Henshaws share their experiences of  applying for funding during the pandemic

Henshaws are a Northern Charity that support people living with sight loss and a range of other disabilities. Mark Belcher is their Community Development Manager – Digital and works with colleagues to deliver their Digital Enablement Service and the free on-line resource called Henshaws Knowledge Village.

Visionary have been chatting to Mark about some of their community work over this COVID period and asked him some specific questions about some recent initiatives.

Photo shows members of the Henshaws team standing in front of a display of magnifiers and echo dot devices.

Q1: What needs/gaps did you identify before applying for grants over the last year?

The needs/gaps within the organisation changed as we moved into the various phases of lockdown. The demand for our support increased dramatically at a time when we had to adjust where, when, and how to deliver our existing and new services as a direct result of COVID; e.g. home visits, telephone buddy and check-in service.

Q2: What are your key aspirations from this funding?

Our response to Covid was to contact the local sight loss community to understand their needs, and that helped us to prioritise funding. To ensure we were able to deliver an effective service from homes and office we needed to invest in our front-line infrastructure; things like more telephone line licences, computers to be able to work effectively from various locations, home being the new location for a lot of us.

Technology became a real necessity. People who hadn’t embraced technology before COVID, were getting in touch and asking us how we can get them connected and/or keep them connected. Some of these people had volunteers and family members helping them to manage their affairs, from reading mail, managing their medication, to shopping on-line. Real life examples include a lady who lives alone and has been surviving on soup as she cannot read her microwave meal instructions to cook it safely and another lady very distressed, she could not read her mail she usually takes it to a community centre for someone to read it to her, but it has closed, and she is worried she is missing bill payments or hospital appointments.

Henshaws Digital Enablement Team support people to access this digital world that we are creating, but sometimes we need to remind people that we are also here to enable people to access the ‘printed’ world too. Books, newspapers, food, medication, health messages and all the stuff that gets pushed through your letter boxes.

Technology Giveaways: Unfortunately, we come across too many people that cannot afford to invest in technology that would maintain their independence. We applied to Trafford Council and The Greater Manchester High Sheriff’s Police Trust for digital magnifiers. Technology that allows the person to magnify any text and adjust the magnification with ease, they allow better colour combinations, contrast and a larger viewing screen. We also received support to give-away Amazon Echo devices, which included a years’ worth of WIFI too. In total we received approximately 35 x Optelec Magnifiers, 30 x Amazon Echos and 10 x O2 hotspots and WIFI. Getting WIFI to be included was an absolute milestone for us, the funding officer from Trafford Council was absolutely on the ball with the understanding that the device in isolation won’t get some people connected and stay connected.

Build in our resilience became an aim because the size of my team hadn’t changed but the demand on it had dramatically. So, we looked to the grant providers to purchase digital magnifiers and iPads so we can issue and train our Patient Support and Enablement staff to deliver basic accessibility demonstrations, including one or two specialist applications, designed to support people with sight loss.

Q3: As you know, Visionary members value shared learning – what advice/comment would you have about how you review grants?

Our mantra is ‘its everyone’s responsibility to keep a look out for funding’ we are fortunate to have a fantastic Fundraising Team, which includes Trusts and Grants specialists. I know some charities don’t have this luxury, I would say necessity, because it’s a real skill! The trick is teamwork, really understand the services we are trying to develop and/or maintain, together with a deep understanding of the requirements of a successful bid and the responsibilities thereafter. Another thing to be mindful of it not to chase the cash that might compromise the actual work you are doing and doing well. This includes duplication, we are advocates of signposting to already established services, and not trying to duplicate.

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