After months of planning and preparation Wednesday 16th October saw the official launch of the Vision Foundation – the new name for the Greater London Fund for the Blind.
Close to a hundred people gathered for a warm and friendly reception at the Devonshire Club, which was sponsored by one of the Vision Foundation’s long-time supporters SUSD, to mark the change in our name and to launch our new strategy in earnest.
Guests were welcomed by the delicate overtures of blind pianist, Kevin Satizabal. As well as leading figures from the sight loss sector, including RNIB, Guide Dogs, and Thomas Pocklington Trust the event attracted influential representatives from the worlds of the arts, finance, insurance and the legal profession.
The key theme of the evening was collaboration, one of our four values. As a charity that works in partnership and provides funding to others to bring about change the Vision Foundation is carving out a role as a convenor, bringing people together to share ideas and find solutions together.
Our keynote speaker Cherie Blair, who had already written a stirring call to action for us in the Evening Standard, spoke of the shocking statistics around employment. Of the 52,000 blind and partially sighted people of working age in London, only a quarter are in work – a fall from 33 per cent in employment in 2006. This compares to half of all disabled people in employment and 80 per cent of non-disabled people. Cherie Blair said:
“Here in our own city we are failing our sight loss community, if we can’t get it right here what hope is there for the rest of the world?”
She encouraged the people in the room to join the Vision Foundation to make London open to blind and partially sighted people. She said:
“Let’s see people for what they can do rather than what they can’t!”
Cherie’s remarks were echoed by Mike Brace CBE, the former Chief Executive of Vision 2020 UK and Chairman of the British Paralympic Association. His speech to the room broke apart the word VISION to expand on the issues of Volunteering, Inclusion, Statistics, Inspiration, Opportunities and Networking. He drew on his experience of working on the London 2012 Paralympics bid and called on the room to make sure good work of the past was not undone:
“There were massive improvements to transport systems, more accessible information in various formats to enable people to make informed choices, but we need to ensure we do not rest on our laurels, and an important part of the Vision Foundation’s role is to increase the awareness and ensure even more opportunities are created to improve the lives of Londoners with a vision impairment.”
Our final speaker provided some in-house context being both a Vision Foundation member of staff and someone who has benefitted from funded support. Khafsa Ghulam spoke passionately about being one of the 2%:
“I’m less likely to work because I’m female, I’m less likely to work because I’m a Muslim female, as a blind, Muslim female I might as well give up. The odds are stacked against me. I worked out yesterday that there is only a 2% chance that someone of my demographic should be in full time work. In London today – In society today – that’s unacceptable.”
The room embraced Khafsa’s calls to action with great enthusiasm and her words prompted some lively conversation throughout the evening.
The event really was the start of something new. The door is now wide open to anyone who wants to help us make London the city that sets a global example for how to approach sight loss. There are 200,000 blind and partially sighted Londoners who have waited long enough for that. So, it’s time to get cracking.