vision for people with sight loss

Torch News Summer 2014

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

Christian resources and activities for blind and partially sighted people worldwide.


On the fringe? Or welcomed and belonging?

People with sight loss can all too easily feel excluded – even in church, the very place where everyone should feel welcome.

“Not being included makes me feel a bit disorientated ... it makes me feel lonely in some ways,” says Simon.

“I’ve felt like I’ve been on the fringe,” says Rachel.

Thankfully, Simon and Rachel Gledhill are describing past experiences. The church they began attending last year has gone out of its way to make them feel as if they really do belong.

Revd Andrew McKenna realised when the Gledhills began attending his church in a Leicestershire market town that they would need a helping hand to feel part of the growing church community. Andrew went to Torch Trust – and was quickly trained to use Worship for All, a free online programme which enables churches to produce material in braille or large print in a range of sizes.

Now, as soon as they arrive at church on a Sunday morning, Simon is handed a braille printout by the welcome team. Rachel is given hers in 20-point type.

“It’s been really important for us to include the Gledhills in this way,” says Andrew. “We want to be accessible to all. Simon and Rachel have much to give the church and having the words means they can contribute more fully.” He adds that it’s become part of the regular weekly routine to get the song words, notices and Bible readings prepared in large print and braille. All it costs is a little time and he’s able to use the braille embosser belonging to another local church.

Simon (51) and Rachel (44), both registered blind, have been Christians from a young age. Simon lost his sight at the age of eight due to optic atrophy after an operation. And Rachel is a rubella child: her mum had German measles. She has no vision in her left eye and can only see up to one metre in her right eye. They met at a Torch event in 1986 and married in 2000. Simon, who used to work for a bank, is looking for work in customer services. He’s part of a council-run improvement team, organising activities to boost the local area. He enjoys going to the gym. Rachel does voluntary work at a day centre. She’s a keen knitter and a member of the WI. Their busy social calendar is proof of their industry, love of life and commitment to their community.

“It’s important to be part of a church family, to go where you are being encouraged, where you can worship God, where you can hear his Word and praise him,” says Rachel. “Having my printout makes me feel valued. I can contribute in the same way as everyone else. I haven’t got to rely on my memory for the song words, and also I know what’s coming up next. I feel I am being treated as a full member of the church.”

Nessa Graham, who was born without sight, has her own warm feelings of going to a women’s day conference organised by a church which took the trouble of making her feel welcome, including using Worship for All to produce braille printouts.

“When I arrived I was given such a lovely welcome. I was not just another person. A young girl was my sighted guide for the day. I felt cared for and very safe. Having the song words in braille meant I felt very included. Feeling like everyone else was fantastic!” she says. Though her guide dog Fifi is a great ice-breaker, Nessa finds social gatherings can be challenging – even in church.

“We always think of churches as friendly places – and so they are,” says Dr Gordon Temple, Torch CEO. “But they can be daunting to people with sight loss. Apart from the physical difficulties of negotiating the entrance and finding your way to a seat, try to imagine how you’d feel if an order of service in type you couldn’t read was thrust into your hands or you were told that everything will be on the overhead screen!

“If you know you have blind or partially sighted people attending your church, it’s only fair to give them the kind of loving and thoughtful welcome that Jesus would give.”

The pleasure Simon, Rachel and Nessa experience from Worship for All is typical of many stories we hear at Torch Trust. And it’s not only churches that are catching on to its possibilities. Several large-scale annual Christian events such as Spring Harvest and the Keswick Convention now routinely use Worship for All to provide braille and large print handouts for people who would benefit from them in their main meetings. And organisations like Tear Fund are using it to produce large print editions of some publications.

Many churches will be starting new evangelism or discipleship courses in September. Are you ready to resource people who are blind or partially sighted? Contact our Client Services team to find out about the range of courses on offer in the Torch Library; and go to the link on the Torch website home page to find out more about the free Worship for All programme.

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Bringing two worlds together

Worlds apart – that’s how Roy McCloughry describes the experiences of people who are “abled” compared with people who are “disabled”.

“A woman who is in a wheelchair, for example, is accustomed to others treating her as if she’s only half there. People often talk over her head to the person pushing her wheelchair,” he says.

Roy is the Church of England’s National Disability Advisor and he’s had epilepsy since childhood. He’s a major speaker at the Enabling Church: Everybody In! day conference taking place in June on how the Church responds to disabled people – a topic he describes as “urgent and important”.

“What God wants is a church for all,” says Roy. “It is not a church for disabled people, nor a church which includes disabled people. It is a church for all.”

The Enabling Church: Everybody In! day conference will bring together people with a wide range of disabilities or disabling conditions – sight loss, hearing loss, dementia, intellectual disabilities, autism, loss of mobility – and carers too, to engage with how the UK Church faces the challenge of society’s increasing incidence of disability. Torch Trust is a key player in the day.

“There are over 11 million people in Great Britain with a limiting long-term illness, impairment or disability,” says Dr Gordon Temple, who is not only the Torch CEO but the Executive Officer of Churches for All – an alliance of 14 Christian organisations working alongside disabled people.

“The Church needs to apply itself to enabling people with sight loss and other disabilities to participate and share their God-given gifts,” says Gordon. “This conference seeks to be unashamedly transformational as we bring these issues into the light. We hope that many churches will send representatives to listen and learn.”

Enabling Church: Everybody In! will be held on 3 June at Bethel Convention Centre, just off the M5 and near central Birmingham. It’s not too late to book a place. Go to the Torch website – – and click on “more info and book”. Or contact Torch Client Services – see page 2.

And get the book too!

After the first Enabling Church conference in 2010, Gordon worked with writer Lin Ball to produce an interactive resource book with Bible exploration, real life case studies, prayers, worship ideas and more on the inclusion of disabled people in local church life. This is ideal for use in home groups or services by churches wanting to discover what the Bible has to say about disability and how they could respond. Enabling Church (published by SPCK) is available from Torch in standard print, giant print, braille and DAISY audio for £7.99 (plus £1 postage for standard print only).

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As change takes hold

Torch CEO Dr Gordon Temple explains how, in Torch’s Year of Taking Hold, things that have been prayed for, planned, trialled and shaped over three years are now becoming core to Torch’s work.

Our guiding Scripture text for the year is: “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (Philippians 3:12).

In taking hold of the new, we need to let go of some things that are familiar. For example, our Christian literature work has undergone major change behind the scenes. With the introduction of audio on memory sticks, cassettes have all but disappeared from our UK programme. Some magazines are now routinely available in a choice of large print sizes to suit readers’ needs with all the transcription done automatically. The speed of automated transcription enables us to do more books on demand, with fewer done speculatively. This year we did six new titles for blind and partially sighted people taking part in local Lent study groups. We rejoice in this greater responsiveness!

Until 2010, our face-to-face engagement with blind and partially sighted people across the country was through Torch Fellowship Groups – and the number of those was declining. Now the range of alternatives is growing, including Torch Book Groups and TorchTalk telephone friendship groups – with more to come. And guess what! The number of groups is growing for the first time in over a decade!

Torch Groups now come under what we call Presence – our name for initiatives new and ongoing which connect us with blind and partially sighted people. Our Journeying With scheme – launched first in Northern Ireland and now getting under way in the Aberdeen area – equips volunteers from local churches to come alongside people losing their sight, to be with them at their times of greatest need. The local church is the manifestation of God’s kingdom on earth and that’s where we find our wholeness in Christ. Making a difference for people with sight loss happens best as Torch partners with local churches.

Pray for us! There has never been a period of more comprehensive change in Torch’s history and it challenges our faith. It would be easier to stay as we were – but we don’t have the option. The needs of people with sight loss are changing – and God is leading us into the centre of the action!

A word about finances

CEO Dr Gordon Temple says, “We are deeply grateful to everyone who responded generously to the last Torch News by sending us gifts. This has helped enormously. Even so, we have little in the bank to cover the day-to-day operating costs, as we wait on God’s provision to restore our reserves. As a faith-based work, our reliance is on God for our funding; we pray regularly as a team, asking God to meet our needs in whatever way he chooses. Our belief is that as we follow God’s plan, he will provide what’s needed.

“We are a relatively small charity. We stretch our annual budget of around £1 million to impact some 10,500 people with sight loss, as our newly-published 2013-14 Annual Report shows.”

Gordon adds, “If you would like a copy of our Annual Report – a record of God’s great faithfulness to Torch – you can access it from the downloads page of the Torch website or request it in accessible formats from Torch House.”

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Being present

How can the local church be there for people with sight loss? Torch’s Presence Leader Debra Chand describes some of the options

Unsupported, sight loss can all too easily lead to isolation. It’s harder to get out and about; more difficult to get to know people if you can’t catch someone’s eye or wave to them across the street. Simple everyday things become a challenge when you can’t see.

In the Bible, the word “presence” (as in Psalm 139:7) is a translation of the Hebrew word for “face”. It may be harder to see someone’s face when you are losing your sight, but you can sense God’s presence, feel his touch and hear his voice. In partnership with the local church, Torch’s Presence services aim to provide an ever-widening range of routes to companionship.

Visual awareness training

There’s a buzz of anticipation as the group waits for the start of one of Torch’s interactive visual awareness training sessions. Blindness is the sensory loss people most fear. Many are thinking, “It might be me one day.” Others already have personal experience of sight loss, through accident or illness, and want to share that to help others.

It’s all fascinating ... learning about eye conditions ... practising how to be “sighted guides”... thinking about how to be more verbal – saying “yes” rather than just nodding, describing what’s in the room. It’s about ensuring that people with sight loss are fully involved. And, as the penny drops about long-held misconceptions, fresh insight dawns and a few meaningful tears are shed.

Moving Forward breaks

Moving Forward residential breaks give people with sight loss and their family members opportunities to share experiences, learn new skills, grow in confidence, and enjoy good food and fun – all within the healing setting of pastoral support at Torch’s Holiday & Retreat Centre.

Here are some comments from people who have been on Moving Forward breaks:

- “I have learned that it doesn’t matter what happens, you can still cope ... it’s not the end.”

- “I need to give my wife more time to do things. She’s just as able as she always was. We just need to learn to do things another way.”

- “We’ve had a very open weekend. We’ve laughed and cried and spoken about everything from driving to putting on make-up!”

One message comes across clearly: it’s possible to live a full life with sight loss. It’s not the end, but it is a major life change. Learning to do things differently takes time.

Journeying With

At sight loss diagnosis and immediately afterwards, more support is often needed. Local churches have supported people through life’s crises over the centuries and are well placed to be there for people losing their sight. Torch’s new befriending service, Journeying With, enables trained church volunteers to reach out to people in the community, giving their time to people coming to terms with changed circumstances.

During these tough times, deeper feelings often surface ... guilt, denial, anger. And perhaps faith questions. Why me? Where is God in this? A listening ear from a good friend is vital, to share the highs and lows along the way.

Joining the Presence team

Based in Devon, Janet Eardley has become an Area Presence Developer for South West UK. Janet joins us from Prospects, one of Torch’s partners in the Churches for All network, where she was involved in starting up ministry groups for people with learning disabilities; and she’s also worked for a sight loss society. She says, “I’ve met many people who were in the frightening position of receiving a diagnosis that their eye condition could not be treated. I am so pleased to be involved in Torch’s Christian response to reach out to people in this situation.”

And James Seager will also be growing the Presence work, from the north of England. James has ministered in local churches for 15 years, during which time he says, “I developed a great desire to see people cared for, especially at the lowest points in their lives. The Church is in a powerful position to offer support to people, as we have something to give that is unique – hope in Jesus. I am looking forward to seeing many blind and partially sighted people connected with a caring church family, and knowing that God is interested in them.”

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Torch radio reaching many more, thanks to RNIB!

RNIB’s latest bold investment greatly expands Torch’s radio reach – with a new Freeview launch of its Reflections programme and a new adoption of its “thought for the week” spot.

Reflections is broadcast on RNIB’s Insight Radio weekly on Sundays with two latenight repeats. Now new Freeview access means a major extension to its reach. As well as being available on Sky, Freesat and online, the programme is now on Freeview Channel 730.

“Over 20 million people in the UK have access to Freeview and RNIB see this as the easiest way for people with sight loss to tune in, rather than through the internet,” says Rachel Dalby, who produces Torch’s flagship weekly radio programme, presented by blind singer-songwriter Marilyn Baker.

“RNIB are also encouraging us to grow Reflections from its current 15 minutes and – as resources are provided – it’s our prayer that we will be able to use this amazing invitation to reach many more people with sight loss with programmes that we hope will be life-enriching,” adds Rachel.

As well as reaching a largely disabled audience with Christian content through Insight Radio, Reflections also brings the message about disability to a largely Christian audience through Premier Christian Radio.

In addition, Torch’s audio “thought for the week”, which lasts just three or four minutes, is now being aired every Monday morning at 7am on RNIB’s Insight Radio. It’s available anywhere in the world as a download from the Torch website, but previously its use has been limited mainly to talking newspapers and blind clubs.

“This programme, known as Journey, is scripted largely by people with sight loss,” explains producer Lin Ball. “It reflects on real life experiences, introducing the Christian faith with a light touch, helping people to consider some of life’s big questions.”

Reflections: on RNIB Insight Radio on Sundays just after the 9am news, with repeats on Tuesdays at 2am and Fridays at 1am. Also on Premier Christian Radio on Sundays at 4pm – online, on MW 1305, 1332, 1413, on DAB and on Freeview 725.

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A step change in a generation for blind people in Malawi

Lapson Mbewe has given almost 30 years of his life to improving attitudes to blind people in Malawi, much of that working alongside Torch International, of which he is a trustee. He says he praises God that “doors of opportunity are now open for blind people in the churches”.

“In the 1980s,” recalls Lapson, “blind people were neither regarded nor accepted in their communities. Families where there was a blind child believed they were cursed. They kept the blind child indoors in fear of being laughed at – so there was no chance for the child to go to school. He or she grew up feeling lonely and rejected. They thought negatively of themselves and had a miserable life.”

Sadly, adds Lapson, the widespread image of “the blind person” was of someone without dignity, unable to contribute to their communities. Lack of acceptance meant that potential talent in blind people remained hidden.

“I thank God that as time went on, things started changing!” says Lapson. “Now blind people are respected and highly accepted. This change is due to the fact that many are now educated and many are accepted in our churches and in church leadership teams. Through fellowship groups – many run by Torch – lots of blind people have learned how to preach the gospel and to sing. Yes, out of nothing the Lord can bring good!”

Lapson, who often tours the country distributing aid and encouraging fellowship groups of blind people along with Torch’s International Leader Janet Stafford, has a simple but profound ambition: “My heart is to see many blind people being pastors and elders in their churches. Wherever I go, I ask churches to encourage blind people into leadership positions. When we hold open air meetings, bringing blind people together, we also invite many churches to come and see how able they are. To God be glory for evermore!”

“It’s been a long-term commitment,” says Janet. “But it’s wonderful that there are so many more blind people contributing to church life compared to a generation ago. Much of our work is in alerting churches to the need to include and use the gifting of blind Christians in their communities. Torch also has a key role in equipping blind Christians to lead, through providing them with braille and large print Scriptures and Christian publications in Easy English and a range of African languages, enabling them to study at Bible college.”

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Telling the story of God’s goodness!

In January, after much prayer, work began on the first stage of a half-million-pound plan to renovate and extend the Torch Holiday & Retreat Centre in West Sussex. In line with Torch’s strategy to do more for people at the start of the sight loss journey, the venue is being upgraded to respond to growing demand and to cater for more guests on its Moving Forward breaks and specialist holidays for people living with sight loss.

Reports Gail Millar, Holidays Leader, “It’s been a busy and exciting time! As well as conversion of existing rooms to give them ensuite facilities, a welcoming reception area and office are being created near the front of the building. A lift has been installed to enable upstairs rooms to be easily accessible to guests who find stairs difficult. The early demolition has given way to a building phase, as we see walls raised and windows replaced and four new ensuite rooms built above the lounge. It’s so good to see things taking shape! We thank God every day for his provision for the project – which will tell the story of his goodness for many years to come.”

Gail asks for continuing prayer for the finances for phase two of the project and for safety on site. It’s anticipated that a full programme of specialist holidays and retreats will resume at the Centre from late June onwards.

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Join the Torch team!

Is God calling you to work with Torch Trust? We have two vacancies for paid positions at Torch Holiday & Retreat Centre – for a full-time live-in Assistant Leader, and for a Cook to work approximately 24 hours a week. We also need volunteer assistance at the Centre in the areas of kitchen work, housekeeping and guiding blind and partially sighted guests, as well as volunteer drivers to transport guests to and from the Centre.

Other volunteer needs nationally include local co-ordinators for Torch Groups and freelance radio interviewers (media experience preferred).

If you are interested, do contact Beth Bromham, our Personnel Co-ordinator (

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Dates for your diary

We’ll be holding our Annual Day of Prayer on 9 June.

On 20 September there will be a special Thanksgiving Day celebrating 10 years at Torch House and 55 years since the foundation of Torch Trust, with displays, tours, refreshments and worship. You are warmly invited. Contact us if you or your group would like to come and we’ll send you details.

And don’t forget that 6 July is Disability Sunday: our Torch website will link you to free resources from the Churches for All partnership for use on that day.

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Here to help you

Client Services: 01858 438260

Library: 01858 438266

Holidays: 01273 832282

Prayer Line: 01858 438277

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

Torch News 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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