Talk and Support, run by the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), lets blind and partially sighted people socialise and build friendships over the phone. Its sessions are led by trained staff or volunteers, with 130 groups running every week on the same day and time, with participants matched based on their age and group preferences.
The introduction of a new auto-dial connection platform, Twilio, has enabled the service reach and support over 900 people every week.
The growth of Talk and Support has also been supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery since 2018, with the money raised used to develop further projects to bring people together.
RNIB wellbeing services manager Hollie Barney said: “We are delighted to be celebrating twenty years of bringing people together from different parts of the UK and trying to reduce isolation and loneliness amongst blind and partially sighted people.
“Alongside our fun quizzes and conversations, we’re excited to announce that in the new year Talk and Support will be welcoming back more specialist interest groups such as book clubs due to popular demand. I would like to invite people with sight loss in Scotland who are interested in joining our befriending groups to please get in touch.”
June Scott (85) from Edinburgh is registered blind with severe glaucoma. "I thoroughly enjoy my Friday talk with my group," she said. "We chat about lots of things, depending on who's on the call. It can be finding out about other interests, making new friends, building up your confidence as a blind person, what talking books people have read lately.
"Talk and Support is a great way of getting away from isolation for those of us who live alone. During the lockdown, none of us were able to get out much so the groups really helped you stay in touch."
Susan Emms (69) from Lasswade in Midlothian is registered blind with late onset retinal macular degeneration. "I was feeling quite low before I joined my Talk and Support group," she says. "I couldn't get out very much so it was good to be able to get in touch with others.
"We have people from Scotland, England and Ireland in my group and we talk about absolutely anything - what we've all been up to, the latest news, tips about coping when you have sight loss. And, of course, covid has been a big topic of discussion. I would certainly recommend talk and Support to anyone who has sight loss and might be feeling isolated."
Thomas Duncan (76) from Ayr is registered blind due to advanced glaucoma. "I look forward to my group," he says. "It's only an hour on a Friday morning and it's very easy going. We talk about absolutely anything, usually starting with the weather. We can also discuss what audio-books we have read; I'm a great Talking Books reader myself. You do get a laugh in the group when you hit the right note."
To join an RNIB Talk and Support group, register your interest by visiting rnib.org.uk/talkandsupport or call the RNIB Helpline on 0303 123 9999.