Sensory support services that help blind and partially sighted people in Essex are being praised as a benchmark for Britain.
Just over a year since a radical shake-up of the service, experts from the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) are hailing the county’s new model as a measure of excellence for the rest of the nation.
And to mark the achievement, Cllr Anne Brown, Cabinet Member for Corporate, Communities and Customers, and Cllr Malcolm Maddocks, Deputy Cabinet Member for Aged Care, and ECL’s chief executive Keir Lynch, undertook a tour of Chelmsford city centre wearing simulation spectacles to get an idea of what it is like to live with limited eyesight.
In July 2015, Essex County Council commissioned ECL The Care & Wellbeing Company, formerly Essex Cares, to deliver a new sensory service after it emerged many people were either missing out on vital support or facing long delays to get the help they deserved.
Since ECL Sensory Service launched it has helped hundreds of people - many who were lonely and isolated due to their sight impairment - to begin living independent lives.
Emily Papaleo, RNIB Regional Campaigns Officer for the East of England, said: “We are delighted that ECL meets many aspects of See, Plan and Provide, and offers a good example of how a local authority can provide effective vision rehabilitation for blind and partially sighted people.
“Vision rehabilitation provides crucial training and advice to people experiencing sight loss. It can be the difference between someone being isolated in their own home and scared to go out, relying on friends and family for support with everyday activities such as cooking, making a cup of tea or leaving their home, to having the confidence and skills to live their life with as much independence as possible.”
RNIB research reveals many local authorities nationwide are failing to provide adequate support and vision rehabilitation to blind and partially sighted people, said Emily, who hopes Essex can inspire other authorities to up their game.
The new service, commissioned until July 2018, delivers advice, emotional support and practical help, like mobility training, adaptations in the home and the supply of special equipment to help people do things that many of us take for granted, like reading and writing.
ECL works with the voluntary sector countywide to deliver the right service to the right people at the right time.
“Everyone has access to specialist sensory advice and support from the outset now,” said Faye Gatenby, Head of ECL Sensory Service.
“People are no longer referred to multiple organisations at the same time, resulting in confusion, duplication and often overload for the person. People are no longer posted an envelope full of standard format leaflets and left to find their own way.
“We are making best use of early intervention services that focus on preventing, reducing or delaying the need for social care intervention. More people receive the right information in the right way and at the right time, which ensures better outcomes.”
The remodelled service offers specialist assessments within 28 days of a customer’s first contact, identifying their needs promptly before referring or signposting them to ensure they get the right support within 12 weeks.
“We are here to help at any stage to ensure a person’s sight or hearing loss journey is as seamless as it can be, however we know that early support will help people to learn and develop the right skills to ensure they are able to live the life they want,” added Faye.
“The customer gets the best of everything available. The outcomes are as good as they can be. This reduces costs to health and social care and results in happier and healthier people.”
There are currently an estimated 180,000 people in Essex living with a sensory impairment and the numbers are expected to grow to over 210,000 by the year 2020.
Councillor Anne Brown, Cabinet Member for Corporate, Communities and Customers, wore special glasses which simulated severe sight impairment.
“I found it humbling to step into the shoes of someone with a visual impairment,” she said.
“It was very difficult navigating around the city centre and things that many of us take for granted, like climbing stairs or crossing the road, required a lot of concentration.
“I’m delighted that this new service has been such a success and I hope many more people’s lives will change for the better with our help.”
For further information about the RNIB please contact Tara Chattaway on 01179 341 707 or email
Brain haemorrhage survivor shares his story
When Wayne Crow had a headache he shrugged it off and convinced himself he was fine.
So when doctors told the 50-year-old vehicle bodywork expert that he’d suffered a brain haemorrhage his world was flipped upside down.
“It began initially with just a headache and feeling a bit sick, but I thought I was fine really.
“I don’t really remember anything after that,” said the married father-of-two from Braintree, who was rushed to Broomfield Hospital 14 months ago before being blue-lighted to Queens Hospital in Romford for emergency treatment.
“I had suffered a massive brain haemorrhage and my whole world changed instantly. I spent three months in intensive care. Amazingly, with daily rehabilitation, I was able to eventually return home, but I soon became very isolated as I was stuck in the house all day.
“I lost all my independence but I wasn’t prepared to go and get help. I was fiercely independent and convinced I could do it on my own, but I soon realised I couldn’t.
“So we contacted ECL and I was introduced to Peter Nutland, a vision rehabilitation worker, who got me out of the house for the first time – only to the end of the road, but at least I was out.”
“Then one day we crossed the road and I haven’t looked back since then.”
Wayne, who now suffers from tunnel vision and hearing loss, as well as restricted movement and memory issues due to his brain injury, was forced to shut down his vehicle bodywork company. However, he considers himself lucky to be alive and wants to raise awareness about people with sensory impairments, particularly the fact that the red and white colours of his walking cane symbolise that he is both visually and hearing impaired.
“No one knows what it means so lots of people get in your way when you’re out and about, which can be really difficult,” he said.
“Without Peter I would still be stuck indoors now. I've been through some very dark times, so I’m just grateful for the lifeline ECL have given me.
“Yes, every day is a challenge but I’m alive at least and have plenty to live for still.”
Stroke survivor will never work again
Terry Collins is learning to live with severely reduced eyesight after surviving a stroke two years ago.
The 60-year-old married father-of-two from Danbury said: “It was a hard pill to swallow being told on the same day that your eyesight will never get better, and that you’ll never drive or work again.
“After the stroke, everything went back to normal fairly quickly. I had trouble with stuff like putting my socks on and needed a carer for three months, but most of my movement came back pretty quickly.
“When I speak I sometimes feel like I miss a few words out occasionally. But I can see, I just can’t see anything out of my left side and I can’t see downwards at all with both eyes.”
Terry had to quit work as a sales manager at Billericay Glass and quickly became isolated as his reduced vision made it difficult for him to leave the house.
But with help from ECL’s Sensory Service, he soon received vital training from vision rehabilitation worker, Hasmukh Dave, to learn to get around on his own with a cane.
“ECL came along with all sorts of gadgets, just little things to help me pour a cup of coffee without spilling it,” said Terry.
“They’ve always been there for me and although I had a panic at the start, I’m alive and I’m breathing, and more importantly, I’m independent.
“Without Hasmukhlal and his team I would still be stuck indoors. A lot relies on confidence and my new found patience, to stop me from sitting at home and festering.
“I’ve now got the confidence to get out and about and meet people. I have my fortnightly stroke club and I now sit on several support groups around the county, which keeps me out of trouble.”