Low Vision volunteer still going strong after 15 years with Focus
Fiona Lewis readily admits to being the “sort of person who likes to get their teeth into something”. So when she heard about the possibility of becoming a volunteer at Focus Birmingham she grabbed the opportunity with both hands.
And 15 years later she is still contributing to the day to day work of the charity on a voluntary basis at its centre in Harborne.
Fiona, 55, who donates two mornings a week to the Low Vision Centre, and also helps out at the Macular Degeneration Group once a month, had previously worked in a council legal department in Cardiff and as a magistrate court clerk in Solihull before learning of Focus.
She says: “My husband John used to play chess with Peter Price, who was a volunteer at the Low Vision Centre. Peter, who was born completely blind, played using a braille chess set in the same club as John and they became friends.
“My mother had recently died and my children were getting older, so when they suggested that I could try volunteering at Focus I decided to give it a go.”
Fiona, who has two children in their 20s, still works occasionally in the family wholesale business which restricts the amount of time she can devote to Focus.
She started out in the recording studio, working with colleague John Todd to record various documents as well as Birmingham City Council’s Forward newspaper onto cassette for the benefit of visually impaired service users.
But after a few years she made the decision to move to Low Vision.
“I felt I had done a reasonable time in the recording studio so I thought ‘what else can I do, what skills can I bring to Focus’? I had always worked in offices helping the public so I thought I could offer those skills best in the Low Vision Centre.
“It’s a little like a combination of working in a shop and using office skills, so one minute you might be serving someone with a piece of equipment in the shop or you could be taking an inquiry on the phone and inputting it into the computer. It’s quite a hive of activity and you never know from one session to another as to what you might be doing, such is the variety of the work. I mainly deal with referrals and no-one is ignored.”
Fiona, who says she mainly deals with referrals, later expanded her volunteer role by working with the Macular Degeneration Group at their monthly meetings, from helping with refreshments to assisting the speaker to set up. “A lot of it is just meeting people and having a conversation with the service users who have macular degeneration.”
She adds: “We see hundreds of people so you develop a rapport with a lot of them. I enjoy meeting them again and seeing them on their journey. I find that extremely rewarding. You learn an awful lot about things and also develop skills.
“I have never been made to feel there was a difference between the volunteers and the paid staff who welcomed me very warmly when I arrived and showed me the ropes. And they have extended me the opportunity to go on training courses, such as one on computer learning which has enhanced my role with Low Vision.”
If you would like to find out more about being a volunteer at Focus Birmingham, please contact the volunteer programme, by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: 07827 943097 (all volunteer queries will be answered from 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. Monday to Friday).