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Connect at Christmas: North East Sensory Services touching base with isolated elderly users this winter after a summer of moving support online

North East Sensory Services chief executive Graham Findlay meets social security secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville at the charity's Aberdeen base in St John Street earlier this year.
Picture by Scott Baxter
North East Sensory Services chief executive Graham Findlay meets social security secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville at the charity's Aberdeen base in St John Street earlier this year. Picture by Scott Baxter

For some Christmas can be a lonely time of year to contend with …but throw in the coronavirus lockdown restrictions and it can become a particularly hard time for those living with sensory disabilities.

While many of us won’t be together physically, people are being encouraged to do whatever they can to connect with each other, so for many Zoom chats and online family get-togethers will prove an ideal way to do just that.

But deaf and blind people in the north-east may need a more tailored approach to keeping connected and that’s why North East Sensory Services (Ness) is upping its support over the festive period to ensure none of its users feel alone this Christmas and New Year.

Ness currently supports around 6,500 visually and hearing impaired people of all ages, their families and carers, across north-east Scotland.

Its Connect, Inform, Support (CIS) service, meanwhile, is directly aimed at those over the age of 65 who are living with a sensory loss, across Aberdeen and Moray.

And with one in five people aged over 75 living with sight loss and 70% of people over 70 living with hearing loss, that’s a large proportion of the region.

“Living with a sensory loss can be a challenging and at times lonely existence,” Ness charity chief executive Graham Findlay said.

“At Ness we can help if people feel isolated and would like practical and emotional support in order to stay independent.

“That’s especially important over Christmas and during this year with the pandemic.”

The programme relies on caring and well-trained volunteers to support people in their local community through – in the days before lockdown – organised leisure activities, and more recently through online support groups or a listening ear on the end of the phone.

“Emotional support and a listening ear can be a lifeline if you are living on your own,” Mr Findlay said.

Graham Findlay and wife Tracey at the 2019 NESS ball at the Marcliffe Hotel, Aberdeen.<br />Picture by Scott Baxter

Lynn Batham, the charity’s community fundraising coordinator, stressed that while resource centres do close for Christmas, people “can always get in contact with the required support they may need”.

She added: Our social care staff will have made sure our service users are supported for this period and if any of them need additional support at this time our telephone messaging service guides them to out-of-hours resources.”

Ness, and its volunteers across the region, has been working hard to tackle loneliness throughout lockdown too and at the same time offering practical support such as help applying for benefits and accessing grants as well as British Sign Language interpretations of local and national news broadcasts.

“This year has brought some unprecedented challenges but our teams, while adapting to home working from March, have used a variety of accessible means to provide continued practical and emotional support to our service users,” Mr Findlay added.

“At a time when accurate information is vital, we have provided a manned helpline, Facebook updates and kept in regular telephone contact with our most vulnerable service users – prioritising, for example, the elderly living alone.

“Our staff have been able to answer questions, make sure that people have continued access to essentials such as food, medicines and personal care and be a friendly and familiar contact.

“We are also delivering hearing aid batteries and providing a collect and delivery hearing aid maintenance and cleaning service, to help reduce isolation and improve communication.

“We have also set up an additional Ness Facebook page for our profoundly deaf British Sign Language users, posting videos recorded by our sign language interpreter covering local and national health and welfare guidance.”

Mr Findlay added: “Ness partly re-opened its resource centres on an appointment-only basis in October but, like all charities, we have experienced a drop in our usual income streams, with planned fundraising events cancelled.

“However we have moved our fundraising online and have also received funding support from government, trusts and foundations, corporate organisations and charitable donors – enabling us to support our service users at a time when they need us more than ever.

“All donations, big and small, help us continue this work. We are extremely grateful to all our funders and supporter.”

Anyone able to support NESS can find out how to do so by visiting their website at www.nesensoryservices.org.

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