York’s oldest charity, the Wilberforce Trust (Wilberforce), which has supported blind and partially sighted people in York since 1833, has this week launched a new service in Leeds which includes an area from Otley in the west to Wetherby in the east - through the Leeds Vision Consortium (LVC). Previously Wilberforce has been active only in North and East Yorkshire, including its supported housing in Tadcaster, offering many of the services now to be offered by LVC to the people of Leeds.
The LVC is a new partnership between Wilberforce and Action for Blind People (Action), part of the RNIB. The venture has been awarded a contract by Leeds City Council to provide services to blind and partially sighted people in Leeds for the next three years. Leeds is believed to have around 5,000 blind and partially sighted people but only about 200 of these are known to have been accessing support services for the visually impaired.
Keith McKee, Chief Executive of Wilberforce, is one of three directors of LVC who have, over the past two years, masterminded set-up of the new service. The other two directors are from Action and Leeds City Council.
Deriving from the Yorkshire School for the Blind, which was set up in the Kings Manor in 1833 in memory of William Wilberforce and later became the Wilberforce Home for the Blind, the trust, more recently based in Huntington, is now well-known for its supported housing in York and Tadcaster, its outreach services in North and East Yorkshire and especially its expertise in supporting people who are not only blind but have other disabilities, particularly learning disabilities, to live as independent a life as possible.
Speaking at the launch, Keith McKee said: “We will develop independence through the LVC ‘open door’ service, from employment advice to health and welfare promotion, helping blind and partially sighted people and those with dual sensory loss to adapt to life. We will also be running health and well-being promotional activities, with our teams visiting those people who require a high level of support because their sight loss has resulted in severe deprivation”.
The LVC services, which include a drop-in centre, are based at Fairfax House in central Leeds. Ensuring that the new service becomes known to all blind and partially sighted people in Leeds, especially ethnic minority and other groups known to have significant numbers of people with visual impairments but who are not currently accessing services for them, will be managed from the Wilberforce Huntington headquarters.