The Sign and Share Club
Article by SHIRLEY DAVID
I moved to Pembrokeshire, from Surrey, 27 years ago when my husband took a job at what was then the Texaco refinery (now Valero). Like many a Welshman, he wanted to get back to his homeland and live nearer the sea. It was a very good decision and we love it here.
I started to learn British Sign Language (BSL) in 2004 after meeting three deaf people in the space of about eight weeks. It was initially a hobby but has now become a huge part of my life.
Having passed my level 3 in BSL, I was approached by Pembrokeshire College because it was looking for a sign language tutor. I initially declined, as it is best to employ a deaf person for whom the language is their first language. However, having tried to find a tutor from the deaf community without success, I started teaching basic eight-ten week courses and later Signature courses at levels 1-3.
I have now obtained my level 6 in BSL and am a trainee interpreter, registered with NRCPD (the National Registers of Communication Professionals working with Deaf and Deafblind People) and ASLI (the Association of Sign Language Interpreters)
In 2013 a number of deaf people asked me to help them set up a daytime club for deaf and hard-of-hearing people. At that time there were no daytime clubs for the deaf and no hard-of-hearing clubs in the county. As well as teaching BSL, I work as a freelance consultant to the voluntary sector, advising voluntary organisations and charities on how to start up and run their organisations. I was therefore able to support this process.
I agreed to hold a meeting in Wetherspoons in Haverfordwest and see what interest there was. At the first meeting 16 people turned up and decided to meet once a month. I agreed to support them.
At the next meeting they formed a committee (all of whom are deaf). Gradually, over the years, the club grew.
In 2018 the club became a registered charitable incorporated organisation and received five years’ funding from the Big Lottery Community Fund starting in May 2018. This has helped us develop:
1. Hard of Hearing Clubs (in Pembroke and Fishguard) with further clubs coming as soon as the coronavirus situation allows.
2. A hearing aid repair service.
3. Home visits to those unable to attend our meetings.
4. An equipment demonstration and loan service.
5. Advice and support to businesses dealing with deaf people.
We have been able to maintain our monthly trips and events; and it also allowed the club to recruit a Deaf Community Support Officer (DCSO) to deliver this.
Our membership has grown and in 2019 we had 70 members with more than 100 people taking part in our various trips and events. The trips and events include outings, e.g. Folly Farm, the pantomime at the Torch Theatre, the Sunderland Museum, and Carew Control Tower. Events include craft sessions, bingo, and speakers on topics of interest.
Our members communicate in various ways. Some use hearing aids, lip reading or notetakers, and others may use Sign Supported English or British Sign Language. They are also of all ages. We have parents with deaf children, and adults from late twenties to over 80.
Unfortunately, last autumn our DCSO had to step down from her role due to personal circumstances. We decided to share the role between a team so that we could better cover the county and not be too badly affected if one person was ill or had to stop work. Up until this point my involvement was purely as a volunteer. I am now one of three paid workers, along with Sarah Hope and Sandra Newman. We are all able to use sign language and have experience of working with deaf and hard-of-hearing people. We have also been trained by audiology to do hearing aid repairs and are passionate about enabling deaf people to be independent and less isolated in our community.
During the coronavirus restrictions we are continuing to offer battery replacement (by post) and some tubing replacements with strict procedures to prevent the virus spread. Our club meetings and events are obviously cancelled, but we are maintaining contact with people who are deaf in an appropriate manner for their level of deafness, e.g. phone, text, Skype, FaceTime, Messenger etc. If anyone who is deaf or hard of hearing wants us to contact them we will be happy to do so.
Our initial contact options are 07378 611181, firstname.lastname@example.org and we can then provide our Skype or FaceTime address if needed.
Sign and Share Club