find out more about the wide range of support RNIB can offer you or a friend or family member, visit or call the RNIB Helpline on 0303 123 9999.