vision for people with sight loss

Torch News - Winter 2013

Enabling people with sight loss to discover Christian faith and lead fulfilling Christian lives

Christian activities and resources for blind and partially sighted people worldwide


'I'm afraid you're losing your sight ...'

[The above heading is a diagnosis that not only disrupts the everyday but can send out urgent ripples of distress impacting the whole of life ... career, wellbeing, independence, security, family. This issue of Torch News brings you stories behind the experience of sight loss and describes how Torch is responding to those needs.]

Berni's dream job - lost along with her sight

Every day more than 100 people across Britain learn that they are losing their sight. This experience - often likened to bereavement - can be devastating.

Berni from Camberley, Surrey, lost her teaching job last year due to sight loss resulting from diabetes. 'I could no longer see the children from a distance, or recognise their faces in the playground,' she says. 'I couldn't identify colours ... when I was mixing paint I couldn't tell if it was red or brown ... I couldn't identify their parents. It came to a point where it was no longer feasible.'

Her sadness, after 20 years in the profession, was intense. 'It was a job that I loved getting up for every morning.'

Berni's two teenagers have also found it difficult. 'I can no longer drive, so for them that's difficult as there are places they can no longer go to. We have to get buses, including to church on Sunday. Lots of people have offered us lifts but I want to be independent.'

Living with uncertainty

The prognosis for Berni is uncertain. 'I've had 19 'injections in my left eye and seven in my right. Unfortunately my left eye isn't responding to treatment. My right eye carries me an awful lot now, but with that I have contrast issues.'

She feels her Christian faith has been vital. 'I got down on my knees and said, God, this is absolutely not what I envisaged for my life. But I felt God said to me, Berni, this is absolutely what I envisaged. In other words, Don't worry. Your life is in my hands. I really felt at peace.

Berni has been helped by going on a as fantastic,' she says. 'So informative. The people there were so friendly. It gave me hope. It was very confidence-building.'

Gill and Chris's story

Gill began to lose her sight two years ago after an operation to remove a brain tumour. Chris, her husband of 43 years, describes it as a 'total upset' of their life, which he's still struggling to come to terms with.

'Marriage is a union and when one of the partners is the carer and the other is the cared-for, it completely changes the dynamic within the household. It's like living with a Torch Moving Forward break - designed specifically for people new to sight loss. 'It w different person,' he says, admitting honestly that he hasn't always coped well.

'Chris is quite an impatient person,' explains Gill, 'and I think he blames me to a certain extent for having to give up a lot of his hobbies. I've felt at times that I'm a bit of a hindrance to him.'

Sight loss isn't the first major challenge life has thrown at Chris and Gill. Fourteen years ago they lost their only son to cancer, aged just 23. Then, they recall, they couldn't have managed 'the absolute pits of depression' without each other's support. And they know it'll be mutual support that gets them through this new challenge.

Fresh direction from Moving Forward

Gill and Chris also found Moving Forward has given them fresh direction.

'Moving Forward has taught me to step back and give Gill the time to try things herself,' said Chris. Both agreed that it was a tremendous help to spend time with others going through sight loss. They now feel able to set in place a series of small achievable goals that will improve their lives.

'I believe that God is with us in our journey,' says Chris. 'Listening is the difficult thing. As human beings, we have this fixed idea of where we want to go and what we want to do and so often that's not what God's got in line for us.'

Torch's Moving Forward breaks are run with a clear Christian ethos but open to all. They provide an opportunity for people to share their experiences as well as getting practical advice about everyday living. There are sessions on handling money and claiming benefits, discovering kitchen gadgets, accessing computers.

Most of these three-day all-inclusive breaks are based at the Torch Holiday & Retreat Centre in West Sussex. But during the anticipated renovation of the centre in early 2014, Moving Forward breaks will be held in Swansea in South Wales, Stirling in Scotland and Littlehampton, Sussex. If you would like details, phone 01273 832282, visit the website or email

First responses to sight loss

'The news ... can be like a death sentence. Hopes and dreams destroyed ... like breakers smashing in and overwhelming you.' - Mark

'It was incredibly frustrating not being able to read or drive ... totally emasculating not to be able to use a microwave or kettle for myself.' - Trevor

'Sight loss affects everything ... not being able to see faces when watching TV, not being able to see what's on the shelves at the supermarket ...' - Christine

'I put on a brave face but I wasn't coping. I thought I was a failure and that, should I go completely blind, life as I knew it would be pretty much over.' - Steve

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Offering the gift of time

With the pilot scheme for Torch's new befriending project well under way in Northern Ireland, plans are developing for rolling it out elsewhere around the UK in 2014.

Journeying With, as the scheme is called, brings trained local Christian volunteers alongside people newly diagnosed with sight loss. Learning to cope with the world of eye clinics and perhaps the social care system can be overwhelming. Befrienders give the valuable gift of time - helping clients adjust to new circumstances and connect with the support frameworks and relationships they need to enable them to lead fulfilling lives.

In Northern Ireland, four people have completed the first training course and are now working with their own clients under the leadership of Torch's Northern Ireland Regional Networker Leonard Campbell. Another group of befrienders, possibly in the Belfast area, will be recruited soon for training. Recruitment is under way for area co-ordinators to launch Journeying With - with one or two starting in the New Year and eventually a team of six taking responsibility around the UK.

'Feedback from the first volunteers has been very positive,' says Debra Chand, Torch's Chief Presence Officer, responsible for developing initiatives which focus on all-important face-to-face interaction supporting people with sight loss.

Short - but perfectly formed!

It may be short - just three to four minutes - but a lot of thought, prayer and energy goes into producing the Torch weekly audio 'thought for the day' called Journey. As far as possible, Journey is written by people with sight loss or those who live or work with them. Editor Lin Ball takes the writing and produces a short script for anything between three and six different voices. Once every six weeks or so Lin gathers staff or volunteers to squeeze into the recording studio at Torch House to bring the scripts to life. Journey, which encourages people to think about life from a gently Christian perspective, is offered free to talking newspapers and blind clubs, made available from the downloads page of the Torch website. If you'd like to have a go at writing for Journey, do contact us.

A pat on the back for Reflections

'Well, it was rather a surreal evening ... mixing with the big names in religious broadcasting at BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) in Piccadilly, London ...'

Rachel Dalby, Radio Co-ordinator for Torch, was describing attending the Jerusalem Trust annual awards evening for excellence in radio. An extended Easter edition of Torch's weekly 15-minute programme Reflections had been shortlisted.

'We thought it unlikely we'd win our category - the prize went to BBC Radio Wales - since we were up against five BBC radio stations including Radio 2 and Radio 4!' said Lin Ball, who produced the programme which was nominated by RNIB's Insight Radio. Reflections is broadcast on Insight Radio as well as Premier Christian Radio and a Christian station in New Zealand.

'But,' added Lin, 'it felt amazing to be shortlisted and to be there. And the judges made a point of commending Reflections, as well as giving us some tips for improving our programme.'

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Following the God of new things

CEO Dr Gordon Temple reports on Torch's Year of Doing New Things

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?' says the Old Testament prophet Isaiah (43:19), speaking for God. Today we might re-phrase that, 'Look out! says God. I'm up to something new - don't you get it?' God is always doing new things. He is the creator God - so he can't help himself!

At our recent annual Thanksgiving Celebration in Bristol, we publicly gave thanks to God for his goodness. 2013 has been our Year of Doing New Things - and God has inspired us, guided us and provided for us as we have stepped out in faith with new projects. Many of these initiatives have reflected the urgent calling we believe God has given us to get alongside people in the early stages of their sight loss journey. We want to provide the companionship and support they need to face their changed circumstances with practical skills, with a sense of purpose - and with the friendship of God and God's people.

New ways - but familiar

Isaiah's words anticipated a new phase in the life of the people of Israel. And yet the 'new thing' was a return from exile to their homeland. Though God is always doing new things, they have a habit of looking much like 'old things'. There is often a return, a restoring, a re-centering. So we should not be surprised that the new things God is doing with Torch look not dissimilar to things he has done with Torch throughout its 54-year history. Just like when we look at our five-year-old grandson Zach, we feel a sense of familiarity - because he strongly resembles his father at that age - so we see familiarity in the new ways in which God is leading us to serve blind and partially sighted people.

Our four Torch values - the things that matter to us, which shape the way we make choices - remain constant. Torch is Christ-centred, people-focused, open and creative. Those values are reflected strongly in our new initiatives, described throughout this Torch News: Moving Forward, Journeying With, TorchTalk. These and other projects take us closer to people, to journey with them in the trauma of sight loss. We want to bring them into community and companionship. We want to respond to the endemic loneliness that is a constant in the lives of too many blind and partially sighted people.

Looking back, looking forward

Looking back, we give thanks that God has again provided financially for Torch to fund both ongoing and new work. In response to our prayers and through the generosity of God's people, the 2012/13 running costs of Torch have been met - almost £1million! God is faithful! We enter another year conscious of our dependence upon God to provide. Once more we are driven to our knees in prayer - but I suspect that's exactly where God wants us!

What follows our Year of Doing New Things? I will share that in the next TORCH NEWS. What's certain is that we are called to be a pilgrim people, constantly on the move. As we venture into the future, our only trusted guide is God and it's on him we rely.

New ways of doing groups

New models of Torch groups are beginning to emerge to offer different contexts for companionship and social integration for people with sight loss.

'We've had Torch Fellowship Groups (TFGs) since the 1970s - providing friendship and caring for hundreds of blind and partially sighted people,' says Torch Fellowship Leader David Palmer. 'Currently over 100 TFGs meet, usually monthly, often with a programme of singing, a speaker and afternoon tea, which provides encouragement and spiritual blessing.

'But in addition we're looking at what kinds of smaller groups, linked with Things

churches, we might offer as a flexible and creative approach to providing meaningful friendships with a Christian dimension,' explains David.

So alternative types of groups are under way. There are nine Torch Book Groups already established; and four TorchTalk telephone friendship groups aimed at people living in more remote areas or with additional disabilities which make leaving their home challenging.

David spends a large part of his time travelling the length and breadth of the country meeting with people interested in launching groups in their area. A new group has recently started in Burnley and currently, with local support, he is following up interest in Barking, Braintree, Christchurch, Shrewsbury and Stoke. Early interest can develop into a Torch Book Group or a group based on a different kind of activity. Walking groups are being planned, and at least one crochet and knitting group is being discussed. Of course, all will run within the Christian faith context common to all Torch activity.

David stresses the importance of these groups having a strong link with a local church.

'Many of these activity groups - such as the proposed walking group - need fifty per cent sighted people to be successful, so we are looking to churches to consider including such a group within their regular programmes.

'We're looking to add four more TorchTalk groups in 2014 - including one specifically for young people with sight loss, one for people newly diagnosed, and one in Scotland,' says David. 'We're also looking at the exciting possibility of running an Alpha course - which introduces people to the basic beliefs of Christianity - by telephone.'

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Thanksgiving 2013

This year our annual Thanksgiving Celebration took place in Bristol in October, accompanied by an interactive exhibition featuring the 'new things' that Torch is doing. Here are some of the words of the prayer that Beth Bromham, our recently-appointed Personnel Co-ordinator, gave at Thanksgiving: 'Father ... help us to take off the things that hinder us and hold us back. Give us a fresh realisation of how you want us to be and how we are to honour you more with our lives. In the year ahead, there will be many exciting and new developments. My prayer is that every one of us ... will walk closer with you ... talk to you more ... hear your voice more clearly. We pray for wisdom and guidance for our leaders ... we ask for your help as we face change. May we see this not as a difficult challenge, but as an opportunity to grow and mature in Christ. For the sake of Jesus, our wonderful Saviour. Amen.'

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The friendship of a good book

Isolation is often an unsought-for by-product of sight loss. Sometimes social activities and hobbies loved for many years become difficult.

'For many people with sight loss, books become companions to fill long hours,' says Lydia Tebbutt, Torch's Publications Leader. 'And now we are putting together an Accessible Reading Pack for people new to sight loss. The new pack will be produced especially for those who may need large print or audio books for the first time.

'Biography is one of our most popular genres,' says Lydia, 'so for this pack we have chosen Healing at the Well by Revd Mike Endicott, a blind healer who has not himself been healed of his blindness. Then there's the best-seller Life Without Limits by Nick Vujicic, who was born without limbs but overcame his disabilities to live an independent, fulfilling and - in his own words - a ridiculously good life.' But whatever kind of book you like, there will be variety offered in the pack.

If you are finding sight loss is inhibiting church activities such as home group or Bible study sessions, Lydia is keen to stress that Torch produces an ever-growing range of short courses ideal for these settings. Books can also be transcribed on request if it enables participation in a group, so it's worth asking. And there are a number of daily devotional Bible notes available on subscription in braille, large print and audio.

What Torch Library borrowers say ...

'I really enjoy reading all the books you send me. As I cannot hear a thing and only have a little sight, I can only use giant print books ... I am house-bound ... so it's good to have books posted to me.' - Mrs A of Leeds

'We cannot begin to thank you for your wonderful service, keeping Dad so well supported with audio books over the years. He has found them such a great help occupying his days and such an encouragement ... as a family we are so thankful for all you do, it has made such a difference to giving Dad good days.' - on behalf of Mr S of Reading.

Guide to epic TV mini-series in braille, large print and audio

The Bible is the star of an epic 10-hour mini-series coming to Channel 5 and DVD this December - and people with sight loss will be able to get accessible versions of the accompanying Souvenir Guide from Torch, working with creators of the resource Damaris Trust.

Described as 'breathtaking in scope and scale', The Bible was shot in Morocco and uses dramatic cutting-edge visual effects to portray some of the most famous and well-known Bible stories and characters. The guide provides articles and information on each episode and explores the major themes of the series, such as forgiveness and transformation.

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Janet's Malawi Diary - seeing the life of Jesus in blind people

What is it like to be blind in Africa, with none of the government benefits received in more developed countries? Along with African trustees and staff of the Torch Malawi production centre for braille and large print Christian materials in Blantyre, Torch International Leader Janet Stafford reaches out to blind people in Malawi and in neighbouring African countries with the love of Jesus. Janet has made many extended trips to Africa - and here are some entries from the diary of her latest visit to Malawi.

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We're praying in the money - half a million pounds of it!

A half-million-pound plan to renovate and extend Torch's Holiday & Retreat Centre (Torch HRC) in West Sussex is high on the prayer agenda for Torch.

'We are looking to God for miraculous provision,' says CEO Dr Gordon Temple. 'The upgrading of Torch HRC is a vital part of our ongoing strategy to do more for people at the start of the sight loss journey and more for people who through sight loss lead lonely lives - a strategy we believe we have developed as we've sought to discern God's plan for Torch's work.'

National research has recently confirmed that loneliness is the greatest issue affecting blind and partially sighted people in Britain today. Emotional support is vital to successful adaptation and rehabilitation.

'Emotional support for people with sight loss is what Torch HRC offers par excellence,' says Dr Temple. 'It's a welcoming home from home staffed by a team combining professional expertise with the selfless loving care that reflects our Christian ethos.'

Growth in bookings for Torch's programme of holidays and retreats has pushed the capacity of the centre to its limits and highlighted the need for improvements in the accommodation. The planned development will increase the guest sleeping accommodation by over 50 per cent to a total of 29 beds in 17 rooms, adding ensuite facilities to every guest room. A lift will be installed for improved accessibility and enlarged office accommodation created. The total cost is currently estimated at £520,000. To date, just over £100,000 has been raised. Building work will begin early in 2014, subject to funds becoming available.

Urging Torch supporters to pray for the project, Dr Temple adds, 'Our vision for Torch HRC is to create the ideal environment for holidays, retreats, activities and events for people with sight loss, where those who are lonely find companionship, those who are perplexed by their loss of sight find hope, where everyone feels at home and supported in an accessible caring Christian environment.'

... and we're praying in the team!

We are looking for a number of new team members, both staff and volunteers, not only at Torch House but also around the UK. Specifically we need:

If you would like to know more, do contact us or go to the 'Support Torch' section of our website.

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Enabling church

How can your church engage with disabled people, befriend them and use their gifting?

The next Enabling Church Conference from Churches for All is coming! It will be held in the West Midlands. Put the date in your diary: 3 June 2014. More details in the next Torch News.

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Happy Christmas!

We send you our heartfelt gratitude for all your support and interest in 2013, wishing you a Christmas that touches your lives with the love of the God who sent Jesus into the world, and a New Year that dawns with the bright hope which is God's gift to all who trust in him.

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Into the New Year

Have you got your Torch 2014 Calendar? With a Bible verse for every day of the year, it's available in braille and giant print for blind and partially sighted people at £4.

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Here to help you

Client Services

01858 438260


01858 438266


01273 832282

Prayer Line

01858 438277


For responses to our radio broadcasts: 0333 123 1255. Go to for details of how to listen to Reflections.


Is also available in audio CD, braille, email, standard print and large print (17-, 20-, 25- and 30-point) and can be viewed on the Torch website.

Torch Trust

Address: Torch House Torch Way Market Harborough Leicestershire LE16 9HL UK

Tel: +44 (0)1858 438260



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Chair: Marilyn Baker

Chief Executive: Dr Gordon Temple

Council of Reference members:

Rt Revd Richard Atkinson OBE; Revd Dr Steve Brady; Revd Dr David Coffey OBE; Revd Malcolm Duncan; Jonathan Lamb; Revd Roy Searle; Dr Elaine Storkey; Revd Dr Derek Tidball.

The Torch Trust for the Blind

A charity registered in England and Wales no. 1095904; a company limited by guarantee no. 46165260

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