Zen Metro's first Dinner in the Dark

More than 40 people donned blindfolds at a top Birmingham city centre restaurant to experience something of what it is like to live with sight loss.

Focus Birmingham, which looks after the needs of people with visual impairment and other disabilities, organised a Dinner in the Dark event at the Zen Metro Thai Restaurant & Bar in Cornwall Street.

As well as the fun challenge of trying to eat a three-course meal while completely blindfolded, the event also carried the serious message of raising awareness of the charity and the thousands of local people who cope with a visual impairment every day.

Guests at the Dinner in the Dark event had to be escorted to their tables by sighted guides, with one hand on the shoulder of the person in front. They were requested to keep their blindfolds on throughout the time they were eating but could remove them in between courses during which time they were encouraged to talk about their experiences.

Susan Hoath, Focus Chief Executive, said of the event: "It has been fantastic. We have had a really enjoyable evening with a lot of laughter and fun, and also gently raised awareness of living with sight loss.

"I loved the experience. It was a magical mystery as you didn’t know what you were going to be getting. It went really well and we are so grateful to Zen Metro for their support. We also wanted to thank their staff who joined in so enthusiastically."

The event, which cost £30 for the three course meal and complimentary drink, began with an introduction by Susan Hoath, who spoke of the “passion and commitment” of working for an organisation like Focus. That was followed by a short talk from visually impaired Focus volunteer Dean Mills, who is a student at Birmingham City University. He said it can be devastating to lose one’s sight, but that you can be “empowered” to achieve things with the help of Focus.

Once seated, the blindfolded diners were served prawn crackers and assorted dips before the more difficult task of negotiating a selection of starters including spring rolls, spicy wok chicken, and smoked duck. Guests were then served a choice of four main courses, including Thai green curry, with rice, before a dessert to finish of crème brulee with vanilla biscotti.

The Director of Zen Metro, Jaimon George, said: “I am really happy with the turnout. When Focus approached me to do this I knew the hardship of people with sight loss because a friend of mine gradually lost his sight over a number of years. So we were delighted to support Focus and we will be doing it again.”

Throughout the experience, diners were asked to raise their hands if they needed escorting to the toilet, or if they became uncomfortable wearing a blindfold, which no-one appeared to.

After the event, one of the diners, Harvey Chahal, aged 44, who was present with his wife Ravinder and daughter Simran, said: “I respect people with sight loss so much more after that experience.” Simran, 20, added: “It makes you realise how much you value your eyesight.”

The meal was followed by the drawing of a raffle with the prizes including a meal for 2 at Zen Metro, Everyman Cinema Mailbox Birmingham, 2 tickets to West Midlands Safari Park and much more.

Want to get involved in the next one or just want general information about Focus Birmingham upcoming events please visit our Events page or call Jasmin on 0121 478 5239 for more information. 

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Questionnaires designed to help drive changes

Our friends at Thomas Pocklington Trust (Midlands) are asking our service users to help complete two questionnaires that will help feed into a pool of data collected to make changes for people living with sight loss:

The first one we are asking people to complete is a Vision Rehabilitation Services Questionnaire to feed into a report on Vision Rehabilitation Services with the goal being to improve services provided to people living with sight loss.

Questionnaire: Vision Rehabilitation Services 

Currently in Birmingham there are a number of hospitals that provide eye clinic services and only 2 Eye Clinic Liaison Officers (ECLOs). An ECLO provides emotional and practical support to patients who have recently lost their sight and their families. When losing sight it can be a very traumatic experience and navigating your way through a new world of sight loss can be very difficult. An ECLO can make this process much easier.

We want to hear from patients and their families on the difficulties they have faced as we campaign to bring more ECLO support into our regions hospitals.

Please complete our short survey below it should not take any longer than 5 minutes:

Questionnaire - ECLO 

Thank you for taking the time out to complete these and we appreciate any feedback you can give.

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The Sense of You

Birmingham Repertory Theatre presents in conjunction with Focus Birmingham 


By Sarah Hamilton Baker

Join us for a sensory spectacular. Guided by touch and sounds, you will be taken on an adventure like never before. On your travels you will discover interactive installations and pop-up performances inspired by the experiences, stories and imaginations of Focus users. The production is accessible to wheelchair users and guide dogs and other assistance animals are welcome.

Tickets are free but please book in advance.

When is the production and how can I book tickets?

17 July – 11am, 1pm & 3pm

Focus Birmingham

48-62 Woodville Road, Harborne, Birmingham, B17 9AT

For tickets call Jasmin on 0121 478 5239 or email her on jasmin@focusbirmingham.org.uk

What is the Furnace Project?

Furnace is The REP's pioneering community engagement programme, working with communities across Birmingham to engage and create theatre together.

Our Furnace Hubs offer communities the opportunity to make a brand new piece of theatre that tells their story, reflects their experiences and celebrates their community.

Theatre makers from The REP are currently working in five different Furnace Hubs around Birmingham. Working closely with communities, listening to local stories and learning about the people and places there, they will create a brand new piece of theatre with, for and about your community.

If you are interested in seeing other similar free events near your neighbourhood or for more information visit www.birmingham-rep.co.uk/furnace

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General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

To comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) we must tell you how we use this data and ask for your permission. By completing the Data Consent Form below you are providing your permission for us to process your data for the purposes below.

Permission to store your data

Focus Birmingham, in line with the Data Protection Act 1998 and our own privacy policy will endeavour to keep all information held including any personal records, private and confidential at all times.

This form captures your consent preferences with Focus Birmingham and it will only take you a few minutes - all you have to do is follow the link below and complete the data consent form let us know how you would like to be communicated with and by which method (phone/email) and send the completed form back to info@focusbirmingham.org.uk

Remember you can withdraw consent at any time by emailing info@focusbirmingham.org.uk writing to the Fundraising Department at Focus Birmingham.

Data Consent Form - Click to download

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Seeing Beyond Eyes - CET Training Birmingham

On Thursday May 31st Visualise Training and Consultancy and Orbita Black with support from Thomas Pocklington Trust will be running a course is specifically designed for Optometrists (Optom’s) and Dispensing Opticians (DO’s).

This course will be held at Focus Birmingham and you will have the options to select the time you would like to attend the course.   The course itself will consist of:

Hour 1: An Introduction to Visual Impairment - 1 hour discussion workshop - 3 interactive CET Points

An introduction to visual impairment discusses the principle causes of sight loss in children, adults and the elderly and the associated symptoms in the initial and advanced stages. It discusses the problems visually impaired people experience even when visiting eye care practitioners and considers what reasonable adjustments should be made to better serve such patients. A unique perspective is provided by a the presenter who is registered blind.

Competencies: Optom & DO: Communication; Standards of Practice; Optom:

Ocular Diseas: DO: Low Vision; Ocular Abnormalities.

Hour 2: Saving sight, supporting sight loss - 1 hour discussion workshop - 3 interactive CET Points

This 1 hour discussion workshop covers 4 cases concerning low vision or sight threatening eye conditions:

  • A registered sight impaired AMD patient with LV needs, and her concerned sisters who want advice for themselves
  • A veteran glaucoma Px who has difficulty getting his drops in, and relating poor compliance to preventable sight loss
  • A patient presenting with classic symptoms of retinal detachment and why this is the number one cause of clinical fitness to practice cases and insurance claims
  • A congenital aphakic patient, as an infant and as a young adult, and how failure to dispense properly can itself cause a patient to unnecessarily have low vision

Competencies: Optom & DO: Communication; Standards of Practice; Optical Appliances.

Optom: Ocular Disease.

DO: Low Vision; Paediatric Dispensing; Ocular Abnormalities.

To find out more information or book your place on the course please click here.  

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Tech Club Social Event

This April and May Focus Birmingham's Technology Club are holding it 'Tech Social’ Free Social sessions for people with Visual Impairments and Sight Loss.

Tea, coffee and biscuits will be provided. We just need you to come along to the event. Come and meet new people and discuss the latest technology and gadgets. We would love to have you share ideas in an open discussion.

Event Information

  • Thursday 26th April & Thursday 24th May
  • The event starts at 1pm until 3pm
  • It will be held at Focus Birmingham, 48-62 Woodville Road, Harborne, B17 9AT

For more details about the event please contact Mohammed on 0121 478 5216 or you can email him on mohammed@focusbirmingham.org.uk.

We look forward to welcoming you to the event.

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Focus launches Sensory Garden Appeal

Focus Birmingham, based in Harborne, are celebrating their 50th anniversary of its day care service by launching a fundraising appeal to transform the charity’s outdoor space.

We are calling on people to help us reach our £65,000 fundraising target to create a specialist sensory outdoor learning environment for adults who are blind or partially sighted, or have multiple disabilities and complex care needs.

Focus Birmingham, which works with more than 7,000 people each year, has been running a specialist day care service for 50 years, providing social activities and learning opportunities for nearly 100 people with sight loss and multiple disabilities, including siblings Tara and Cardell Bishop.

After consulting with service users, families and professionals, Focus has developed a plan to transform one of its external places into an interactive learning environment.

The fundraising appeal aims to create a fully accessible multi-sensory environment that service users can explore and engage with independently, using light, sound, movement and vibrations.

Susan Hoath, Chief Executive Officer at Focus, said: “As we celebrate 50 years of our day care services, it is important that we continue to move forward in our commitment to being a centre of excellence that supports people across Birmingham affected by sight loss or disability so they can have an independent, happy and fulfilling life and future.

“Our plans to develop our external spaces to create interactive sensory environments will make learning more engaging for all our service users and visitors, through a combination of light, sound, vibration and textures in a fully integrated and accessible outdoor facility.

“The needs of most of the adults that attend our specialist day care services can often limit their opportunities to engage or interact with their surroundings, especially the outdoors. We believe that our sensory learning environment will break down these barriers and provide opportunities to improve physical mobility, creativity, social interaction and greater levels of independence as they can access all the different sensory elements within the area at their own individual pace and level.”

The initial design for the outdoor learning environment includes a colourful and tactile sensory pathway through the garden which is accessible for wheelchairs and can even be walked on barefoot for an additional sensory experience.

It is also hoped to install a wobble bridge so service users can experiment with movement and vibration, as well as water features and sensory plants, a tactile panel which people can explore with hands, and sound through the use of wind chimes, static musical instruments, and outdoor speakers.

Added Susan: “Our service users have limited opportunities to engage or interact with outside environments such as gardens or parks, so our aim is to break down these barriers, enabling life skill sessions to move outside.”

The Difference we make 

Siblings Cardell and Tara Bishop “would be lost” without the day care services they look forward to so much at Focus Birmingham’s Elizabeth Gunn Centre.

So says their father Ray Bishop who has no doubt that life would be very different and difficult for his adopted children if the services provided by Focus did not exist.

Mr Bishop, aged 68, from Sutton Coldfield, is a full time carer to Cardell, aged 31, and Tara, 33, after adopting them when they were both very young.

Both children have been attending day care services at Focus for 12 years due to visual impairment and other disabilities or learning difficulties.

Mr Bishop, who is married to Beryl, also has two other adopted children and four birth children, and also continues to foster. He said: “Life would be very difficult without the service that Focus provides. Tara and Cardell would go Saturday and Sunday as well as during the week if they could.

“They would be lost without it and would probably regress if they didn’t have this service. It has also prepared them, more so Tara, for independent living.”

Mr Bishop said Cardell and Tara were able to take part in various activities, go on days out into the community, enjoy arts and crafts sessions and make use of the sensory areas at the centre.

He said Cardell, who has multiple learning difficulties as well as limited vision, was fostered by him and his wife from the age of five and a half months, and then adopted when he was five years old.

Tara, who has Downs Syndrome, was adopted from the age of two. They had both been taught in special schools prior to accessing day care services at Focus.

A Just Giving page has been set up in support of the fundraising appeal, which can be visited by clicking here

For more information about Focus Birmingham please visit www.focusbirmingham.org.uk or call either 0121 478 5200 or the charity’s helpline on 0121 478 5222.

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Premiere of “Elephant” by Gurpreet Bhatti

Focus Birmingham are working in partnership with the Birmingham REP in association with Tamasha to present this great family drama. Focus will be hosting this production at Focus Birmingham on 14th March in the Activities Room at 2pm and then at The Old Joint Stock in Birmingham on Saturday 24th March from 3pm (in partnership with RNIB).

Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s latest play, Elephant, made its world première at Birmingham Repertory Theatre in February 2018. Supported by The Sir Barry Jackson Trust, the production will tour to venues across the West Midlands during March 2018. Directed by Lucy Morrison, Elephant tells the story of a family built on untruths, a family whose lives are at odds with their belief system and asks the question whether it is possible to forgive and forget?

About the play 

This is family. Real flesh and blood, not out of a catalogue or an Oxo advert. Vira hasn’t seen her sister Deesh for years. Deesh’s kids, Amy and Bill, want to know why but nobody’s telling them anything. When Deesh invites her sister to Amy’s flashy party, Vira reckons it’s time to come home and move on. Time to stop watching the telly, get out her council flat, stick on a glitzy sari and embrace her nearest and dearest. But is it possible to forgive and forget? And when a family is built on lies, will it be destroyed by the truth?

  • Running time 90 mins (no interval)
  • For ages: 15+

Elephant Reviews

“Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s potent characters have a vivid authenticity…The play’s fury lends it persuasive force.” “Yasmin Wilde captures Deesh’s fear, cowardice and compromise, whilst Ojla’s Vira switches movingly between a wryly wisecracking, oddball outsider to a damaged survivor and, finally, to defiant heroism.” The Times

“Sparky family drama” “In a play where almost everyone has something to conceal, Lucy Morrison’s pared-back, neatly acted production – played out on Camilla Clarke’s minimalist design – means no one has anywhere to hide when the beans are spilled.” The Guardian

★★★★ “Bhatti’s explosive writing addresses the foundations of her culture head on.” “Bhatti gives a wonderful message of courage and solidarity to survivors. Through the secrets of Vira, this play gives hope to other people in silence. Vira still has intentions for her family to hear her own account of the past, in spite of knowing that will not be believed, and even shunned for it.” Behind The Arras

“Balancing tragedy and humour… some wickedly dry one-liners in Elephant will make an audience laugh out loud.” What’s On Stage

★★★★ “Sharp and intricate.” Sincerely Amy

“Entertaining, compelling and powerful.” Bum On A Seat (Blogger)

“Thought provoking.” Plays To See

So don’t miss the chance and grab your tickets now at £4 per person by clicking here for both showings or contact Jasmin at jasmin@focusbirmingham.org.uk. The production will be audio described.

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RBSA are working with Focus Birmingham

Exploring arts engagement for people experiencing sight loss

The RBSA is working with Focus Birmingham, the sight loss and disability charity, to bring art to a wider audience.

The project, funded by West Midlands Museum Development, involves a series of workshops and the creation of a film promoting the work of the RBSA with specific groups.

A session at the Focus centre in Harborne today saw artist and RBSA member Lynn Jeffery join forces with volunteer art group leader Ian Reynolds, who himself has a visual impairment.

Lynn said: 'It has been quite amazing to see people who are exploring a material, but all by touch. Those who have limited sight don't necessarily find it easier than those with no sight at all, but what's clear is that the social interaction is just as important.

'Working in a tactile way taps into memory. Helen Keller observed that it was memory that made all the difference.'

Ian Reynolds, who went to art college and became an art teacher despite his sight loss, added: 'Everyone taking part today seemed to thoroughly enjoy the experience - there was a momentum to the group activity. We work a lot at Focus on an individual basis, but there's a lot to be said for group work.

''It gives a different perspective, and the involvement of the RBSA means we have proper clay and will see a glazed and fired result. It's great, having access to more professional tools and materials.

'The people in our art group may be struggling with the emotional impact of sight loss, and it has been proved that there are positive mental outcomes from art sessions where people meet others with a shared experience, and create something.

'I'd recommend the RBSA to other groups. This has been our second workshop session and both have been highly successful. The results justify the efforts put in.'

Charlene Kerr-Spencer came to the session and found working with clay new and exciting. She has experienced sight loss quite recently and said: 'It has been really good to find another way of being creative. It's very important to have input and direction. It may sound crazy, but being blind is dark... and Focus is my light.'

Natalie Osborne, Learning and Engagement Manager at the RBSA said: "We have been lucky to get funding to develop our outreach work. As one of the oldest art societies in the UK we run exhibitions and events at our Gallery through the year.

'But we also want to help people who may struggle to access our shows by providing sessions where they can experience our permanent collection or enjoy making some art of their own at our specially designed workshops and guided tours.'

In addition to outreach workshops, groups can arrange sensory or guided tours of the RBSA Gallery, to get closer to the Permanent Collection and experience exhibitions and events without some of the barriers people may usually face.

To find out more, contact the RBSA by calling 0121 236 4353 or emailing natalie@rbsa.org.uk.  

Ian Reynolds has set up a website for artists experiencing visual impairment called Painting with Sight Loss and if you would like to visit it please click here

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Local MP Preet Kaur Gill visits Focus

What a way to finish off the year with a visit from Preet Kaur Gill MP. 

We were delighted to welcome her to Focus Birmingham where she was able to see firsthand the services we provide and the impact we make in the local community. It was encouraging to see the interactive discussions with RNIB, Guide Dogs Birmingham Mobility Team, Birmingham Sight Loss and local service users led to some comments that helped raise awareness around sight loss and disability and issues affecting this community.

As an organisation that champions people living with sight loss and disability in Birmingham we were very encouraged that Preet Kaur Gill MP will be working to make communication stronger for those who need it most and inviting everyone to share theri thoughts and concerns as well as solutions to her advice surgeries, listening panel and street surgeries which will be launched in the New Year.

If you would like to know more or even attend one of her listening panels please click here

If you would like to get involved with Focus Birmingham either by volunteering, fundraising please email info@focusbirmingham.org.uk. 

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News Archive

Catch up with the latest news from Focus Birmingham or browse the archive of news below.

Upcoming fundraising events

Would you like to join us and help with future fundraising efforts? Read about some of our forthcoming events:

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