New friendships are reducing social isolation

3rd November 2020

Since 1992, staff and volunteers at Carlisle Society for the Blind have been providing help, support and advice to visually impaired people in the Carlisle area. Before the coronavirus lockdown in March 2020, staff from the Society had been visiting up to 80 members per month, as part of its home visiting befriending service, ensuring regular friendly help and support for its members and reducing social isolation.

The charity is supporting some of Carlisle’s most vulnerable people. Take May* for example, not long after moving to Brampton, she lost her husband and faced living alone in a new home. After the death of her husband, she was diagnosed with dry macular degeneration, meaning she can see light and dark, but not in detail, read or watch television.

Loneliness is one of May’s biggest worries. However after contacting the Society, a staff member now makes regular visits (when it is safe to do so) to provide an opportunity to chat, talk, laugh, as well as to update her about groups and activities. May also attended the Society’s local macular group, which meets once a month at its resource centre in Brunswick Street, Carlisle.

Visual impairment can lead to social isolation, as mobility becomes harder, a person’s opportunity to socialise outside the home decreases. Carlisle Society for the Blind received £5,000 from Abbeyfield Carlisle Society Over 55 Community First Fund and Janetta Topsy Laidlaw Trust Fund to support its monthly home visiting service. The support is to predominantly older people and includes general advice, demonstration of household adaptations, help in reading mail and writing letters.

The grant supported staff to continue home visiting activities. Many of its members are older and vulnerable and can often feel isolated due to their sight loss. The home visits provide a befriending service coupled with help and support.

Angela Robson, staff member, said: “An initial home visit is offered to anyone who attends the twice monthly low vision clinic, provided in partnership with Ophthalmology at the Cumberland Infirmary, and Cumbria County Council’s rehabilitation officer visual impairment (ROVI) team. Those then requiring more regular contact due to less support at home are then assigned a member of staff. Regular contact has been maintained with regular one-hour monthly visits.

“As well as the social and befriending element of the home visit, we also use the opportunity to ask if there are any additional support needs and if necessary check household items and adaptations, ensuring our members have appropriate equipment to suit their needs. Visit time also provides a small amount of respite to family carers.”

* name has been changed