Thank you to everyone who joined us at this year’s Visionary Annual Conference, held on 1 and 2 November at the Aston Conference Centre in Birmingham. We hope you agree that it was a great opportunity to network, share ideas and learn from each other. We certainly came away feeling inspired and wanting to keep “Unlocking Potential, Creating Value”!
188 delegates from 76 organisations attended, which is an encouraging increase on last year. The two-day programme comprised two plenary sessions, 26 workshops and 10 exhibitors. We were fortunate enough to welcome experts from both within and outside the sight loss and wider sectors, giving delegates a comprehensive view of the voluntary sector landscape.
An informal networking event in the Aston Conference Centre bar and restaurant kicked off the event on the Tuesday evening. Although not officially part of the conference, it provided a good chance for delegates to get together for a catch up and refresh after some very long journeys. It was also nice that some members made the effort to dress up for the spooky occasion.
We were grateful to Lord Low (Visionary President) for agreeing to formally open the conference on the Wednesday morning. The selling point was clearly the free bag that he will be adding to his collection. He was followed by Alison Oliver (Visionary CEO) who gave us all something to think about with her five thoughts on unlocking potential.
Eleanor Southwood (RNIB Chair) and Keith Valentine (Vision UK CEO) spoke passionately about how they see the sight loss sector moving forward, collaboratively, to ensure more joined up and equal services for blind and partially sighted people.
James de Bathe (Big White Wall Commercial Director) then gave us an insight into how organisations can think and work differently by using technology to reach more people, as they have done at Big White Wall, an online mental health forum.
We were again pleasantly overwhelmed by the workshop suggestions that we received this year, and all were able to go ahead. The sessions were varied, covering such subjects as trustee issues, lobbying, young people, rehabilitation, technology, promotion, sport, impact, and the current hot topic, GDPR. One of the key developments that was discussed at the conference was the progress on cross-sector plans to develop a new partnership model. Alison Oliver (Visionary), Philippa Simkiss (RNIB) and Phil Ambler (Vision UK) led a workshop on “The new landscape for the sight loss sector” to share progress on a joint project between RNIB, Visionary, Guide Dogs, Thomas Pocklington Trust and Vision UK. The project was initiated based on the shared recognition from local and national organisations that there is a need for change in how we collectively deliver services across the sight loss voluntary sector. This is nothing new but previous efforts have had varying degrees of success, with most being “one-off” with no infrastructure to systematically support ongoing collaboration efforts. The focus of the session was to share progress so far and to gather thoughts from delegates on how this could work and what the main do’s and don’ts would be. For further information on this piece of work, please refer to the presentation used during the workshop and RNIB update.
Following feedback from last year, the exhibition was relocated this year to the more accessible bar and lounge areas, which generated a greater degree of footfall and interest. The mix of voluntary organisations sharing information about their services, and companies showing us a range of technology was well-received and will hopefully lead onto further opportunities for linking up in future.
The highlight of the awards dinner on Wednesday evening had to be Simon Brown (Blind Veterans UK) who, not only stepped in at the last minute when our original speaker could not make it, but proceeded to bring the house down with his unique telling of his sight loss story, even more poignant in the lead up to Armistice Day. Although he clearly struggles with the “hero” label, the standing ovation from his peers in the room proved that its a fitting and well-deserved tribute.
The awards themselves were ably presented by Peter Corbett (Thomas Pocklington Trust) and our very own Emma Cruickshank (Visionary) to the following worthy winners:
Inspirational Service Delivery – Devon in Sight
Successful Volunteer Programme – Cam Sight
Together we are Stronger – Henshaws
Changing Lives – Southampton Sight
Many thanks to all of you who submitted an award nomination, and/or voted for your favourite entry using the new format. The standard was exceptionally high this year, and you should all feel very proud of your achievements. It was also nice to have people there whose lives have, literally, been changed by your services.
If you would like to learn more about the shortlisted and winning award entries, please visit our website.
The Visionary AGM, including an update from the Board of Trustees and Question and Answer was focused and efficient this year, as delegates started making their way home. This led us to thinking about whether we need to reschedule when we hold it during the two day programme. There was a great deal of interest in the update from Graham Findlay (Visionary Chair), which mirrored the Visionary Highlights and Theory of Change in your delegate packs, and all round support for the continuation of the current Board of Trustees. They were also saved from having to answer any difficult questions, with the only query being a suggested improvement to the Charity Locator on the new Visionary website that the staff team have taken away as an action and which we hope to be able to update members on soon.
As always, we are keen to hear your views on what went well, as well as not so well for you at the conference in order to improve year on year. We have received a good response to the surveys that were sent to all attendees and non-attendees last week, and would encourage those who have not yet completed theirs to do so by the deadline, 5pm on 24 November 2017. If you did not receive a survey, or require it in a different format, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next year’s conference planning is already underway and we will let you know as soon as we have secured a date and venue, so keep checking the regular fortnightly briefings and your email inbox for updates. Let us see if we can make it even bigger and better by breaking this year’s record numbers!
Thank you from all at Visionary