TORCH
vision for people with sight loss
Torch News - Summer 2016

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.

Contents

Hope in a disastrous situation

“I didn’t even recognise Monica at first; she had lost so much weight. But when she received a sack of maize and a loaf of bread she fervently thanked God that she had not been forgotten.”

Torch Trust has long had a deep and heart-felt connection with the African country of Malawi. Outside of Africa, it seems almost a forgotten nation but Malawi is a country in crisis. Ongoing devastation by flood and famine are wreaking havoc among a people already suffering from poverty.

Malawi is now ranked the world’s poorest country (World Bank data 2014: GDP per capita basis). Though geographically quite small it has a relatively large population: over 16 million people call it home. Most of them live as subsistence farmers. The majority live in the Central and Southern Regions, and it is particularly in the South where famine has affected so many, both blind and sighted.

Janet Stafford, Torch’s International Leader, recently returned from a trip to Malawi. She explains how its present problems came about: “It all began at the start of last year with severe flooding which wiped out the newly planted maize farms and resulted in the harvest being a non-event in the Shire Valley where many of the blind people known to us live. There were hopes for a better situation this year, but the rains arrived too late, and the planting that was then done in January received only erratic rains, so the harvest is very small or non-existent.”

Though it seldom makes a showing in our Western news media, Malawi has now been declared a Disaster Area, due to flooding in some areas and food shortages in the South. Maize is available but at prices which few can afford, and as the majority of blind people live in extreme poverty, they suffer more than most.

Janet reports “The situation is really serious. I was shocked seeing those affected by the hunger. I have known Monica for many years but didn’t instantly recognise her as she had lost so much weight and was struggling to walk. She was so happy to be given help, and praised and thanked God that he had not forgotten her.”

Many blind people and others were helped with supplies of maize flour, soap, blankets and medicines purchased with funds Torch had been entrusted with. This has been literally a lifeline for so many, though there remain many months of shortages until the next harvest time. One blind man commented, “What you have given me has made me feel like a man again as I can go home and feed my family. Praise God and thank you.”

Janet continues, “It was very evident travelling through the villages, which would normally be selling cucumbers, pumpkins, tomatoes, and more at this time of year to see empty stalls as there is nothing to sell.” Hungry people are eating maize cobs, and water-lily bulbs called nyika. These bulbs cause diarrhoea if too many are eaten.

Many have sold household items and livestock at low prices to purchase food, which will make it difficult for them to regain stability later. “Yes, I sold my chair” said Elita, “to get money for food as my children were hungry.”

The food crisis has also had an impact on education. Many skip school in order to search for food, while others can no longer afford the school fees.

This paints a very sad picture but a real one. Thank you to those who have prayed about the situation and those who have given through Torch in the UK over recent weeks to enable us to respond in some small way to this huge need.

Please continue to pray for those affected in Malawi. Janet says “I have come back humbled and deeply challenged at the fortitude and trust in God these people have. There is hope. To hear the vibrant singing of a Torch Fellowship Group as they gathered together after several days without food was such a moving experience. What a privilege to have come alongside them in their suffering. May God bless the blind people of Malawi—our brothers and sisters.”

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Adventure with God

Torch CEO Gordon Temple takes a look over Torch’s work of the past year, as well as thoughts on the future...

I have recently written the formal report that goes into Torch’s Report and Accounts for the year ended 30 September 2015. At their recent meeting the trustees approved it and by the time this reaches you it will have been filed with the Charity Commission and Companies House.

In the process of writing this I seek out key facts about Torch and review progress against the objectives we set a year previously, as well as setting new objectives for the year ahead. Maybe you’re wondering why am I telling you all this? Because it is exciting. Through the necessary formality of this report shines the evidence of what God has done among us. It traces a story of God’s guidance, help and provision and it tells of many thousands of blind and partially sighted people whose lives have been touched by the love of God through the diverse ministries that comprise Torch.

“I have been so blessed by all you have sent me and the daily readings. I praise God I heard about Torch as I spend many hours on my own. God bless your work.”

Mrs G of County Down

Of course, one area in which we have seen God at work is in our finances. We finished the year with about the same amount in the bank as we started out with. But we still crave your prayers for God’s continued provision. The amount we hold is still much less than our minimum reserves figure, something that makes Torch vulnerable to the ups and downs in our “lumpy” income. Indeed we all but ran out of money in the middle of last financial year. So we praise God that he has provided and that every bill has been paid.

Torch has always been an adventure with God, a journey of faith, no less so now than at any time.

We approach our annual Day of Prayer on 1st June with thanksgiving and with humble simplicity of purpose. We want to serve God, fulfil his purposes, and bring blessing into the lives of blind and partially sighted people and people losing their sight the world over.

Together we pray: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”.

Snapshot 2015

If you would like to know more about Torch’s finances or to see a copy of Torch’s Report and Accounts then please contact Michael Heaney at Torch House.

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Accessible resources available online

Torch is pleased to announce our new partnership with Eden Christian Bookshop! We’ve teamed up to produce a whole new way for blind and partially sighted people to access our range of Christian books in accessible formats.

From now on, readers will be able to visit eden.co.uk, search for a book they’re interested in and, if it’s in our catalogue, order it immediately online—in braille, large print (various sizes) and DAISY audio. The books will be sold at the same price as the standard print versions and we’ll be providing free delivery on all orders.

The aim of this partnership is to make our books available to a much wider audience, including to visually impaired people who may never have heard of Torch, or been aware that books can be obtained in accessible formats. We want to spread the word about accessible media and this is a great way to do so!

Although the Eden website is now open for use, it is currently still in development—however, if you do have an issue while ordering, they have a Freephone helpline available during standard working hours. And, if you would prefer to continue ordering books through Torch directly, by phone or email, there’s nothing to worry about as we’re not going anywhere! If you want to search Torch’s catalogues directly then go to torchtrust.org and choose Literature on the main menu.

Read all about it!

Are you blind or partially sighted and interested in Christian literature? Perhaps you know someone who fits the bill? If so, Reading for All may be just the ticket!

Reading for All is our free quarterly magazine aimed at people with sight loss who have an interest in accessible Christian literature, and want to know more about what Torch can offer. This resource contains a selection of the latest interviews and articles from a wide range of Christian publications, alongside pieces written by Torch’s own staff and volunteers. It’s a great way to keep up-to-date with what’s going on in the Christian book world and it’s available in standard print, large print (various sizes), braille and audio.

“Thank you so much. I do not know what I would do without Torch and all the books and magazines you send me, I enjoy them so much.”

Miss C, a deaf-blind reader in Australia

To find out more about this resource just give us a call on 01858 438260 or email info@torchtrust.org

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Turn on and tune in!

Our radio producer Grace Davis reports on the work that goes into making Torch’s weekly radio programme...

Have you heard Reflections? It’s Torch’s very own national radio show, hosted by blind Christian singer-songwriter Marilyn Baker. This year marks the show’s ninth anniversary, so we thought we’d share a little bit about it and its history at Torch!

The show is recorded onsite at Torch House in our professional studios. These studios are shared by audio book production and magazine staff too so they certainly see a lot of use! Although the finished show is only fifteen minutes long, a lot of work goes into creating it. As the Reflections producer, it’s my responsibility to research possible guests and topics, write scripts, interview guests on-location, and manage recording days. I also edit the show with the help of Ildi, our recording technician, who “cleans up” the original recordings—this means removing long pauses, loud breaths and errors.

We call Reflections “the show that focuses on faith and disability”—this is quite a broad remit and we’ve had a huge variety of guests and topics featured on the show. One of the best things about working on the show is getting the chance to meet and talk with some very interesting people. Among our recent guests are Poirot star David Suchet who discussed his recording of the Bible and his personal faith journey and author and pastor Jeff Lucas who appeared on our Easter Special in 2015. We often find that some really wonderful stories come from the most unexpected places. One of my most memorable experiences was interviewing Hugh, a 90-year-old former member of the Royal Engineers who has lost his sight in later years and is now supported by Blind Veterans. His stories of travelling the world, guided by his faith in God and his simple belief that he must serve as he was led to, were fascinating and humbling to hear.

We strive to ensure that Reflections is always fresh, informative and has a distinctive Christian flavour—as well as being entertaining and uplifting! Our guests are real people with real experiences to share. We also feature services that our listeners may find helpful, as well as turning a spotlight on issues such as mental and physical health, and disability topics. Faith is an important thread running throughout the show—we often feature prayers, readings and Christian music.

Reflections is broadcast on two different national radio stations. These are RNIB Connect Radio, formerly known as Insight Radio, which is broadcast on Freeview channel 730 and online at rnibconnectradio.co.uk. Connect airs the show on Sunday morning, just after the 9am news.

Our other broadcaster is Premier Christian Radio, which can be listened to on Freeview channel 725, online at premierchristianradio.com, on DAB radio and, in Greater London and Sussex, on MW 1305, 1332, 1413. Premier airs Reflections on Sunday afternoon at 4pm.

You can also listen to a podcast version of the show, which features a whole month’s worth of programmes. This can be found by searching for Reflections from Torch Trust on iTunes, SoundCloud and Podbean. If you are blind or partially sighted you can also sign up to receive a free audio CD version of this podcast—just call or email us.

Interested in joining the Reflections team?

There are plenty of stories waiting to be told across the UK and we’re looking for your help to tell them! Torch is recruiting volunteer regional reporters to research, arrange and carry out occasional interviews with people about their faith and disability. This role would be a great opportunity for someone who wishes to build their experience in the Christian media sector. To apply, email graced@torchtrust.org

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A window onto the world

Grace Davis explores some of the accessible software used in the workplace by people with sight loss...

Here at Torch House, we have a number of blind and partially sighted staff and volunteers, and a question that they often get asked is: “How do you use a computer when you have sight loss?” The answer is simple: by utilising screen-reader technology.

Screen readers are perhaps most easily described as programmes which identify and interpret a computer’s output, that is whatever would be displayed on a screen for a sighted user. Screen-readers can display the output as speech, usually transmitted via earphones, or with a refreshable braille display—it’s also possible to use a combination of the two. As you might imagine, this can take a bit of getting used to. TorchTalk co-ordinator Jan Turner regularly uses a screen-reader; “ did need training at first—although professional training can be very expensive so my colleagues taught me. It’s not too hard to get started but it’s definitely an ongoing learning process!”

The usefulness of this software cannot be underemphasised—for many blind people it means being able to communicate with the world on truly equal terms; internet-based messaging platforms such as email, chat rooms or forums are wonderful new ways for people to connect.

There are a wide variety of screen-readers on the market but the one that most of Torch’s staff and volunteers use is called JAWS. This stands for Job Access With Speech. Screen-reading software can be rather expensive, as Jan explains: “It’s not like just going out and buying a computer as a sighted person might do. We also have to think about what screen-reader will be best, which computer will work well with it and what braille display machine to buy as well. It can be very hard to know, if you aren’t a “techy” person! All of these things can also really increase costs and I think it sometimes puts blind people off using technology—or prices them out completely.”

Thankfully, modern smart phones and tablet devices are increasingly being offered with pre-installed text-to-speech technology, heralding in a new era of accessibility and independence for people with sight loss. Unfortunately, this is not the case for standard desktop computers, meaning that systems such as JAWS remain absolutely vital in the workplace. “I really do hope that mainstream accessibility continues to expand,” says Jan; “the changes I’ve already experienced during my time at Torch have been marvellous and screen-readers really have opened up the world of technology to people like me!”

If you want to learn more about screen-readers and other accessible technology, contact the Client Services team on 01858 438260.

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Getting connected

Jan Turner, TorchTalk co-ordinator, tells of the groups available this year...

TorchTalk is our telephone friendship service, created especially for blind and partially sighted people. The groups are a great way of connecting with people with similar interests and experiences across the nation and they’re easy to join! Like everything Torch does it has a Christian emphasis, with discussion of faith topics and Christian perspectives always to the fore.

Joining a TorchTalk Group is simple: just telephone Torch to register your interest. Once you have selected your preferred group, you will receive a time, date and number to telephone. Each participant may join one regular group, one seasonal and our Sunday Service group.

Over the coming months, a number of new TorchTalk groups will be starting, including:

We also have a number of regular ongoing groups, and a Sunday Service Group which takes place on the first Sunday of every month. To register or find out more call 01858 438260.

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Time to relax and renew

Summer is here and it’s time to unwind. And what better way to do so than with a visit to our beautiful and fully-refurbished Holiday and Retreat Centre in rural West Sussex? After the official opening last September, the Centre and its staff are ready to welcome you on a refreshing break, whatever your interests or needs. There’s something for everyone on a Torch Holiday—and don’t forget, all of our holidays are fully-inclusive, which means all meals, drinks, outings and entrance fees are already taken care of!

We also have plenty of opportunities to join a Torch Holiday as a volunteer supporting our blind and partially sighted guests, so do please get in touch if this interests you!

There is plenty to do all year long at the Centre, and our holidays keep running throughout 2016, so if you’re not a fan of summer vacations, perhaps you’d prefer a later break in the autumn or winter?

Here are just a few of the holidays with spaces remaining in 2016:

Spaces are filling up quickly so call us now on 01273 832282 or email holidays@torchtrust.org

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Torch books: one to own and one to borrow

The Servant Queen and the King she serves

Produced by LICC, The Bible Society and HOPE

The country and Commonwealth are celebrating Her Majesty The Queen’s 90th birthday. From her actual birthday on 21st April through to the official birthday celebrations from 10th-12th June 2016, people will be organising and participating in a wide range of events and activities. Produced to mark this occasion, The Servant Queen and the King she serves uses the Queen’s own words to draw out the central role of her Christian faith and the Bible.

Torch has transcribed this beautiful publication in braille, large print (17pt, 20pt, 25pt, 30pt) and audio CD and we’re making a free gift of the accessible versions to anyone blind or partially sighted reading this issue of Torch News.

God and Churchill

by Jonathan Sandys and Wallace Henley

Co-authored by Churchill’s great grandson, Jonathan Sandys, God and Churchill traces the personal, political and spiritual path of one of history’s greatest leaders and offers hope for our own violent and troubled times. Available for loan only from the Torch Library in DAISY or USB audio.

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Day of Prayer

Torch’s annual Day of Prayer will be held on Wednesday 1st June. Please join us in praying wherever you are, for the diverse ministries of Torch, people to fill staff and volunteer vacancies, and God’s provision to continue to fulfil our range of work!

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Ability Sunday

This year Ability Sunday will take place on 11th September. The day is an annual event for churches to celebrate the abilities of disabled people in their congregations and communities. Visit torchtrust.org/abilitysunday to find out more.

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Annual open day

This year the annual Torch Open Day and Thanksgiving Service will be held at Torch House on Saturday 17th September starting at 2pm. Come along and find out what happens at Torch House, celebrate with us at our afternoon service—and enjoy free refreshments! All are welcome!

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Keep in Touch

You can stay up to date with Torch goings-on by following us on Facebook and Twitter—just search for Torch Trust. We love getting your comments and questions—and you can also contact us by ringing 01858 438260 or emailing info@torchtrust.org

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Work with Torch

Would you like to work with Torch—as a staff member or volunteer? Visit torchtrust.org/vacancies to learn more.

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Information

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 torchtrust.org/reflections for details of how to listen to Reflections.

Torch News Is 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

email: info@torchtrust.org

website: torchtrust.org

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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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