Sign and Share Wants Volunteers

By SHIRLEY DAVID

I moved to Pembrokeshire from Surrey 28 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.

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.  I work as a freelance consultant to the voluntary sector advising voluntary organisations and charities on how to start up and run their organisations. So I was in a good position to support this process.

Bingo club

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 they decided to meet once a month. At the next meeting they formed a committee, all of whom are D/deaf. D/deaf is used to indicate the combined communities of the Deaf community, for whom BSL is their language, and the deaf community, for whom English is their primary language (who may be deaf or hard of hearing).  Gradually, over the years, the club grew in membership and services. 

In 2018 the club became a registered Charitable Incorporated Organisation and received five years’ funding from the Big Lottery Community Fund. 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
Plus, maintaining our monthly trips and events. 
It also allowed the club to recruit a Deaf Community Support Officer (DCSO) to deliver this.

Bowling with the club

Our membership has grown and in 2019 we had 70 members with more than 100 people taking part in our various trips and events. These include outings, e.g. Folly Farm, the pantomime at the Torch Theatre, the Sunderland Museum and Carew Control Tower, and 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 of all ages; and we have parents with deaf children, and adults from late twenties to over 80.

I co-ordinate services as one of a team of four part-time paid Deaf Community Support Workers. Sarah Hope (covering North Pembrokeshire), Ceri Phillips (South Pembrokeshire) and Sam Dowler (ad hoc cover across the whole county). We have differing levels of sign language skills, but we all 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.

Trip to Caldey

During the coronavirus restrictions, we have been continuing to offer battery replacement (by post) and some tubing replacements with strict procedures to prevent the virus spread. Obviously, our club meetings and events have been cancelled but we are maintaining contact with people who are deaf in an appropriate manner for their level of deafness, e.g. phone, text, Zoom, 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.  Please contact me on 07378 611181 or by emailing admin@signandshare.org.uk so we can agree the best way to keep in touch.

We hold a Zoom Hard of Hearing Club meeting every Monday at 2pm and would be delighted to have new people join our group. Meetings to date have included opportunities to share concerns about the Covid-19 situation and what we have been doing to fill our times positively, information sessions on listening devices and hearing aid maintenance and quizzes. The club will be soon be holding one evening Zoom meeting a month for those who are working and unable to attend the daytime meeting. Please contact me for more information.

Trip to Carew Mill

We are now looking for volunteers to take our work forward. A half-day training course will be running in the next few months. This will be taken by the audiology department and will give volunteers the skills they need to repair and maintain hearing devices. Volunteers will then help with repairs at outreach surgeries across the county and at our club meetings under the supervision of our Deaf Community Support Workers. We are also keen to recruit volunteers to help at club meetings: greeting people on arrival, giving out teas and coffees, and helping organise activities and speakers.  

There are plans to open up our clubs again in the near future, subject to Covid-19 regulations and safeguards. Normally Hard of Hearing Club meetings are held once a month in Fishguard and Pembroke, and a new club in Narberth was planned to open in March but was postponed due to the lockdown. The club is planning two further clubs, possibly in Milford Haven and Whitland. I would be delighted to hear from anyone interested in helping form these clubs.

The club also has monthly trips and events on the first Friday of the month. Details of these events can be found on our Events page on our website www.signandshare.org.uk and on our FaceBook page. Previous trips have included visits to castles, museums, theatre productions, boat trips and events include craft activities, bingo, speakers on interesting topics and meals out. 

Shirley David, Katie Allen and Sam Dowler

There are also plans for research around accessibility for people who are hard of hearing. Volunteers will act as “secret shoppers” assessing how businesses deal with D/deaf customers and offering constructive feedback and support.  

Volunteers will, of course, be paid travel expenses, and all equipment, training and support will be provided. Please get in touch if you are interested.

Contacts:

Shirley David, Sign and Share Club, admin@signandshare.org.uk 07378 611181

Zoom contact Ceri Phillips via Facebook Ceri Phillips DCSW or email him on CeriP@signandshare.org.uk

Sarah Hope for Fishguard groupSarahH@signandshare.org.uk

Kitty Parsons

Kitty Parsons

Kitty is an incomer, with five summers under her belt and the knowledge that even the wettest and greyest of winters have not diminished her love of Pembrokeshire. She knows she will never live long enough to be considered a local but hopes to leave some small mark through writing about this beautiful county and its people.

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