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Beyond Sight Loss – journey to charity status

What is Beyond Sight Loss?

Beyond Sight Loss (BSL) is a user-led peer support group for blind and partially sighted people, based in Tower Hamlets in east London. Membership is free to anyone who lives in or near the borough of Tower Hamlets and has a sight impairment that affects their daily life.

BSL has monthly meetings to update members on local and national developments, monthly outings to places of interest, advice and signposting to relevant organisations and local and regional representation of people with sight loss in Tower Hamlets within strategic and policy making bodies.

Beyond Sight Loss first began holding events and activities for blind and partially sighted people in and around Tower Hamlets in 2014. Now, in 2021, it has just achieved charity status. BSL’s Ashrafia Choudury spoke to London Vision about the journey to becoming a charity.

What has becoming a charity meant for Beyond Sight Loss?

Yes, we are now a charity!

Becoming a charity was always the next step for us to continue to grow.

I think the charity status was important at this stage as it makes us established. It sets us up to be taken more seriously.

One of the reasons we needed to become a charity was because it would make fundraising easier as organisations look for charity status.

This gives us accountability, following official procedures.

Why did you decide to become a charity now?

Honestly, it was just the right time. We are ready. BSL had reached the stage where we all shared the same vision (pun intended, but not necessarily the same impairment) of what goals we wanted to achieve.

How did you do it? And what would you say to anyone thinking of going through the same process?

It was hard work but worth doing.

Having a strong foundation meant we focussed on why we were doing this and figured out how. We are a strong committee that is committed. We all worked collaboratively with the same objective in mind of sharing our experiences to benefit others.

For the nitty gritty process we had Graham and Mahendra, our sighted and non-sighted members respectively – who helped put the application together.

We worked collaboratively with the whole team to create and submit our application.

The pandemic made it possible for everyone to be able to connect on Zoom. So many Beyond Sight Loss members are blind or partially sighted, so sometimes getting everyone to meet in person can bring its challenges, but during that year we were able to dial vision impaired members in – so everyone was able to be a part of it.

The pandemic gave us a sense of “If we don’t act now when are we going to act”.

Advice I would give to other organisations looking to become a charity: start running your organisation like a charity in both mindset and practices – so when you become a charity the transition will be more straightforward.

For example, finances, constitution, in these areas of BSL, we already operated like a charity – which meant it was a matter of lifting the data and filling it in.

Getting our website up and running too was a needed factor to feeling more focussed.

Be really clear with people’s roles, and no matter how small, everyone has a role to play. The cogs won’t turn if the bolts aren’t there. Even responsibilities of arranging teas and snacks – these all help make the wheels go round.

Our members and committee were on the journey with us – clarity every step of the way. It was important for us to explain the changes and how we will be more accountable, with resources and finances.

The pandemic has been difficult but video calls allowed me to meet other VI people who I would never have met because they live elsewhere. Now we’ve been able to establish a relationship, they are invested in Beyond Sight Loss and we have grown our community because these connections will then come to in-person events in the future.

What’s next for Beyond Sight Loss?

Our next chapter will be to run fully, like a charity, and have our own official and permanent space, so people can pop in, and call us for information and support. We want to have our very own welcome centre for members to come and have a coffee and learn how we can make positive changes together.

To find out more please visit the Beyond Sight Loss website.

You can get in touch with Ashrafia Choudury on email: ashrafia1@btinternet.com 

Phone: 07956 510 008

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