Touch to see group at Newbury by Alison Clarke
July 29, 2014

Alison Clarke library memberIt was in the autumn of 2008 during a chat and a coffee at my home that the idea for a touch to see group was first aired. I was telling Angela Crittenden, a member of staff at the Living Paintings Trust how popular our V.I. book club was.  A group of visually impaired people have been meeting, once a month, since 2001, at the library in Newbury.  We would all read the same book in an audio format and return the next month for a lively and interesting discussion.

Angela wondered if this could work using L.P.T. thermoforms in a group setting where we would all have the same thermoform and listen to the description together and then have a discussion. I thought it was a brilliant idea and asked Sue Campbell, a volunteer and facilitator at our library group to join us to discuss the idea further and give us any ideas and advice.

Several possible venues were discussed.  It would need to be central and accessible. Angela approached the Corn Exchange Theatre in Newbury who were very happy to accommodate us and we were in business.

A meeting on 13th January   was arranged at the Corn Exchange with Corn Exchange and L.P.T. staff, volunteers and artists from Greenham arts were also invited. Sam Samson, learning and participation officer at the Corn Exchange, offered to run the group,  organising artists and crafts people to visit and talk about and demonstrate their work, transport for members, volunteers to help, coffee and to facilitate at each session. It was really exciting.
book club member feeling a tactile book
Our first Living picture group (now touch to see) took place on a snowy Monday morning on 9th February 2009. We had agreed to hold this group on the second Monday of each month (10.30 am until 12 noon) so as not to clash with the V.I. book club which takes place on the 4th Monday of each month.

There were 3 members present, along with 3 volunteers, Angela (L.P.T.), Helen (Greenham Arts) and Sam facilitating.  The artist we discussed that day was Gauguin.

News of the group soon spread through the local talking newspaper, the blind clubs and the V.I book club and we now have a regular attendance of between 10 to 14 members at each meeting. It is a lovely sociable, friendly group and is much looked forward to each month by all who attend. Members, volunteers and visitors have made the following comments:

“I come for the companionship. I enjoy the variety and find it educational”…. “People understand your sight problems and it is interesting to meet other people in the group”…. “It is a friendly group and we have some good laughs.”…. “It is good that art is made accessible to visually impaired people. I have learned a lot about art”…. “I enjoy the demonstrations and discussions”….  “It is a new buffer to loneliness and encourages you to get out” …. “It is nice to meet other visually impaired people and I like listening to the thermoform descriptions.” …. “I enjoy the company and it makes me feel more independent.” ….“I have always enjoyed art so it is great that I can now re-visit it in good company.” …. “Everybody is so friendly and I look forward to coming to the meetings” …. “I have only just joined but am looking forward to future meetings” …. “I have a problem with my sight and my hearing, so I  appreciate having things to feel.”…. “We always get a lovely welcome, everyone is cheerful and I enjoy the coffee” .…“I did not have much interest in art when I could see but since receiving the thermoforms from L.P.T. I am hooked”

A volunteer added, “It is a wonderful inspirational group”. Another volunteer said “I like the diversity of the group. And visitors. Thank you to Sam, Sarah and Kerry for organising the group and all the visitors.”

Sam has now moved on to pastures new, Sarah is about to go on maternity leave and Kerry is successfully running the group.

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