What are Touch to See Book Clubs?
February 12, 2019

Living Paintings completed a three year Community Development pilot involving in-depth research, feasibility studies and trials. An important outcome was identified and that was: there is a distinct need to establish new opportunities for social interaction for blind and partially sighted adults within their own communities. As a result, we established an initiative in 2014, known as Touch to See Book Clubs. The purpose is to offer our specialist Touch to See resources free from our Library, to be used as the catalyst for blind and partially sighted people to meet regularly within their community.

Two members of a Touch to See Book Club

In doing this our ambition is to help blind and partially sighted people to come together and:

• Engage with new interests
“Themes make the books more interesting – really stimulated interest and discussion on other ‘ladies’ in art.”

• Socialise to a far-greater extent beyond the scope of their home

• Take on new activities and challenges

• Be stimulated, have fun and want to do more
“The stimulation created [by the Touch to See Book Club books] has inspired the club members to want to learn more.”

• Integrate with their sighted peers on an even basis
“Focused themes really get people talking.”

• Take a more active part in their local community and benefit to a greater extent from community services.

The purpose of  the Touch to See Book Clubs initiative is to:

• Increase their quality of life and well-being.

• Develop understanding and attitudes of other people who have preconceived notions of the limitation of those with visual impairments.

Touch to See Book Clubs promote an understanding of the abilities, not disabilities, of people without sight and the challenges they face to the wider community. This will drive positive steps towards greater understanding, service provision, accessibility and integration. The project instills a sense of self that will inspire blind and partially sighted people to have a voice that will be heard. No longer should they be ‘the invisible millions.’

Two women feeling a piece of cloth

Collaboration and Partnership

To achieve the above Living Paintings seeks to create collaborations/ partnerships with local voluntary and community bodies and individuals in order to establish Touch to See Book Clubs. Our involvement is provided completely free as is our specialist Touch to See resources. We have completed a number of trials which tell us that this is an achievable, sustainable and cost effective route.

The story of a Touch to See Book Club in action (taken from one of our case studies):

Our Community Development Team, spurred on by one of our enthusiastic Library Members, Maggie, set about bringing together various people in Maggie’s community in order to establish a Touch to See Book Club. We found a community building, in this case a theatre, that is appropriately equipped, legally compliant, available for free and whose Inclusion Officer, Jack, is very keen to help. Jack agreed to be the voluntary club leader, who is the link between Living Paintings and the blind and partially sighted people coming to his Touch to See Book Club. He also leads the touch and sound sessions. We trained Jack and his helpers, so they are able to facilitate the monthly meetings. Between them all and with the help of the local volunteer centre, they arranged various other elements, such as who is going to provide refreshments for the club members, how the blind and partially sighted people will get to the meetings and what other interesting activities can be woven into the sessions.

“The Club always looks forward to these sessions. It allows us to use our imagination and also stimulates our brains often letting us remember paintings we have actually seen in the past.”

All being in place, Maggie gathered together her friends, some of whom have sighted companions. Thanks to Living Paintings having advertised the new Club with the local county blind society and to all existing library members in the area. They were joined by others in the local area and so, 12 blind and partially sighted people, with sighted friends, have embarked on the first of many, exciting and new experiences.

A diagram illustrating the set up of a Touch To See book club

During one Touch to See Book Club session, they looked at two quite different paintings of The Chain Pier in Brighton; one by Turner, and the other by Constable. Although both were painted circa 1826-28 of the same subject, the pictures portray very different scenes and are delivered in contrasting styles. The Club enjoyed this contrast, and talked about their memories of Brighton deciding it would be a good idea to arrange a trip there. The Constable painting includes images of the fishing industry prevalent at that time and still used today. Jack used the imagery of the nets and baskets to introduce their guest speaker – a modern day basket weaver who uses recycled materials such as electrical cable, carrier bags and video tape to create baskets, bags and sculpture.

Maggie and her friends have been talking about it ever since and and couldn’t be more excited about the next Touch to See pack they will explore  – the Club chose Shakespeare at the end of their last session. Maggie was born blind, so can’t wait to touch the face of the great bard. She is also delighted because her sighted neighbour is so interested in the Club that she’s asked to join. Jack has organised a couple of local actors to come in and perform some well known Shakespearean passages and there is already talk of a trip to Stratford Upon Avon for a matinee, audio described performance.

Hands feeling a tactile image of William Shakespeare

“Thank you for all the support you’ve given to us. From your initial idea it has grown into a really dedicated club of individuals who tremendously enjoy and value the monthly meetings, and have really benefitted from experiencing the art that Living Paintings allows them to access. Just yesterday we were talking about how the sessions have changed our attitudes to art, and both the sighted and non- sighted members felt that the experience had made us look deeper and re-evaluate paintings, including ones that we thought we knew well! None of this would have happened without your instigation and support, so a big thank you on behalf of the club.”

If you feel inspired by this story and want to set up a club or want to find out more, get in touch with the library email library@livingpaintings.org or call 01635 299771.

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